Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2004/13 Tishrei 5765

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Irrational Exuberance


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There's little doubt that even Karl Rove's numerous enemies will admit, at least in private, that President Bush's chief political strategist is an extraordinarily intelligent and talented man. Rove relishes a hard-fought campaign, just as James Carville did for Bill Clinton and Bobby Kennedy for JFK. Unfortunately, for Bush supporters, what separates Rove from other equally adept tacticians, is that his ego is the size of one of Teresa Heinz Kerry's estates and he can't resist bragging to sympathetic reporters when an election is going well.


The latest example of Rove's well-known hubris was a story in The Washington Times on Sept. 23, an account by Bill Sammon of a lunch the Texan had with reporters and editors at the daily. Nothing wrong with Rove's choice of venue — it's not likely The Washington Post, certain to endorse John Kerry, would publish such a fawning story — and it makes sense to enthuse your political base with optimistic projections.


But Rove goes overboard, claiming the GOP will not only gain seats in the Senate and House, but turn several of Al Gore's "blue" states into "red," primarily because of Kerry's puzzling incompetence as a candidate. Right now, just over a month until the Nov. 2 election, polls are finally starting to become significant (as opposed to last spring), most importantly because they can depress the perceived loser's turnout at the polls, but Rove makes a mistake by bragging so openly about the Bush campaign's current success in narrowing Kerry's number of "battleground" states he's contesting. Ohio, long considered on a par with Florida as a key to the presidency this year, appears, at least right now, to be solidly behind Bush, but as Rove knows that could change within two weeks. Say if Kerry creams Bush in the first debate on Sept. 30.


Still, Rove insisted that the President's campaign in Ohio is "strong as an acre of garlic." The man who's derided by some exuberant Democratic partisans as "Bush's Brain," also rattles off a number of other states — North Carolina, Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, and possibly Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — as "gone" for Kerry. In addition, states (including New Jersey and Maryland, where a 9/17-9/19 Survey USA poll had Bush and Kerry tied; it might help clarify this state's preferences if skinflint Tribune Co. would spring for a Sun poll) once thought rock-solid Democratic are giving Kerry's pollsters heartburn. Rove can't help himself: A strategist with more self-control would let the pollsters and media tell that story.

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Rove did repeat the mantra that Kerry's a champion at debates — just as the Kerry team praises Bush for his agility at such events — and though neither campaign really believes the "lower expectations" spin, they're understandably confident that reporters will once again buy the script. Rove gets off one great line about Kerry: "He will be the best debater the president's ever facedů He's been a senator for 19 years, and it's the one place he does shine. He doesn't shine in committee work, doesn't shine in legislative work. But he will rise to the floor in defense of whatever odd left-wing cause he's in favor of that week and make a pretty solid argument."


I do think Bush is ahead right now, and unless he commits some horrendous debate gaffe (confusing the leaders of North Korea and Pakistan would qualify), will likely win reelection, but Rove ought to knock off the champagne toasts.


On the other hand, it's not as if Kerry supporters are behaving any more rationally. The New York Times is especially egregious, printing a disgraceful editorial on Sept. 26 — "An Un-American Way to Campaign" — charging the Bush campaign with "despicable politics," referring to Dick Cheney's and Dennis Hastert's heated comments that Al Qaeda would prefer a Kerry presidency. Please. In a bitter election where Al Gore has referred to Bush's "digital brownshirts," Sen. Teddy Kennedy insisting the Iraq invasion was planned in Texas as a campaign gambit, and Kerry himself making the wholly unsubstantiated claim that should Bush retain office he might renew the draft, the Times might consider all the rhetoric tossed around.


Kennedy, in a Washington speech on Sept. 27 also added this zinger: "I thank G-d that President Bush was not our president at the time of the Cuban missile crisis." Somehow, the septuagenarian legislator never refers to his brother's culpability in the U.S. presence in Vietnam, the war that Kerry famously fought in and then protested against.


Additionally, even as Kerry promises to restore this country's standing in the international community, he's insulted allies such as Australia, Poland, Britain, Italy — "the coalition of the coerced and bribed" — and Iraq's interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, leaving one to wonder just how he'll repair that damage should he be elected. Instead, Kerry stands proudly with the United Nations' impotent secretary general Kofi Annan who last week declared the Iraqi invasion "illegal."


I don't think Kerry and his opportunistic advisers are thinking beyond the Nov. 2 election. Obviously, the Senator wants to win, but if his key qualification is the ability to restore America's reputation with the rest of the world — and who doesn't want to be allies with Sudan, Syria, Iran and Cuba? — he's making a hash right now of currying favor with foreign leaders disposed to a constructive relationship.


Even the egotistical Karl Rove can't screw up Kerry's series of weekly blunders.

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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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