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Jewish World Review Aug. 18, 1999/ 6 Elul, 5759


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A Sunburned Devil

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- GEORGE WILL can eat my Bermuda shorts.

I’m in the air right now, on a Continental flight returning from a weeklong, sun-drenched family vacation, so I’m missing the roundtable on ABC’s This Week, with Will no doubt tut-tutting the significance of Gov. George W. Bush’s convincing win in the Ames straw poll on Saturday night. Besides his appearance as a professorial prig of the most foul order, you get the feeling that Will doesn’t have much fun in life; he probably wears galoshes in the shower.

As far as presidential candidates, I doubt many would meet with Will’s sniffy approval, save Plato, Cal Ripken Jr. or maybe a pol who’s currently paying his wife’s salary. In his Aug. 12 New York Post column, headlined “Not Ready for Prime Time? George W.’s First Stumble,” Will rapped the GOP front-runner’s knuckles for using the f-word so freely in Tucker Carlson’s profile of him in Talk, a middlebrow monthly that’s currently a hit on newsstands. Will scolds Bush for not demonstrating presidential gravitas and criticizes him for telling the reporter he’s not fond of reading 500-page policy documents.

Fine, the damage was done. Carlson spent days with the candidate, most of it in May and June, when the Governor’s campaign was just starting to unroll in public. Bush was more relaxed than was prudent with a member of the press, even a pro-life conservative like Carlson whose primary job is at The Weekly Standard.

But as I wrote last week, Will has never liked the Bush family and never misses an opportunity to take a dig at the clan. While Will admits that Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan “knew the pleasures of salty language...But not in front of the children, meaning the press,” as did Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton (I’ll give Carter a bye here), the uptight commentator is worried that Bush’s Democratic opponent in the general election—barring some catastrophic world event or huge personal scandal, it’s clear GWB will be the GOP nominee—will have an advantage over the Governor. He writes: “Bush is taking a political party along on his ride. He and it will care if on Nov. 7, 2000, people think of Gore or Bradley as an unexciting but serious professor and of him as an amiable fraternity boy, but a boy.”

What an idiot. After two terms of Clinton/Gore you’d think that Will, as a conservative, wouldn’t be so obvious with his animus toward the Bush family. I hardly think an “amiable fraternity boy” could’ve defeated incumbent Ann Richards in Texas in ’94 and then won reelection in a landslide four years later, capturing a huge minority vote. Someone perceived as a “boy” doesn’t amass an historic number of campaign contributions in his first run for president; or create an overwhelming groundswell, both in boardrooms and in small-town America, to replace the scandal-scarred, irrelevant President Clinton. Bush has admitted to having a “reckless” youth; I’ll bet it wasn’t as “reckless” as he says, but that’s what the Beltway press wants to hear. Will’s problem, I’m certain, is that he was born in a bowtie, wearing glasses, and for fun in college went to baseball games, scoring every play in his notebook.

Indeed, as it turned out, Will focused on Elizabeth Dole’s third-place finish, a surprising but ultimately meaningless moral victory. The GOP simply isn’t going to back Dole. It has nothing to do with gender, but rather her age and husband. Bush has charisma on the stump; Dole still speaks like a sugar-coated automaton and has the continued embarrassment of Bob Dole hawking Viagra on the tube. What the Beltway media, which has denounced the Iowa poll as a free-spending sham, is missing is that it does matter, even if no delegates were selected. As a result of Saturday’s carnival Lamar Alexander will drop out of the race, Dan Quayle will soon join him and John McCain has been left in the dust (if you don’t compete in Iowa, forget New Hampshire). That’s not a meaningless event. Bush will raise even more money now from Tennessee, inheriting Alexander’s small core of supporters, and will campaign on the high road for the rest of the fall, giving him time to fine-tune his message. Forbes, who took just 20 percent of the vote, had to be disappointed: He outspent everyone and came away with almost nothing. Gary Bauer’s results had more significance.

Jake Tapper’s dispatch from Iowa for Monday’s Salon was particularly amateurish, demonstrating that he’s a green political reporter who unwisely is taking tips from the tired pundits he’s forced to consort with. Consider this cliche-studded lede: “Gov. George W. Bush no doubt will take some comfort from his victory in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, but he probably shouldn’t take too much.

“As former Presidents Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm, among others, can attest, winning this early vote for president doesn’t mean that a candidate will win his party’s nomination, let alone the whole enchilada 15 months from now.

“Still, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Bush—who first came to Iowa only a few weeks ago, and beat second-place finisher/oddball gazillionaire Steve Forbes by 10.5 percent—seems to be striking a chord among voters.”

First, I’ll scream if I read one more cute reference in the media to front-runners who didn’t make the cut—Presidents Romney, Muskie, Glenn, etc. The joke is over and it wasn’t very smart to begin with. Second, Jake, it’s reassuring that you’ve noticed that Bush “seems to be striking a chord among voters.” That’s only been obvious since the spring.

Finally, the reason the Ames poll was significant, and not the “sham” that reporters claim, is because of the front-loaded primary system that’s in place for 2000. Because this event was so far ahead of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, it became the de facto first test of the large field of candidates.

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

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