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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2000/ 5 Elul, 5760


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Consumer Reports

Everybody's a comedian -- SO EVERYBODY'S A COMEDIAN at the Labor Day break. Frankly, I haven't found much to laugh about in the past week, at least in this year's fifth-dimensional political arena, but as Joe Lieberman is eventually bound to say, Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, my Mama said.

Gail Collins, the atrocious New York Times columnist, made me cringe upon reading her shot-and-a-beer op-ed piece on Sept. 1. She asked: "So which team better understands the working stiff?" The Gore-Lieberman ticket was her obvious conclusion, as she poked fun at Bush's "afternoon naps" and Cheney's financial success at Halliburton Co. She also said that Gore and Lieberman are not "rich men," although I doubt Al and Tipper's offspring went to private school via scholarships. Needless to say, there was no mention of the Gore family's stake in Occidental Petroleum, which would necessitate an admission that three "oil men" are running for national office this year.

But what really got my goat was Collins' unctuous final two lines: "Happy Labor Day weekend. Buy a steelworker a drink." I'd be surprised if Collins actually knows any steelworkers-it's not the 1950s, dear-but this Marie Antoinette tossed-off bon mot, so typical of pampered Times reporters and pundits, just reinforces the Beltway mindset about people who actually work for a living, some with their hands. Yes, Gail, buy a steelworker, plumber, cop or deli clerk a snort of whiskey, and feel empowered that your solidarity with the labor movement is on the record.

What a moron.

A Sept. 4 Times editorial continues the let-them-eat-pheasant routine. The writer, possibly using a quill pen during these lazy last days of summer, muses about the coming month in grad-school prose that a steelworker, that vital societal ant the Times anachronistically celebrates, would surely choke over. Please read the following poetry: "This is the time we should take off from work-only we never do-to watch summer and fall collide, to feel the sharp nights and the warm days, to walk through a garden that is ripening and dying all at once. In the country, a morning will come soon enough when all the gnats have disappeared, a sign that this short season is over."

Despite the surprisingly perfunctory state-of-the-presidential-race pieces that ran in most daily newspapers last Sunday, solemnly pronouncing that the 2000 Bush-Gore matchup is certain to be the closest in a generation, the news is actually far worse for the well-rested Texan. I give little credence to Newsweek polls-they rely on "registered" voters instead of those who are "likely" to actually turn out Nov. 7, which means a tilt to Democrats-but the troubled weekly (staff morale is low and turnover is high) must be given points for sheer bravado. As the media has explained, ad nauseam, the candidate ahead on Labor Day is almost a lock to win two months hence. Therefore, Newsweek's poll, cleverly released last Friday afternoon, was a sucker punch to Bush partisans: it gave the Veep an astonishing 10-point lead-49 to 39 percent-and dominated the weekend's political coverage.


The bulletin was jarring enough that I turned off my computer and skimmed the new hitjob on the late Richard Nixon-The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers-and finished up David Gergen's Eyewitness to Power, a dreadful book filled with happy garbage about the presidents Gergen shilled for. Summers' allegations of Nixon's wife-beating didn't seem kosher to me-both husband and wife are dead-and while there's plenty to criticize the controversial president for, such as his nutty implementation of wage and price controls, Summers' agenda is as one-sided as a Joe Conason valentine to Bill Clinton.

I suspect the more reliable Gallup poll, probably released within days, will also show Gore in the lead, but by a margin of perhaps five points. Nonetheless, this topsy-turvy presidential contest gets weirder every day. In the space of three weeks the entire dynamic has been altered; the election is no longer Bush's to lose. He's actually going to have to break a sweat and win the damn thing. The internal polls from both camps, my sources say, show encouraging results for Gore, with Bush's once-commanding leads in Democratic strongholds like Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia up in smoke. That much isn't surprising, but the fact that Florida is actually a competitive state is going to divert time and money for Bush. I find it hard to believe that Gore can clone any more "seniors," the group he's scared silly with his prescription drug demagoguery; and if Gov. Jeb Bush can't deliver the state for his brother it'll be a long winter for the tight-knit clan.

It wasn't reassuring that the GOP nominee was chatting up reporters at his Crawford, TX, residence over the weekend, instead of hitting the road. After a briefing by the CIA, Bush claimed he was itching to go dove hunting. "If I can shoot some dove," he said, "I might decide to have a little dove supper; they're good to eat. I'm not the world's best cook, but I think you can say they're not going to be raw by the time I get through." Swell. While Gore is bragging about doing a Jerry Lewis-style campaign-a-thon, Bush is auditioning for the Food Channel.

But all is not lost. This week is crucial for the Bush-Cheney ticket, and by Sunday afternoon there were signs that the Austin strategists had taken the cold showers they've avoided for at least a month.

Bush finally issued a debate challenge to Gore, eliminating the favored media theme that "lightweight" Georgie is a scaredy-cat when it comes to a one-on-one confrontation with that ferocious forensic champ Gore. Wisely rejecting the Commission on Presidential Debates' schedule, Bush put forth a varied roster: five debates in all, with three presidential confrontations, two of which will be hosted by NBC's Tim Russert (Sept. 12) and CNN's Larry King (Oct. 3) and one that will be a traditional Commission setup (Oct. 17).


Both the Vice President and campaign manager Bill Daley immediately rejected Bush's proposal, but that puts the onus on their ticket: the press will have a tough time arguing that Russert, one of their own, isn't worthy, especially since Bush wants to immediately engage Gore. Bush said on Sunday, realizing that he was finally dominating the news cycle: "My opponent has said he will debate any time, anywhere, and he has already accepted the debates that I am accepting today. It's important for the American people to be able to trust the next president to keep his commitments, and therefore I take Al Gore at his word that he will be there."

In addition, Bush's Larry King choice is bound to be popular with the general public; remember, Clinton and Gore got huge mileage out of appearances on goofball King's show in '92, as did Ross Perot. That Bush capitulated to the standard-NPR type Commission debate at Washington University in St. Louis is a show of good faith.

On Tuesday, Bush is scheduled to detail his own plans for prescription drugs-the issue that Gore has been creaming him on. It's imperative he explain exactly how the Vice President's risky scheme is all populist smoke and mirrors that recalls Hillary Clinton's disastrous healthcare boondoggle that would've controlled one-seventh of the U.S. economy.

This speech, as well as the debates, affords Bush a perfect opportunity to tell Americans the truth: that the election of Gore will result in more government regulation and intervention and in the stifling of the entrepreneurship that's kept the economy humming during the 90s. Also, it gives Bush the forum in which to ask why the Clinton-Gore administration, in almost eight years, hasn't accomplished any of the goals that the Democratic candidate is now promising to accomplish.

Bush must seize the Jacksonian strategic ground: he needs to be the cultural populist and position Gore as the cultural elitist that he truly is.

The Vice President's populist scam and bromides against big companies have to be exposed. In last Sunday's Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman neatly summed up Gore's contradictions: "But it's hard to see what Gore's villains have done to deserve being strung up. When he declares, 'I want to fight for the people, not the powerful,' he neglects to mention that the chief obligation of big corporations is to serve the needs of their customers, most of who are ordinary folks. Faulting their alleged sins without acknowledging their contributions to our welfare and happiness is like visiting the beach and noticing only the sunburns, not the sand or the water... Candidates for high office feel they need enemies to run against. But the ones Gore singles out for abuse do far more good than harm, and if they didn't exist, we would soon miss them. Which is more than you can say for some politicians."

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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