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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000/ 17 Menachem-Av, 5760


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All the old dudes -- IT'S A SOBERING thought that Ted Sorensen, John F. Kennedy's young and invaluable aide, is now 72. More sobering still is to realize that when a person reaches that age he or she sometimes cannot escape the past, and winds up reliving ancient glories, endlessly fighting the same battles. So I give Sorensen half a bye for his nostalgic op-ed piece in The New York Times on Aug. 12, a horrid article that belittled Gov. George W. Bush in a vain attempt to keep the author's vision of Camelot alive.

While delusional Democrats cling to the daft notion that this fall's election will be a rerun of the 1988 face-off between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, the more correct analogy-as much as any election can be compared to one from another era-is to Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960. Unsurprisingly, Sorensen, appalled that Bush is cast in the JFK role, wants to be heard from the old folks' peanut gallery.

A few highlights. He writes: "Both men delivered vigorous acceptance addresses in mostly moderate tones, at ease on both television and the hustings. But Kennedy, having never veered from the center during the primaries, had no need to backpedal at the convention or to conceal his party's record in Congress. He waged a campaign of ideas, not vague applause lines..."

Surely Sorensen realizes that when Kennedy ran for president, he didn't even announce officially until the calendar year of the election.

Although JFK was the favorite going into the Los Angeles Democratic convention that year, his nomination wasn't a mere formality. And not only has Bush criticized the GOP-controlled Congress, a bold move for a Republican candidate, but despite Sorensen's dismissiveness, the Texas Governor provided a great deal of substance, as did JFK, at his convention. Forty years have passed; Bush intends to modernize the FDR New Deal legacy that was still working on at least three cylinders in '60; he's intent on creating a missile defense system which, if successful, will be of far more benefit than Kennedy's adventurous promise to send a man to the moon. And, like Kennedy, Bush is a tax-cutter.

Sorensen says of his boss, "Respectful of the presidency, Kennedy criticized the incumbent administration only on policy grounds, never personal ones." If the onetime whiz kid fratboy can't tell the difference between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, he has no business writing articles for any newspaper, even The New York Times.

How we've fallen!

The craziest comments in Sorensen's piece were that Kennedy was "beholden to no one" and needed to adopt "neither his father's policies nor his advisers." It's plain history that Joe Kennedy ran and financed his son's campaign, cut deals with the mob and dictated Robert F. Kennedy's appointment as attorney general. It's also well-known that JFK was indeed beholden to a powerful government official: J. Edgar Hoover. So, Ted, cut the purity crud.

Also, there weren't many of Joe Kennedy's advisers that JFK would've wanted: remember, the former ambassador to England had advocated appeasement with Hitler. That's a far cry from George W. Bush taking counsel from the likes of Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.

A ST. LUCIA SCORECARD Democrats Eat Fried Rats: that was the moral of the story.

Fine, an explanation is in order. Ten days ago, my wife, two boys and I were riding in a taxi-van from the Jalousie Hilton resort on St. Lucia, on an hour-long trek to visit friends who live in a small village at the southern tip of the island. The streets are extremely narrow, with no guardrails and few lamps, and as you bump along, looking out either window at the bunches of bananas on trees, sealed in blue bags to ripen, every 10 minutes or so you'd see a small girl wandering to nowhere, or an elderly man setting up his bare-bones roadside bar for the day. Junior and MUGGER III, for the first half of the trip, were fascinated by the goats, cows, pigs, chickens and bulls that roamed the fields, for it's not often they see such an array of animals, except when they're processed for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Mrs. M and I contentedly gazed at the mountainous terrain-St. Lucia is a fourth-world civilization that still has tangential ties to Britain-etching the fishing towns in our heads and watching the men with machetes walking in the streets and the kids tossing rocks at mango trees to shake loose the fruit. Most of all, we noted the disproportionate number of women in plain sight. Maybe the guys were drinking Piton beers and playing poker underground all day, but as in most Caribbean cultures, it seems, the roost is ruled by females: girls have babies early and often, the men disappear and extended clans live together, trying to make ends meet. It was pretty depressing on the whole, but we didn't meet one St. Lucian who had any complaints. In fact, several had been to Manhattan and felt similar puzzlement about the Martians who inhabit this island.

So as we drove, and drove some more, onward to Mari's house, near the Hewanorra International Airport, the boys grew restless and wanted to talk politics and baseball. Junior, almost eight years old, is trying to jam as much MLB info into his head as possible, and thinks I'm a human encyclopedia. He asks tough questions, like, "When was Crosley Field torn down?" and "Who made the most errors on the Boston Braves team of 1938?" If I can't come up with an immediate answer, and a funny anecdote to boot, he looks at me like I've got the intelligence of Al Gore charity case Chris Lehane or Rep. Maxine Waters.


We segued to the topic of American wars-neither boy could fathom the horrible reality of brothers fighting brothers in the Civil War, but who can?-and since we'd just been to Boston and seen the monument commemorating the skirmish at Bunker Hill, I reminded the tykes that it's possible to lose a battle but still win the war. That tidbit came in handy later in the afternoon back at the Jalousie pool, when a group of British and Dutch teenagers sabotaged a raft of foam floats the boys and other little kids had fashioned, nicknamed "Old Rusty." When the yobbo from Manchester completely destroyed the makeshift vessel, Junior cried out, "I can tell you're a Redcoat! We may have lost this battle, but we won't lose the war!"

Probably baffled the mostly European crowd quietly sunning by the pool, but I proudly chuckled, relieved for a moment to ignore an awful book I'm reviewing for The Wall Street Journal in a few weeks.

Junior cited the Nickelodeon poll that shows 60 percent of that station's viewers prefer George W. Bush for president this fall, a statistic that leads him to believe that the Texan has the election wrapped up. Would that it were that simple, but, in any case, I digressed into a long monologue on presidential politics, starting with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and going on to Teddy Roosevelt's trust-busting adventures, Woodrow Wilson's overeducated mind and domineering wife and the quiet wisdom of Calvin Coolidge. I gave a grudging nod to FDR's political brilliance and finally wound up with an explanation of Watergate. I told Junior exactly who the Great Communicator was. When he asked about Monica Lewinsky, I veered off into the importance of honesty and being faithful to your family. And that brought me back to my own dad, a man who never belonged to a country club, didn't go to an Ivy League school, inherited no wealth, worked with his hands and still voted Republican every November. Once, after I asked why he voted for Goldwater in '64, he told me that LBJ was a liar who planned to escalate the Vietnam War-and with five sons he wasn't in favor of that Best & Brightest fiasco at all. Then, with a wink, he said, "Besides, Rusty, Democrats eat fried rats!"

Although I'm not a beach kind of guy-too much sand and obnoxious swingin' singles who speak too loudly, especially after getting looped on their first 11 a.m. frozen drink-it was a pretty swell vacation. Mrs. M sat by the Caribbean for the majority of the week, polishing off seven or eight books; the kids went for outings under the auspices of the Learning Center, feeding fish, taking a trip on a glass-bottom boat, playing soccer and looking for insects; and I read magazines and three-day-old Wall Street Journals and messed around with my laptop. One thing about St. Lucia, it's not very computer-friendly. One sway of a palm tree, let alone a sudden thundershower, and the AOL crashes instantly. The boys also spent a lot of time in the pool, although Junior picked up a nasty sunburn on his face, especially his lips, and didn't care at all for his trip to the hotel's nurse.

One Sunday the boys and I took a cab to the nearby town, Soufriere, where the annual carnival was taking place. I'd assumed it'd be a few hours of rides, fire-eaters, cotton candy and carnies looking to make a buck on rigged games of chance. That was naive. Instead it was a local Mardi Gras-with a somewhat hostile adult crowd, already bombed at 3 in the afternoon, and a makeshift parade that no one paid much attention to. We stopped at one bar, where the music was so loud MUGGER III covered his ears, and they were all out of Cokes; the roughshod man behind the counter asked if we wanted three Heinekens instead. No joke.

The streets were filthy, the stores were closed, the popcorn was stale and the boys, sweltering in the heat, grew crankier by the minute.

Actually, it was the kind of event I'd have loved 25 years ago, but it's no fun being trailed by hustlers when you've got two children in tow. We stopped in a church park for a breather and an ersatz, drugged-out Rastaman caught up with us. He laid some slurred schmooze on me, about how beautiful the boys were, etc., and then went for the sale. He'd carved some calabash shells, which I'm sure took about a minute apiece, and was convinced that Junior and MUGGER III would just kill to have one of them upon their shelves. I wanted to get rid of the guy, especially noticing the 8-inch knife in his pouch, so I played the game: he wanted 25 Eastern Caribbean dollars (about $9 U.S.) apiece. We dickered back and forth and I finally forked over $10 E.C. for one; he was POed, but at least left us alone.

Another day, the four of us went to see Mount Soufriere, a natural complex of craters, dormant volcanoes, bubbling mud and waterfalls. Most significantly, and as the place's name should have warned us, the entire area is imbued with the malodorous scent of sulfur. Now, it's said that such a wonder is a tonic for the sinuses, but to the four of us it just smelled really, really bad. In fact, in the midst of our tour, after dodging more hostile hucksters selling exorbitantly priced souvenirs, Junior started coughing and then deposited his breakfast in a nearby patch of grass. The tour guide was nonplused and kept to her script; no doubt she's seen it all before. Mrs. M had to steel herself against the same reaction, and wound up with a headache that didn't abate for six hours.

Much to my wife's chagrin, before we left MUGGER III and I stocked up on tacky trinkets-he's got a world-class key-chain collection-at the hotel's gift shops. A few magnets here, several hot mama dolls there, some bottles of hot sauce, fudge made in St. Lucia and, the bane of Mrs. M's interior design scheme for our loft, two more piggy banks for my office. I'm a pack rat by nature, and so is our younger son, while Junior and his mother like a neat, orderly environment, free of clutter. So solly, Cholly, I tell her, and receive a raised eyebrow for my good humor.

Where to next? Junior's lobbying heavily for Chicago, so he can see Wrigley Field and Slammin' Sammy; Mrs. M wants to go farther into the Caribbean to Trinidad; MUGGER III says Coney Island would suit him fine (a fiscal genius already, just before his sixth birthday); and for all the delays in travel we had landing at St. Lucia, I'd just as soon slip the kids a mickey and get back to the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, the finest resort in the world, at least in my somewhat varied travel experiences.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith