Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 1999/12 Tishrei, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT WAS a curious week.
While reading The New Republic, I immensely enjoyed an item from its “Notebook” section that described a piece of legislation friend-of-the-working-man Kennedy put before the House. His bill would entitle those Americans who purchase a yacht “more than 50 feet in length [to] a tax credit equal to 20 percent of the price of the boat, up to a limit of $2 million.” Sounds good to me: any tax cut makes sense. But, as TNR put it, “Who, then, speaks for the forgotten middle class of 40-foot yacht owners? The Republicans?”
I then switched from C-SPAN to watch the 6 a.m. rebroadcast of Brit Hume’s excellent Fox Special Report from the previous night and was delighted when he showed a clip of Geraldo Rivera, at an Hispanic gathering in DC, defending Bill Clinton’s politically calculated clemency for 16 FALN members.
Rivera: “In an America where so-called conservative politicians can support clemency, or at least more lenient treatment, for antiabortion violence, or for the IRA, or for Israeli spies, 311 members of Congress voted to condemn the president for doing what we begged him to do. Ninety-three members of the United States Senate, without a single vote in opposition [actually, 95 voted in favor, two voted in opposition—Senators Daniel Akaka and Paul Wellstone—and three did not vote], voted like those members of the House did before them to condemn our president for releasing the Puerto Rican radicals. Where were those same sanctimonious Senate voices when our government treated as royalty such prominent former terrorists as Menachem Begin and Yasir Arafat? Where was their outrage when we reopened relations with Vietnam, a land where the blood of 50,000 of our fellow citizens, many of them from Puerto Rico, still stains the soil?”
The Fox panel of Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke and Mara Liasson simply cracked up at Rivera’s histrionics, with Kondracke saying he was “speechless” and, “Wow, this guy is a total shill for Bill Clinton.”
Hume dismissed Geraldo, as most people do, by saying, “I don’t recall Geraldo as a big supporter of the Vietnam War either, but anyway, he’s a sweet guy personally.”
And, to further digress, David Talbot’s endorsement of Warren Beatty for president in Salon on Sept. 2 is ample evidence that this Wavy-Gravy online magazine is of peripheral interest at best. After the obligatory (and incorrect) nod to John McCain as a worthy “outsider,” Talbot drops another tab of LSD and gets down to business: “Beatty is the man for the moment. He should drop his coy antics and jump into the race... Will he be rejected as too liberal by American voters? Perhaps. But the issues he is championing can cut across party lines, and if he runs his campaign properly, Beatty can have strong appeal to the country’s growing base of independent-minded voters. He could just as easily run as the Reform Party candidate as a Democrat... At this point in his career, nothing that awaits Beatty on the lots of Warners or Paramount could equal the challenge of a presidential race, with the upstart candidate seizing the opportunity to lower his lance against the growing specter of American ‘plutocracy.’ Commit yourself, Warren. It will be the role of a lifetime.”
Well, I suppose we should all be concerned as Talbot about Beatty’s flagging film career. But if the Salon editor thinks that a pampered actor who dabbles in politics—unlike Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California for eight years, as well as active in the Goldwater movement—can adequately handle the job of president, he really is as deranged as most of the content on his website indicates.
Speaking of Salon and glue-factory candidates, Greil Marcus included an astoundingly tasteless item in his “Real Life Rock Top 10” of Sept. 7. He quoted from a daily newspaper, under the headline “The Best News of the Week: Denver Post, Aug. 22”: “Universal Records has confirmed that Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron has been diagnosed with a rare paralysis of his vocal cords. Barron is meeting with doctors who have indicated that he may never regain the full use of his voice.” Greil’s a helluva guy, isn’t he.
Later, I sat by the computer, amazed at Maureen Dowd’s latest column in The New York Times. Flighty Maureen didn’t get to me—actually, it was one of her best efforts of late, a deft send-up of Donald Trump and his otherworldly ego. While Pat Buchanan enjoys the last hours of his Christmas Day, attention-wise, Dowd concentrated on Trump, just one more notable who Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura hopes will run against Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential nomination. Ventura, although he speaks well on television, with that man’s man common sense that Americans eat up, is increasingly becoming a national joke, but I’ll get to that later.
Trump was in prime form for Dowd, offering the following print-bites: “To be blunt, people would vote for me. They just would.” Why? Dowd asks. “Maybe because I’m so good looking. I don’t know. Larry King calls and says, ‘Do my show. I get my highest ratings when you’re on.’” One assumes Trump was speaking tongue-in-cheek—although you never know—but his comments on other politicians were very candid. He said Buchanan is “medieval”—I’ll buy that. Bill Bradley “puts me to sleep. And he was the architect of a tax plan that cost many more billions than it saved.” Hmm, maybe Bradley’s started to peak. I’d go for that too, but unfortunately I think Trump is ahead of the curve on this one.
He’s not a Hillary Clinton fan, again speaking MUGGERese: “The concept of the listening tour is ridiculous. People want ideas. Do you think Winston Churchill, when he was stopping Hitler, went around listening?”
Now, that comment got me thinking that maybe Trump really is contemplating a run against Buchanan: After all, Pat-Pat the Water Rat is on the record saying that Hitler should’ve been appeased more, not less, and that some of his ideas were pretty dang sensible.
Trump likes Rudy Giuliani, which is no surprise: “He’s made New York the hottest city in the world. If he gets beaten, it’s virtually unfair.”
Overstatement, of course, since New York has been the “hottest city” for most of the century, but we’ll take his admiration at face value, since Rudy’s been berry, berry good to the man too many people still call The Donald.
Consider how the Governor has melted down: He first touted Lowell Weicker for president, an old hack who might garner 2 percent in the general election; he then provoked a fight with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, objecting to their adult advertising and said he’d cancel his subscriptions at his offices, a threat he later rescinded. Next he got mad at Playboy for moving up an interview with him a month; he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that “It’s a business move on their part. They know the [December] millennium issue’s gonna sell big. Now they figure they can capitalize on me in the November issue. I don’t like that they gained the interview under a false premise and turned right around and basically lied to me.” Asked by the Strib reporter what he said in the interview, Ventura responded that he “couldn’t remember.”
Ventura, who’s the putative leader of the Reform Party, has been so busy with his own celebrity that he’s let Buchanan, Pat Choate (Perot’s running mate in ’96) and Ridiculous Ross grasp his control. But Berke, missing that Ventura is fast losing his grip, if not his mind, writes:
“Last week, Mr. Ventura’s role as the power broker in third-party politics was unmistakable. After Patrick J. Buchanan all but said he would abandon the Republican Party to run for President on the Reform Party ticket, attention turned to Mr. Ventura.” Unmistakable is correct, mostly for his inept reaction. Instead of working, quietly, behind the scenes to crush Buchanan, whose social views are anathema to most Reform Party members, Ventura was busy shooting off his mouth to Berke. One of his more fantastic claims was, “I see myself closest to Abraham Lincoln.
We’re alike in many ways. We were both wrestlers. And we’re both six-foot-four.” Unlike Trump, you get the feeling that Ventura is not being facetious.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, one of the few national politicians willing to speak negatively about Ventura, told the Times reporter: “In four years, he’ll be where our boy from Texas is—only without the money.” Ventura’s reaction: “Who does that guy think he is?... Go out and ask your average teen-ager today who Jesse Ventura is and who Joe Biden is. What I’ve accomplished is more than he ever will.”
I don’t like Biden’s politics at all: He’s a lockstep liberal whose conduct at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings was inexcusable; he’s supported Bill Clinton when a true man of conscience wouldn’t. However, in his personal life Biden has faced tremendous adversity and has “accomplished” far more than the showboat from Minnesota. Just weeks after Biden was elected to the Senate, at the age of 29, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash that also critically injured his two young sons. A premature widower, Biden would commute every day from Delaware to Washington, and then back again, to be with his sons.
In addition, he successfully recovered from a brain aneurysm that almost took his life in 1988. In my book, those triumphs over tragedy rate far higher than success in the wrestling ring.
There was more arresting political news in the papers on Sunday: the New York Post’s report that Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan will soon endorse Bradley over Al Gore, just another sign that unless the former Knick commits some egregious gaffe this fall, odds are now in his favor to defeat the Vice President for the Democratic presidential nomination.
This is not good news for George W. Bush. Bradley’s strong poll numbers right now are indicative of the American public’s demand for something positive to happen in government and politics, an antidote to “Clinton fatigue.” That’s one of the reasons Bush has maintained such enormous leads over Gore, which, in turn, makes his astonishing fundraising possible. The brilliance of the Bradley campaign is that it is entirely predicated on the prevalent desire for leadership and a president who isn’t sleazy. Gore, as I’ve been repeating almost week after week for two years, is Clinton’s last victim: He’s done. Back to sloppin’ the hogs and hummin’ Patsy Cline tunes.
The New York Times, still covering politics as if it were 1996, refuses to believe that Gore is in trouble. The paper is so anxious to prop up the Veep that Adam Clymer’s Sept. 20 report from San Francisco on Gore’s campaign contained this incredible lead sentence: “It is sometimes overlooked in the Bill Bradley buzz from Washington, but Vice President Al Gore is a formidable candidate for President.” Well, yeah: He’s only been collecting chits from fellow Democrats for the past seven years. That would make him “formidable.”
But the “buzz” for Bradley isn’t confined to Washington. Gore is in dire straits in New Hampshire and New York, and despite Clymer’s claim of his popularity in California, that state could easily swing to Bradley.
Clymer wrote that the highlight of a fundraiser in Los Altos “might have been Tipper Gore sitting in on drums with a band descended from the Grateful Dead.” In addition, who is the first Democrat quoted on Gore’s strength? Why, Tom Hayden, the goofy state senator who wouldn’t rate a sentence in a main story about presidential politics four years ago.
Hayden, who’s said he could endorse either Gore or Beatty, told Clymer: “I don’t feel a Bradley swell except among entertainment people who are basketball freaks. Of course, that’s a base.”
What the mainstream press doesn’t understand is that Bradley is deliberately boring, trying to stay under the radar so that he crests at the right time. If Bush is lucky—and lately, Bradley’s tack to the left, even echoing McGovern politics, is a positive sign—the former senator will peak too early and get cocky. Already, Bradley has annoyed Jesse Jackson by saying that sexual orientation should be included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Jackson, Mr. Rainbow Coalition, fears that might lead to Congress reversing certain rights for blacks. I don’t get that logic, but no one ever said that Jackson wasn’t a loon.
Meanwhile, in the Sept. 14 New York Times, the supposedly objective “paper of record” demonstrated once again its manipulative and dishonest practice of political reporting. A teaser on the front page, referring to an inside article on Bush by Frank Bruni, read, in part: “But what political analysts, some of Mr. Bush’s advisers and Mr. Bush himself say he must still do is to prove to voters that he has the maturity and poise to lead the nation. Mr. Bush admits that is ‘a huge step.’” This is a completely inaccurate, and I believe intentional, distortion of what Bush told Bruni. Not once did the candidate mention the loaded word “maturity.” This is slanted “news” coverage at its worst. What Bush did tell Bruni was, “It’s a huge step. And in all of my speeches, I say it’s a big step... I think the real question, though, and the important question that the American people are going to look at and answer is: Is the person prepared? You know, more importantly, is the person prepared to make the big decisions for America? That’s the big stage. And that’s the fundamental question—of trust.”
In fact, the word “maturity” is also not found in one of the quotes from Bush’s inner circle. And while Bruni—grudgingly, one suspects—writes that the Texas Governor is running an unusual campaign, trying to reach out to voters not normally courted by Republican presidential candidates, he also says that Bush’s advisers “acknowledge” that he has to prove that “there is something real behind those words.” Not one analyst or adviser is actually quoted to that effect. You’d never see the Times questioning the “maturity” of Gore or McCain, although both have made startling remarks that should give voters pause. Gore’s hypocrisy on the tobacco issue and his score of silly gaffes are subject to questions of maturity, just as McCain’s off-color public jokes are. Does the Times really believe that Bush, a 53-year-old man, who has a stable family life and has twice been elected to lead the nation’s second biggest state, is “immature”?
In a long interview with the Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow, published on Sept. 20, Bush outlined his first priorities should he be elected president next year. “[I’d] call the leaders of the Congress and talk about how we’re going to take care of the elderly by reforming Social Security and Medicare. Secondly, [I’d] talk about strengthening the military. Thirdly, [I’d] talk about cutting taxes.”
I’ve put off writing about Pat Buchanan in this entry for as long as possible, but he’s not to be ignored. For now. Aside from Hurricane Floyd, Buchanan has owned the media in the last week, with every pundit evaluating his all-but-certain third-party candidacy in the general election. While liberal writers are tickled that he could tilt the presidency to Bradley or Gore, the backlash is now starting. Buchanan, to put it charitably, is the Sonny Liston of presidential contenders: a rich, spoiled, sore loser who doesn’t realize that the era of Angry White Men is over. His opportunistic alliance with the Reform Party is bizarre: He just wants their money. Not only does he disagree with every social stance of the party—abortion, gays in the military (heck, gays in general) and school prayer, just for starters—but he’s now mixed up with the likes of Lenora Fulani (former chair of the extreme left-wing New Alliance party), Ventura and Perot.
Novak: “[Y]ou had a statement earlier this year in which you were talking about Senator Jesse Helms, and you said he ‘is considered a champion of the anti-affirmative action, anti-gay, anti-labor, anti-abortion agenda. He has been a strategic commander of the culture wars that forced American liberalism onto the ropes.’ Being really honest and accurate, that could have been said about Pat Buchanan as easy as Jesse Helms, couldn’t it?”
Fulani: “Absolutely. And one of the exciting things about Mr. Buchanan considering coming into the Reform Party, is that we’re talking about the possibility of moving beyond those cultural wars, in the way that politics is played, and building a party that is nonideological. He’s leaving a partisan party, if he chooses to do so, to become part of what I think is a new populist movement in this country.”
Let me repeat the obvious: Buchanan is an anachronism. He’s a gifted orator, a skilled debater and a man who has passionate beliefs. But his anti-immigration, anti-free trade and fanatic pro-life views only appeal to a limited segment of the United States’ citizens in 1999. If you ain’t white, Christian and ready to return to Teddy Roosevelt’s era, Buchanan has no use for you as a person or as your president. His shrill campaign speeches, punctuated by jokes and historical references, will soon wear thin, as his real message sinks in. When the general election begins in earnest next fall, with voters (rather than just the media) focused, Buchanan’s poll numbers will drop. I doubt that he can win more than 6 or 7 percent of the vote.
Read the following excerpts from Buchanan’s speech at the Ames, IA, straw poll in August and tell me that anyone but the most rabid, hard-core reactionary will vote for him. After touting his Ronald Reagan credentials (who never made abortion a key issue in his two elections), Buchanan said: “Roe v. Wade is an ugly scar across the face of America.
We got to remove that scar and then G-d will hear this people, and He will heal our land... You know, the party of Reagan…was a party of working men and women in this country, of Teamsters and steelworkers and textile workers. Yet now we see the farmers of Iowa in a depression... Our economic independence is being lost and our sovereignty is being eroded... What is the party of Reagan doing? Sacrificing the working men and women of this country on the altars of NAFTA and GATT and the World Trade Organization in Clinton and Gore’s New World Order! What are we doing, this party of ours? Well, let me tell you—to all those internationalists and globalists, whether they be in Washington or up at the U.N. or in Bonn or Paris or Tokyo or New York, let me tell you something. When I raise my hand to take that oath of office as president of the United States, your New World Order comes crashing down!”
After presenting his bona fides as an isolationist, Buchanan continues: “We got our armed forces spread all over the country, my friends, spread all over the world. They’re defending borders in Korea, in Kuwait, in Kosovo. What we need to do is rebuild, rearm and replenish that military and bring them home. And if you want to defend a border, why don’t they try defending the southern border of the United States of America!”
This is entertaining as sitcom rhetoric, as a relief from the waffling of the Clinton administration, but it’s an act that’s about to be canceled.
Although a few dotty conservatives such as the National Review’s John O’Sullivan are egging Buchanan on, deluding themselves into thinking, as O’Sullivan wrote in the Sept. 13 issue of NR, that his capture of the Reform Party nomination would let him “shed all the social baggage of Republicanism—its reputation as the self-interested ideology of the country-clubber and the coupon-clipper,” this isn’t a majority view.
Last Wednesday, on Hardball, William Bennett was fairly definitive on the relative insignificance of Buchanan leaving the GOP, as well as the caveman’s nonsensical claim that there’s no difference between the two major parties. It might be news to Buchanan, but there’s a huge gulf between Teddy Kennedy, David Bonior and Tom Daschle, as compared to Don Nickles, Lindsey Graham and George W. Bush. When Chris Matthews asked if the Republican nominee would suffer as a result of Buchanan’s defection, Bennett answered: “Might lose some votes, but I think we should let him go. I think it’s time. Look, he’s a fading figure in the Republican party... The Republican Party may not be sufficiently pro-life for Pat Buchanan, but it’s a lot more pro-life than the Reform Party.”
Then Matthews asked what the GOP should do to keep Buchanan among its ranks. Bennett: “I wouldn’t offer him anything to stay. Look, there are things that Pat espouses that I believe are wrong. And there is a body language, there is a way in which he speaks that I think is offensive.”
Liberal media outlets are trying to play up Buchanan’s upcoming defection. In a Sept. 27 Newsweek article, reporter Matt Bai wrote that while Buchanan isn’t likely to top Perot’s 8 percent in ’96, he would “draw critical votes from Bush—a prospect that panics Republicans.” He then quotes Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who’d like to be somebody’s Dick Morris, saying, “We need that Buchanan vote, and we’re not going to get it by ripping him to shreds. We’re going to get it by respecting his ideas and reminding voters that a vote for Pat Buchanan is really a vote for Al Gore.” Bai continues by writing that the Reform Party isn’t at all worried about “helping elect a President Gore.”
Tellingly, Bai doesn’t mention Bill Bradley once in his article. <> Al Hunt, writing in the Sept. 9 Wall Street Journal, was also happy to give credence to Buchanan’s importance in the election. Hunt: “Still, Mr. Buchanan has a thought-out, sincerely-held, cogent world view that doesn’t have to be checked and calibrated with consultants and pollsters. With the exception of John McCain [but of course], that makes him virtually unique among presidential aspirants. Thus it may well be that a Buchanan candidacy is the only way these important issues are going to be addressed in the 2000 race.”
But they’re in the minority. While Bush did speak to Buchanan in Iowa a month ago, asking him to remain in the party, once he realized that the vanity candidate was mentally gone, he shut the door on the issue. Bush, in The Washington Times interview, said, “I certainly would not offer anything, except for my desire for him to stay in.” Translation: Go, stay, I don’t really care at this point. Bush, and his brain trust, have moved beyond the Buchanan defection, concentrating on the much more critical threat of Bradley.
Conason, one assumes, given his vigilant defense of the Clintons, supports Gore and will continue to bash Bush right up till Election Day. But like the out-of-touch pundits at Time, Newsweek and The New York Times, Conason wouldn’t know the right wing of the Republican Party from the right-winger for the Detroit Red Wings.
Unlike boobs like Nicholson, prominent conservative writers are welcoming the loss of Buchanan. Steve Chapman, in the Sept. 19 Chicago Tribune, said: “Pro-life voters, fearful of letting Al Gore stack the Supreme Court with judges loyal to Roe vs. Wade, aren’t going to be eager to cast their vote for a sure loser.”
In Tuesday's JWR, Jeff Jacoby wrote: “The message is hard to miss: Republicans aren’t buying what Pat Buchanan is selling. Maybe that’s because the more this supposed conservative talks, the more he sounds like a liberal crank. Let him bolt the GOP. The GOP will be better off without him.”
William Safire concluded his Sept. 16 New York Times column with yet another take: “So now Democrats root for the nativist Buchanan to get the Reform nomination just as Republicans root for the liberal Warren Beatty. Neither major party would allow those would-be spoilers to be part of the Presidential TV debates; the Reform Party would be doomed to represent the resentful fringes of left or right. You don’t have to be Jewish to know that’s not in America’s interest.”
Finally, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, in the Sept. 27 issue: “A successful demagogue needs the ferocity of a lion and the cunning of a fox. Thankfully, Pat Buchanan doesn’t quite measure up. He’s just Pat the Bunny, hopping around on the fringes of American politics, wiggling his nose in the air and nibbling away at whatever carrots our political system offers up for his purposes.”
As this wave of backlash against Buchanan continues in the conservative
press—and let’s not forget Rush Limbaugh, who’s solidly behind Bush—the
laggards in the Republican Party will realize that they’re better off