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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2000/ 12 Tishrei, 5761


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Consumer Reports

The crazy world of pollsters -- I DID MY DUTY for the Bush campaign last Saturday night, engaging in an intense 45-minute political discussion with one of those prized "swing" voters both presidential tickets covet. Nadine's a married professional woman, currently living in Miami, but moving in a few weeks to the Upper West Side. She's a registered independent who instinctively favors Gore on most issues, but believes Bush is the more authentic and personable of the two candidates. The Vice President's creepy debate performance last week didn't help win her over.

The setting was exquisite: the lovely dining room of Tribeca's Scalini Fedeli, and it was only after a meal of scallops, foie gras, veal and pasta, with several bottles of mineral water, that our quartet got around to sorting out this fall's election.

By the time the sorbet and espresso was served, we'd covered the gamut, from Bill Clinton's impeachment-Nadine thought it was for a relatively trivial matter-to the economically prosperous state of the nation, NASDAQ notwithstanding, to Gore's congenital distortions and embellishments. She applauded Bush's tamping down of the abortion issue, but wasn't sold on his partial privatization of Social Security. Nadine also didn't agree with my firm conviction that Gore's preposterous education plan-if you can call it that-which I believe means throwing even more money at a decaying societal cornerstone in hopes that it'll magically become stronger, was a cynical quid pro quo for the powerful teachers' union graft. Excuse me-political contributions.

Had we had more time to discuss the issues-our sitter was waiting at home-I might've made a convert. Or driven her completely over to the Democratic camp. In any case, it was lively dinner conversation, and proved once again how volatile this election is. It's destined to be the closest since 1960.

On the other hand, Friday night was a circus of frenetic activity, as New York Press celebrated its Best of Manhattan issue with a mobbed party at the Puck Bldg. As the guests poured through the doors, it felt like an AP ticker was pounding in my brain. Lisa Kearns delivered the news that the Boston Red Sox are up for sale. That's a momentous announcement, one that's both melancholy, for the fact that the team will leave the Yawkey Family's hands (67 years without a championship), and bracing, because it might bring in a New England owner who will be as aggressive as George Steinbrenner, a CEO who'll open up the wallet to deliver a World Series victory to a region that's been denied one since 1918.

Not long after, a journalist buddy arrived with the latest results of the Gallup Poll. On Thursday, Gore was ahead by 11 points. As of 7 p.m. Friday, the daily tracking showed that lead slashed by 10 points. In addition, he told me of the ABC-News survey that put Bush two points ahead of Prince Pinocchio. The following day, when Gallup posted the latest, a 7-point lead for the Republican, I was tickled, but a little suspect. Not that Bush didn't have a spectacular week, and Gore's sneering, show-off performance at the Oct. 3 debate in Boston was bound to erode his support. It was just that the sheer volatility of the sampled electorate makes this race so difficult to handicap.

But Friday's showing was good enough that my friend confidently matched the impulsive bet I made with Alex Cockburn last spring and laid $1000 down on Bush. Cockburn, in town to promote his seminal book Al Gore: A User's Manual, was a little apprehensive in taking on the burden of another wager, but obliged my colleague just the same. Neither of the men had consumed more than one of what Rush Limbaugh obnoxiously calls "adult beverages," so booze can be ruled out as the impetus for such relatively high stakes. I have an additional $250 with Alex on the Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio Senate contest, one that even the thrifty Cockburn might actually be pleased to lose, for the thought of the odious First Lady hogging the cameras in Washington is a thought too horrible for any person of even minimal intelligence to bear.

I'm always happy to see friends from the New Criterion at our parties-media writer James Bowman nails Washington Post hack Howard Kurtz in this October's issue-but Criterion managing editor Roger Kimball published a very disturbing essay last week in The Wall Street Journal called "The Case for Censorship." Jeepers creepers. Kimball's supposed to be one of the smart fellows, as opposed to a prig like Mark Crispin Miller, whom I'll get to shortly.

Kimball wrote: "In any event, there are plenty of reasons to support government censorship when it comes to depictions of sex and violence. For one thing, it would encourage the entertainment industry to turn out material that is richer erotically... It is fashionable today to decry the old Hollywood code that proscribed showing even a married couple together in a double bed. But what a goad to the imagination and cleverness that code turned out to be!"

Hey Rog, spare me the sparkly justifications for a First Amendment-massacre and just join Al, Tipper, Jann and Joey on their crusade to cleanse the entertainment industry. When Ricky and Lucy slept in separate beds on tv in the 50s, it was insulting and unrealistic. And when the Rolling Stones weren't allowed to sing the correct lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together" on Ed Sullivan's show in the mid-60s, and the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" was banned by hundreds of radio stations, it was plainly incomprehensible.

Miller, a professor at New York University, and a self-proclaimed expert on the evils of media consolidation, wrote, for FEED on Oct. 4, an instantly dated piece about last week's presidential debate. It goes without saying that Miller trashed George Bush, but that's par for the course among academics and journalists. What really rankled me was the following insane thought (who said LSD was out of style with baby boomers?) about the Democratic nominee. "With his large, level gaze and air of bronzed self-confidence," high-as-a-kite Miller wrote, "and with his (seemingly) masterful serenity in marshalling all those facts and figures, Al Gore came across a bit like You-Know-Who in that TV debate of forty years ago. Gore also showed a brilliant knack for shafting his opponent without saying anything that sounded mean-a lot like JFK, who also flayed his adversary imperceptibly."

Miller also screwed up on a basic fact-he said Gore was older than Bush-but then I imagine the factcheckers at FEED aren't up to the standards of The Nation, a more typical venue for the nutty professor. (As James Ledbetter, happily departed to England, might say, full-disclosure time: Miller was a teaching assistant at Johns Hopkins when I was a freshman there. Once, during a Victorian literature class, he made fun of a classmate who, in deconstructing a famous poem of the era, used the word "fornicate," instead of a more colloquial term. Miller sniffed and said, "They were f-----g, okay," while my Texan friend's face turned redder than Bill Clinton's nose.)

Miller's inability to judge a debate was maddening, but no more so than Al Franken's article "Is Bush Dumb?" in the Oct. 26 issue of Rolling Stone. Franken, of course, ranks about as low on the comedians' reservation (uh-oh, I can see the smoke signals coming this way) as Billy Crystal right now, but RS' Jann Wenner, a Gore sycophant-must be that "bronzed self-confidence"-is a fan. Yet the hobbyist liberal, who helped make Rush Limbaugh even more famous than he already was, screwed up in the lead paragraph of his paint-by-numbers piece. Franken writes: "September 12 was a bad day for George W. Bush. That was the day the New York Times revealed that a Republican ad attacking Gore-Lieberman contained a single frame that said RATS. It was also the day a story broke that Gail Sheehy's upcoming Vanity Fair article would speculate that Bush is dyslexic."

Not that Rolling Stone or Franken would care to honestly bash Bush, but as most of the political world knows, Fox News' Tony Snow first "revealed," jokingly, that the ad bore a frame reading "RATS" for 1/30th of a second. The Times, two weeks later, after being fed the story by the Gore campaign, had wormboy-in-chief Richard Berke front-page a piece on the same subject. As for Gail Sheehy, while I'm sure Franken would rather f--- her than merely fornicate with her, her error-laden Vanity Fair hit-job was discredited upon publication. I guess it didn't help that many a newspaper made great sport of reporting that Sheehy's been a donor to several Democratic candidates, and so maybe wasn't really the "objective journalist" that she claims to be.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith