Jewish World Review August 29, 2001/ 10 Elul, 5761


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Happy retirement to the good Jesse -- THE Republican Party is fortunate that Sen. Jesse Helms, hobbled by illness and old age, is calling it quits at the end of his term. Had he campaigned for a sixth term next year, odds are some Democrat like John Edwards-the liberal media's new pet who's mistakenly characterized as typical of the "new" North Carolina, as if the state were filled with millionaire trial lawyers-would've defeated him. I hope Elizabeth Dole, despite the catty comments of purists like columnist Michelle Malkin, who called Dole "Jim Jeffords in a skirt," decides to run for Helms' seat. She's the GOP's best hope in North Carolina-by far-in a year when control of the Senate will likely hinge on one or two races.

There was much to criticize in Helms' long political career. He's a protectionist, homophobe, at least marginally racist and he often engaged in obstructionism for sheer sport. His derailing of William Weld as ambassador to Mexico was one of the stupidest causes Helms wasted time on. But any man of principle who can cause fits among the disgraceful aristocrats who control The New York Times deserves his nation's thanks.

As both Robert Novak and Al Hunt, ideological opposites, have noted, without Helms' crucial support of Ronald Reagan in the North Carolina primary in 1976 against President Ford, Reagan would've run out of gas that year-instead of challenging Ford right up until the convention-and most likely wouldn't even have captured the Republican nomination four years later. That's certainly the Senator's most important legacy.

Here's a Helms quote, printed in Sunday's Times, that demonstrates why there's such a well of affection for the old-timer among conservatives. In 1999, Helms told Bill Clinton's corrupt attorney general, Janet Reno: "If an East German mother had died trying to cross the Berlin Wall with her child, can you imagine for one instant throwing the child back over the wall? Elian [Gonzalez] must not be thrown back over the wall simply because his mother did not survive the crossing."

That's good enough for me, if not for Howell Raines, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Sidney Blumenthal, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Barney Frank, Teddy Kennedy and Gary Condit.

Sports Illustrated is no longer the stylish magazine of decades past; its descent into a fog of smug, formula-driven journalism hasn't been as rapid as sister weekly Time, which has fallen off the relevance radar, but unread copies of S.I. pile up in my basket, destined for the recycling bin.

(Time sinks lower and lower: its Sept. 3 cover is devoted to women's tennis, with the two right-hand corner snipes reading "Who Stole the Surplus?" and "What's Hot This Fall.")

However, the Aug. 27 S.I. did contain a lead feature-"The Most Overrated and Underrated"-which, despite the cheap "list" hook that's found once a month in Entertainment Weekly (another lazy AOL Time Warner publication), was compelling enough that I read it upon its arrival in the mailbox.


Michael Bamberger wrote a convincing essay disparaging baseball's Mark McGwire in comparison to Stan Musial; E.M. Swift was on the mark in touting the superb Whitey Ford over the absurdly lionized Nolan Ryan; and it was gratifying to see Kostya Kennedy stick up for poor Bill Buckner, who had to leave Massachusetts for Idaho to escape the taunts of knuckleheads who hold him solely responsible for the Red Sox's collapse in the '86 World Series. It was also bracing to read Swift's nod to Rocky Marciano (while knocking the post-'67 Muhammad Ali), especially the quote gathered from Joe Louis: "The Rock didn't know too much about the boxing book, but it wasn't a book he hit me with. It was a whole library of bone-crushers."

I'm a Johnny U. man myself, but if Peter King believes Phil Simms is the NFL's most underrated quarterback it's no skin off my nose. And former Baltimore Sun writer Tom Verducci said it better than anyone about the mania of Cal Ripken's never-ending farewell tour, dismissing The Streak as an "oddity" rather than a benchmark baseball achievement. He writes: "Ripken's record has great gee-whiz appeal-like the world records for pogo-stick jumping, pole-sitting and the rest of the feats that keep the people at Ripley's and Guinness in business-but looking for true significance in the feat is no more fruitful than trying to explain why someone would scarf down 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes."

Jeff MacGregor's Bosox-bashing, in the category "Most Overrated Hopeless Obsession," was obnoxious more for his sophomoric writing than the actual idea, which was coincidentally vindicated, in part, by Nicholas Dawidoff's Aug. 26 New York Times Magazine piece. Dawidoff, who could be the model for MacGregor's dismissal of some Sox fans as "hopeless faux-brainiac romantics," couldn't have been snootier when he mused, probably in a nonsmoking jacket, about the pleasure Cubs, Phillies and Red Sox obsessives derive from a continual lack of success on the baseball diamond.

Proving that elitism at the Times isn't confined to the editorial pages, Dawidoff, making George Will look like a beer-instead-of-chardonnay kind of regular Joe, wrote: "In fact, the private conviction of fans supporting doomed teams holds that there is something dissipating about success, and something less stimulating. Baseball is no different from Shakespeare and Chekhov, in that the most appealing stories are always tragic. Othello and Gene Mauch are far more compelling than Henry V and Derek Jeter... All of this is to say that Cubs, Phillies and Red Sox fans will be disappointed once again when this October comes, but they will not be unduly unhappy. For them, to lose is to win."

Sorry, chief, but when the Sox fell short in 18 innings to the Rangers last Saturday, I was mad, not pleased. And when Boston lost again in Arlington on Sunday, making errors and stranding runners, I fumed. I also break out in hives when reading the Times' Buster Olney and Murray Chass, who both consider themselves "Fifth Yankees," tarnishing Murray the K's legend. Chass, this past Sunday, was especially loathsome, writing that "just maybe" the Sox will play in the postseason, even though a month remains in the schedule. But should Boston not make the playoffs in October, I won't even watch the World Series. Instead I'll be muttering about Derek Lowe, Rod Beck and Nomar Garciaparra's injury until Ground Hog's Day.

MacGregor is too cute when he tosses all Sox fans into the same stew. His take: "An object of masochistic adoration fit only for vain and miserable flagellants like postmodern comic novelists, flinty Down East spinster schoolmarms...the Boston Red Sox play out their useless seasons as an endless loop of tragicomic self-immolation. The curs'd stage upon which they enact their stupefying dumb show, Fenway Park, is no better than a black hole into which the rosy dreams of egghead fans from Halifax to Hartford have been sucked since the second administration of Woodrow Wilson... The Red Sox, in short, are losers. Accept it. Get on with your life. I did."

That's lovely, Jeff. May I suggest a remedial history course as you get on with your life-and perhaps a stern word for S.I.'s factcheckers-since anyone who rags on Fenway ought to know it opened in 1912, the year that Wilson was elected to his first term.

By far the most irritating entry in this spread was Michael Silver's denigration of Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner" as the national anthem. He favors the patriotic, but Hallmark-tinged, "America the Beautiful" (although probably preferring the groovy "Get Together") as a prelude to baseball games, writing, "What evokes a more pleasing image: Key's tale of bombs, rockets and a perilous fight or this ode to spacious skies, fruited plains, purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain? This is a lean, clean song that won't scare the wits out of young children and small dogs."

Silver can wave his pacifism flag high, and flash his ACLU card for all I care, but resilient "young children" can handle the content of Key's hastily written but powerful poem about England's unsuccessful attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry on Sept. 13, 1814. There's no better hymn that describes America's still-fragile independence from the British, no finer spontaneous burst of pride commemorating our country's fledgling democracy.

Sad to say that most citizens probably don't even know the words of "The Star Spangled Banner," so here's the first verse. "O! say can you see, by the dawn's early light,/What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming./Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,/O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?/And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,/Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there./O! say does that star spangled banner yet wave,/O'er the land of the free, and home of the brave?"

Hard to sing? Yeah, but so what? Most people have lousy voices anyway. The evocation of our country overcoming a military invasion on our home turf is infinitely more inspiring than a benign hallelujah to the country's heroes and agricultural largesse.

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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© 2001, Russ Smith