Jewish World Review August 13, 2003/ 15 Menachem-Av 5763


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Consumer Reports

John Kerry's desperate hours while California hogs the spotlight | Arnold Schwarzenegger grabbed the headlines last week with his stunning announcement that he'll be a candidate in the Oct. 7 recall election in California, but under the radar a far more fascinating war is taking place within the Democratic Party and its elite media mouthpieces.

More about that below.

It's a tough call in predicting whether the Kennedy in-law will replace Gray Davis as governor. An Aug. 11 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll with 801 registered voters showed that 42 percent of Californians will likely vote for Schwarzenegger, putting him well ahead of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's 22 percent. Either way, a clear majority, 64 percent, wants Davis to join the unemployed. In the post-Bill Clinton world of American politics, all the gossip about the actor's past infidelities, steroid and marijuana use means nothing. If Schwarzenegger pulls a 1980-Teddy Kennedy routine and can't articulate why he wants to run the nation's most populous state, or makes a gaffe that shocks the public, rather than just a few editorial boards, he'll lose.

That scenario, however, seems unlikely. The two-month campaign is so short and surreal, that with his celebrity, money and a national Republican machine at least tacitly endorsing him, just memorizing basic talking points will probably land Arnold in Sacramento.

It's doubtful that those residents who wind up voting pay much attention to sniffy editorials such as "Muscle Beach Politics," which appeared in the New York Times last Friday. Ridiculing Schwarzenegger's appearance on Jay Leno's show as "flat" and "suprisingly mindless," the author cautioned California Democrats to make sure one of their own defeated the movie star. "It is possible," the piece concluded, "to oppose the recall but still make sure that if Mr. Davis goes, there is a good alternative on the ballot, stuck in there amid the pornographers and exhibitionists and Terminators."

The once "golden state" may have a Terminator, but New York City's produced Al Sharpton, a true disgrace.

I still don't believe that Davis, although a dirty and deceitful public official, ought to be subject to de facto impeachment less than a year after his reelection, but then California's a very strange state that few can comprehend.

Maybe that's why nearly every single pundit and editorialist is speculating about the election. Michael Kramer in Sunday's Daily News, who tomahawked Schwarzenegger while urging Al Gore to run for president, wrote one of the dumbest columns. Kramer's take: "So it has come to this: In California, a hotbed of carnival politics ["carnival" is the most popular cliche to describe the election], a joke candidate is running for governor, while in the nation at large, where things are truly serious, a real candidate could run for President but isn't."

My in-laws live in California, and they're not alone in objecting to Kramer's flip notion that the state's $38 billion deficit isn't "truly serious." Kramer also, without documentation, claims that polls verify that residents see "Gov. Arnold as a laughingstock."

In today's JWR, Zev Chafets takes aim at those who'd smear Schwarzenegger as anti-Semitic because his father was a Nazi cop a long time ago in Austria, and because he has a friendship with Kurt Waldheim. Chafets first demolishes Slate's Timothy Noah, who in an embarrassing demonstration of political naivete, wrote on Aug. 7, "If Schwarzenegger doesn't renounce Waldheim in a highly public way, he can forget about ever becoming governor of California." Noah's an admitted Democrat, but does he really believe that Waldheim will be any more than a footnote in the election, especially when nude pictures of Davis' possible successor are floating across the country?

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Chafets, after detailing the actor's documented monetary and political support of Israel, then puts things in perspective. He says: "Don't get me wrong. I'm not an Arnold fan. I've never liked his movies or his cheesy public persona. I also don't care who becomes the next governor of California. To me, it's like the debate over gay bishops in the Episcopal Church-interesting, but not my problem.

"What I do care about is the cynical manipulation of Hitler's legacy for political purposes. Casting Schwarzenegger as a Nazi sympathizer-for the greater good of Gov. Gray Davis or any of the other candidates-is a crime against human memory."

So, full speed ahead, Arnold, and help the GOP in 2004 not only in delivering the state for President Bush, but getting rid of Sen. Barbara Boxer as well.

More significantly on a national level, the internecine split in the Democratic Party over next year's presidential nomination is getting uglier, and far more entertaining than the California sideshow, every day. The fear that Howard Dean might defeat Sen. John Kerry has the Beltway in a tizzy, and the media, led by the Times, is attempting to alter the dynamics of the race. Last Sunday, the Times' Adam Nagourney wrote a front-page article, headlined "As Campaign Tightens, Kerry Sharpens Message," that was a virtual endorsement of the charisma-challenged Vietnam veteran.

Nagourney: "Three months after many Democrats and Mr. Kerry himself thought he was rolling to the Democratic presidential nomination, he is frequently stuck in the shadow of an opponent who has moved from small-bore annoyance to potential threat. By all appearances, the changed atmosphere in the early battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire has forced Mr. Kerry to recalibrate his approach to the crowded race for the nomination."

While this single paragraph by the Times reporter isn't as willfully dishonest-to be charitable-as a Paul Krugman column or Gore's speech last week on Iraq, it's full of holes. First of all, "three months ago," which would be May, Dean was already the surprise sensation of the year. Kerry, after engaging in almost daily catfights with his Vermont challenger, was quickly adapting his stump speech in an attempt to win over the hardcore Democratic base that will never accept Bush as a legitimate president. Maybe Kerry believed he was "rolling" to the nomination, but no one else did, especially since the polls were deadlocked and Dean's discovery of Internet funding was the talk of Washington.

Second, if Nagourney really believes that Dean is merely a "potential threat" to Kerry rather than a "small-bore annoyance," he ought to consider another line of work. In reality, right now it's Kerry who's a threat to Dean. And Kerry isn't "frequently stuck in the shadow" of Dean; he's constantly "stuck" there. Add the recall frenzy in California, and Massachusetts' junior senator is in the unexpected position of grasping for any attention at all.

And that's why Kerry, as quoted by Nagourney, is making the kind of statements that prove he's having a very serious panic attack. In Minneapolis, echoing second-tier candidate Bob Graham, Kerry said, "This is the greatest say-one-thing-do-another administration that I've seen in all the time I've been in public life-since Richard Nixon was president of the United States." Playing the Nixon card so early on isn't the strategy of a candidate who aspires to be seen as "electable."

Kerry, in another gross distortion that plays with the protest crowd, also says that today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression. Perhaps the senator's parents made a killing in the stock market after the 1929 crash, as Joe Kennedy did, but today's unemployment figures pale in comparison to those of 70 years ago. You could make a case, although it would be a stretch, that the country's fiscal condition is comparable to that under Jimmy Carter, but why stick to mere hyperbole when you can tell an outright lie?

In New Hampshire, as Nagourney reports, Kerry referred to his Republican Senate colleagues as "52 troglodytes on the other side," before retreating and saying, "I take that back-I'll take that back. You have 50 people who believe something else on the other side of the aisle." No mention of who the two remaining "troglodytes" were. As for Dean's early and strident opposition to deposing Saddam Hussein, Kerry said, "I don't know his position [on Iraq]. He's all over the place."

Nagourney ends his article with more doublespeak from Kerry, and the reader might conclude that even he, who wrote of the candidate's "sharper, more focused and more compact" speeches, isn't fully buying this bunk. He writes: "As Mr. Kerry was moving through the White Mountains here today, a reporter asked if he was worried that Dr. Dean had been on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines-a platform Mr. Kerry would presumably have liked to have had. [Presumably?]

"'Campaigns have cycles,' Mr. Kerry responded. 'It's early. It's very early.'

The senator, who has spent the better part of two years preparing for this, continued: 'I haven't even announced yet. We have some time to create some energy here.'"

Message number one to Kerry: Millions of Americans don't care. Message number two: It's not early. In a matter of months, after the initial debates and reports of third-quarter campaign contributions, the nine-candidate field will winnow down, with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards most likely the first casualties. And then it's off to Iowa and New Hampshire, where Dean, who's perfecting his mad-as-hell persona daily, can say almost anything to Democratic activists and get away with it, as long as it's anti-Bush.

At this point, Kerry's the underdog.

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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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