Jewish World Review August 12, 2004/ 25 Menachem-Av, 5764


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Reporting for Combat Duty: A Weekend in Kerry's Nantucket | It was odd timing, but just as John Kerry and his 21st century Merry Prankster entourage (Ben Affleck in the Pigpen role) scooted out of Boston on July 30 in search of the "real" America, my family settled in for a five-day stay in Nantucket. I'd avoided all the Democratic convention blather in the previous four days (attending two Bosox games against the Orioles at Camden Yards), but couldn't resist seeing Kerry give the 27th "speech of his life" so far this year.

The address was a predictable mix of blarney, white lies, worse lies, paeans to Bill Clinton and the roaring 90s — when terrorism, Enron and Halliburton didn't exist — and of course his demeaning report for duty. Nonetheless, it's a measure of how disinterested the three major networks are in such junkets (mostly justified) that poor Kerry had his NASCAR helmet on in a race to finish before Peter Jennings turned his attention to other matters.

As a result, the candidate couldn't bask in sustained applause from the assembled delegates, who, to nobody's surprise, were as representative of the Party as the population of Berkeley, CA. Too bad for Kerry, since his rhetorical delivery was pretty decent, especially in comparison to the oily John Edwards, Al Sharpton and Teddy Kennedy on previous nights. Sharpton's just off the radar with his incendiary rambling, but Teddy competed with the faux-rev with his lampshade declaration that "The only thing we have to fear is four more years of George W. Bush."

Jeesh. Where have all the speechwriters gone, long time passing? Gone to graveyards, real or figurative, everyone.

At the outset of the convention, one of Kerry's hometown newspapers — in this case, The Boston Globe — ran a strange editorial that nearly suggested in was morning in the USA, or at least in Massachusetts. "If [delegates] venture beyond the FleetCenter, however, they will find a city that is economically strong, culturally diverse, and an exemplar of urban revitalization." That sounds like an endorsement of President Bush to me.

The Kerry-Edwards luxurious train tour of the heartland wasn't without its amusing moments. Teresa Heinz Kerry, the campaign's loose cannon, told an audience in Missouri that "The only way you solve problems is by holding hands and talking about it," which tickled the Times' John Tierney's funny bone, awarding the self-proclaimed African-American a "Kumbaya Prize." Also in Missouri, tough guy Edwards withered when hecklers interrupted his speech. The lawyer, who ought to bone up on the First Amendment, chastised the Bush supporters: "I just want to say to those folks who don't want to hear from us: my children are on this train. Show them some good Missouri manners, if you don't mind."

Pretty cheap, hiding behind his young kids' overalls.

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The four of us arrived in the Bay State's self-consciously toned-down version of the Hamptons (instead of momentary celebrities who prance for the media, Nantucket's summer community is graced by the ever-obnoxious David Halberstam and Buffalo Bills fan Tim Russert), smack in political enemy territory, and bunked down at the graceful White Elephant Hotel, the picture-postcard lodgings in the middle of town.

The occasion was one of my brother's 60th birthday, and it was quite an affair, with some 35 members of the extended Smith family in attendance. The b-day grandfather's well-hidden year-round home was the venue for an opening night kickoff, and brothers, sisters-in-law, cousins, uncles and aunts milled about the lawn nearby the quiet surf, a couple of dogs chased three-year-old tots and hands dipped into the tub of beer, soft drinks and bottled water. New babies were proudly presented by two of my nieces, snapshots exchanged, and our son Nicky Otis had a brief spotlight moment showing his 13-minute film Full Themed Attraction, starring little brother Booker in a surrealistic view of a recent Little League game.

This several acres of New England splendor might've been the only place on the island that night where it was safe, in a crowd of more than four, to openly express contempt for Kerry, the elite media and the wacko citizens of these free United States who openly hope for more American casualties in Iraq to further boost the Democratic candidate's electoral chances in November. I did get into a verbal scuffle with one of my nephews-in-law, an enormously successful financier who's still on the fence about the election.

He voted for G.H.W. Bush in '92, Dole four years later and then, for reasons too Byzantine to fathom, switched to Gore in 2000, but is leaning the right way this time around, mostly because he believes Bush is a better, and more trustworthy, supporter of Ariel Sharon and Israel. One of the few Jews in our clan, and an observant one at that, my friend toed the safe line that the race will be tight, but did predict Bush will improve his percentage of Jewish voters from roughly 20 percent to 50 percent. Way too high, I jumped in, postulating that 30 percent would a most desirable result and could mean the difference in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Michigan, I'm afraid, is probably a lost cause, as is Maryland, although in the latter state the Baltimore Sun (owned by Tribune Co.) is too cheap to commission a poll, so, with a popular Republican governor, who knows.

By the way, I'm in the distinct minority of those who follow politics in believing that Kerry post-convention "bounce" was significant indeed, as he leads not only in most national polls but in the "swing" or "battleground" (depending on your opinion of using war metaphors for non-violent elections) as well. As an intelligent but parochial analyst just years removed from his Pampers pointed out on The American Prospect's website on Aug. 6, Kerry's been bouncing right along since the end of February when he essentially won the Anybody But Bush series of Democratic primaries.

It's likely the President will square it up when his convention dominates the news later this months — especially if the expected hordes of protesters forget their manners and verbally and physically threaten the police — but if the Holland Tunnel is blown up in the meantime, all bets are off. Last Friday's news of tepid job growth has a lot of Republicans sniffling in their mugs of Budweiser, but I'm not really sure it'll change the political landscape as dramatically as the New York Times gleefully proclaims.

Let's be honest: When was the last presidential election in which the monthly payroll report got so much media attention and caused pundits to study the numbers as a more honest fellow might digest The Racing Form? It's all part of information overload, as far too many polls, Iraq quagmire updates, talk-show duels, and editorials disguised as front-page news articles clog up the real picture. As thousands of journalist pore over daily statistics, I'd swear that Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and bullpen-by-committee screw-up Bill James were controlling the entire media.

Obviously, the low number of jobs created last month (the fact that unemployment shrunk a tick didn't create a ripple of "On the other handů" editorials) is crummy news for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Irwin M. Stelzer points out the difficulty for the GOP in the current Weekly Standard, repeating that in the absence of mammoth job growth any number of positive economic indicators will have as much meaning as a Yankees romp over the Toronto Blue Jays. Manufacturing is up, consumer confidence is high, sales of SUVs (despite fluctuating gas prices) are brisk and, according to Stelzer, "activity in the [service sector] increased for the sixteenth consecutive month."

Since everyone's now an economist now (save the Times' Paul Krugman), it's worth noting that the next jobs report will be issued the day after Bush accepts the GOP nomination on Sept. 2. A favorable number will buoy his own bus tour to Ohio and Wisconsin; a third consecutive lowball finding will probably result in his speechwriters reaching for a hidden bottle of bourbon in the early morning hours.

In the meantime, more worrisome for Bush is the fickle Dow, since far more Americans are concerned about IRAs, 401(k's) and pensions than jobs. The unemployment rate of 5.5 percent isn't of real consequence to most voters (behind the curtain, it's the individual wallet that counts) and those without jobs probably won't be lining up at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2 at polling stations.

A more pressing concern in Nantucket two weeks ago was the abrupt trade of Boston's brooding, and chronically injured, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. I take the pragmatic view, figuring that getting something now (and admittedly Orlando Cabrera is in the "something" category) is better than zippo in off-season when the free agent would sign with another team. The split is about 50-50 among Sox fans: A buddy of mine, a Nomar diehard, is steamed, claiming the "Curse of Nomar" is now upon us, and will inevitably lead to a World Series between Boston and Chicago, when "Nomie will make a game-saving play for the Cubs in the ninth inning of the seventh game, thus continuing the futility of the Sox."

Baloney. The happy-go-lucky Bosox will be out of the wild card race in a matter of weeks, maybe even before Kerry takes another detour from his "high road" and once again calls pro-Bush hecklers "goons."

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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