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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2000/ 12 Elul, 5760

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Bush on the offensive


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I WRESTLED with a question of balance last Saturday. It was a breezy, sunny morning downtown, and the sight of MUGGER III and a bunch of other six-year-olds booting the soccer ball around the field, garbed in their electric-yellow Newcastle jerseys, took the breath away from Mrs. M and me. Later in the afternoon, however, Junior and I watched the Red Sox's season end at Fenway Park in the top of the seventh inning, as the incomparable Pedro Martinez surrendered a three-run homer to Scott Brosius, one of the Yanks' clutch clubbers. I immediately turned off the tube, picked up my copy of Evan Thomas' new bio of Robert F. Kennedy and wondered what was the more momentous event of the day. Sorry, m'boy, but there are soccer games from now until Thanksgiving; another Bosox run at a Series championship-hell, even the wild card slot-inevitably gone awry left me in a crummy, if hardly unfamiliar, mood.

On the other hand, it was a relief at week's end to find most polls showing a statistical dead heat between George W. Bush and Al Gore. As usual, the media was about four news cycles behind the real story of the campaign at this point: Bush had bottomed out just before Labor Day, finally realizing that the prominence of Tipper and Joe Lieberman had successfully separated the oily Gore from Bill Clinton. That the race is even at this point, after a print/electronic blitz about Bush's mangled syntax and unwarranted complacency, Republican infighting and the Governor's debate gamble is, as Rabbi/Reverend/Ayatollah Lieberman might say, a miracle. In fact, a Gore adviser told The Washington Post's Dan Balz, in a story printed on Sept. 10: "They've had the three worst weeks of the campaign, they have a ton more money than we do and they're even in the polls. You tell me how they're cratering."

And if Tip's smooch with her husband at the Democratic convention was the symbol of the Democrat's dazzling turnaround, to a lesser degree Bush's mild slur on New York Times propagandist Adam Clymer turned the same trick. The Beltway elite feigned shock that Bush, speaking to runningmate Dick Cheney at an Illinois rally before a live microphone, would call Clymer a "major-league a-hole ."

Allow me to stray from my customary just-the-facts Times-like objectivity to present the following opinions. One, Clymer, no stranger to foul language himself, is an a-hole . According to the May 21, 1997, Washington Times, Clymer was cited by the U.S. Capitol Police for acting in a "loud, profane, and abusive manner" with four officers. And more damning, what other conclusion could one come to after reading in his whitewash of Teddy Kennedy (Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography) that the Massachusetts senior citizen's "achievements as a Senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo Kopechne." Charming.

Mark Steyn wrote in Canada's Sept. 7 National Post: "Oh, well, that's OK then. I don't know how many lives the Senator's changed-he certainly changed Mary Jo's-but I'm struck less by the precise arithmetic than by the curious equation: How many changed lives justify leaving Miss Kopechne struggling for breath for hours pressed up against the window in a small, shrinking airpocket in Teddy's car? If the Senator had managed to change the lives of even more Americans, would it have been OK to leave a couple more broads down there? Such a comparison doesn't automatically make its writer an a---, but it certainly gives one a commanding lead in the preliminary qualifying round."

The "major leaguer" himself

"A-hole" is pretty tame by political and journalistic standards. It might be different, say, if Bush had called The Washington Post's Richard Cohen a "f------ Jew b------." Additionally, any presidential candidate who disparages a member of the press, especially one identified with New York (and a Times troll at that), is going to win votes in almost every region of the country.

After listing his journalistic bona fides (expelled from Moscow during the Vietnam War, "slugged" by a redneck Alabama deputy sheriff, "attacks" from The Weekly Standard, a magazine he dismisses as "from the ideological fringes"), Clymer refused to acknowledge his obvious partisanship in articles he's written about the Governor. Referring to a front-page piece of his in April that slammed Bush's healthcare record in Texas (for which the Times had to issue a correction), Clymer wrote: "But if Mr. Bush did not like it, hey, it's a free country. After all, if newspaper reporters wanted to be loved by their customers, we could drive Good Humor trucks."

There, in a nutshell, is the essence of Times arrogance. I wonder if Al Gore, the second coming of Joe Hill, will now stick up for men and women who "drive Good Humor trucks" or perform other jobs that aren't as lofty as reporting for The New York Times. Gore's spokesman, Chris Lehane, gives an indication of his boss' views. After the dust-up, Lehane said, "Al Gore and the Gore campaign hold the members of the fourth estate in very high regard, including those who write for the paper of record, the New York Times." Lehane didn't elaborate as to whether he or Gore makes regular stops in New York City to lick the wing tips of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

MORE BIG-LEAGUERS
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, in a Sept. 6 roundup of the silly Bush/Clymer controversy, elicited a curious reaction from Jake Tapper, a political correspondent for Salon. "This is very telling," Tapper said. "What does [Bush] think it's going to be like if he actually gets elected president? He's been spoiled by a press corps that has generally been intimidated or lazy or fawning." Considering that Tapper, a liberal reporter, played footsie with Sen. John McCain, one of America's most profane (and, to his credit, unapologetic) politicians, for several months last winter, the reporter's credibility is nil.

The Weekly Standard's Tucker Carlson was, typically, more honest in his assessment of Clymer's reaction to Bush's remark (the Timesman simply said, "I'm disappointed in the governor's language.") Carlson told Inside.com's David Carr: "I think it does a great disservice to all journalists when someone like Adam Clymer pretends to be offended by the use of the word 'a-hole .' I mean, aren't journalists supposed to be the kind of people who say 'f---' a lot?'"

Even Slate's Timothy Noah, presumably that online journal's charity hire, thought Clymer was disingenuous, writing on Sept. 5, "[I'm] disappointed in Clymer's language, which is as pompous and insincere as anything [I] can ever recall hearing from a politician. It just isn't possible that Clymer is 'disappointed in' Dubya's outburst. 'Thrilled by' seems much more likely... In [my] book, anyone who'd launch such a schoolmarmish riposte is at best a minor-league a-hole ."

Finally, it was sickening to hear Christopher Hitchens, an 80-proof royal a-hole who also happens to be a wickedly witty journalist, defend Clymer on the Sept. 5 Hardball. He told host Chris Matthews that if he were Clymer, "I would be thrilled. It's like being on Nixon's enemies list." Hitchens, who writes from a socialist perspective but collects checks like a greed-is-good capitalist, is the epitome of a Beltway gnome. You see, Clymer is a friend of Hitchens and lives in his Washington, DC, apartment building. The social circuit trumps all. Were they not buddies, it's difficult to imagine Hitchens sticking up for the stodgy Clymer, who, don't forget, voted for Bob Dole in '96. I do believe that Hitchens has contributed enormously to Bill Clinton's deserved vilification-although his second-rate Sydney Carton-posturing last year in betraying White House snake Sid Blumenthal was a little rich-but one good deed doesn't absolve the hypocrisy that defines both his professional and personal lives.

Blumenthal

(By the way, one of Hitchens' fellow expats, the far more graceful Alexander Cockburn, has just published-with co-author Jeffrey St. Clair-an indispensable Verso volume called Al Gore: A User's Manual, a steal at 23 bucks. Cockburn, a diehard Nader supporter, lets it rip for 284 pages, covering everything from Gore's exploitation of his family's tragedies to his brokered vote in favor of the Gulf War.)

Not everyone agrees with me that Bush's unplanned dig at Clymer was a plus for his campaign. In fact, New York's "National Interest" columnist Lawrence O'Donnell Jr., writing in the Sept. 18 issue, actually believes the incident has sealed the Texan's fate. Repeating the canard that the leader in the polls on Labor Day automatically wins the election-maybe, maybe not-O'Donnell writes: "But on the most important day of the campaign, that two-line exchange was all Al Gore and Joe Lieberman needed to solidify their post-convention surge in the polls and lock up the election. It's over." Lay some odds on me, Larry, and we've got a bet.

In any case, I believe that the Bush campaign is now fully cognizant that victory in November won't come easy; the race is going to be close, nasty and negative. And there's nothing wrong with that. Remember, Gore has consistently shown the capacity to lie, distort and deceive in order to achieve his goal. All this baloney from reporters criticizing Bush's advertising as contradictory to his slogan of "compassionate conservatism" is ephemeral punditry from an insulated cabal that has a stake in Gore's election. Now that Bush has dropped the Rose Garden strategy, he can rustle up votes as an underdog, hold town meetings every other day and conduct the retail politics he excels at. You must remember that Bush, like Ronald Reagan, actually enjoys talking to people, a trait that will compensate for possible shortcomings in the debates with Gore.

Naturally, Bush's Austin operatives have had to retool their own slogans-"Real Plans for Real People" is the latest-but their tinkering doesn't compare with the almost schizophrenic mixed messages from the Gore campaign. At the Democratic convention, the Vice President was a born-again populist raising the banner for the unemployed, the addicted and every member of the Rainbow Coalition. Standard left-wing demagoguery. Lately, he's moved on to champion the middle-class "swing" voters, presumably even Good Humor truck drivers, who deserve a tax break, as opposed to more affluent Americans. He never does explain why that middle-class tax cut, promised by the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992, never did materialize, but what the heck, that was eight years ago.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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