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Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2000/ 26 Tishrei, 5761


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Consumer Reports

Bush on the cusp -- NEAR THE END of Joe Klein's rough draft of his upcoming book about Bill Clinton's bizarre presidency, published in the Oct. 16 New Yorker, he summarizes, in one sentence, the ugly duck's legacy. Klein: "It is possible that the Clinton era will be remembered as the moment when the distance between the President and the public evaporated forever." Clinton didn't disagree, saying, "I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. We need to demystify the job. It is a job..."

I thought about this last Saturday night when Mrs. M and I had supper at Sparks, along with relatives of hers from Los Angeles. (One of whom, my father-in-law Rudy, a reliable Democrat, admitted he might vote for George W. Bush.) Sparks is an upscale restaurant, one of the finest in Manhattan, with an encyclopedic wine list, superb sirloins and lobsters and an all-male squad of waiters who cater to a customer's every whim.

Yet, looking around the huge dining room, it was appalling to see the attire of most of that night's clientele. Less than 20 percent of the men bothered to wear a tie or suit; women were dressed in sweats; the table next to ours housed two chubby teenagers with backwards baseball caps (how cool is that, guys?); and I counted more t-shirts than you'd see during a sunny afternoon on the Coney Island boardwalk. Sparks, Denny's, Hooters, it's all the same. Just as Clinton has "demystified" the presidency with his jogging shorts, cheating at golf, jerking off in West Wing sinks, wearing jeans during international summit meetings, America has become a nation of self-satisfied slobs.

(I understand that part of this abominable cultural evolution has nothing to do with Clinton. The days when women wore white gloves and little boys donned Sunday school suits for airline flights are gone forever.)

The process is similar to the one by which John F. Kennedy's disdain for hats almost put an industry out of business. It was gradual: In the famous photo of Jack Ruby gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963, most of the men still wore Stetsons or fedoras; and in newsreels of baseball games of the era, the stands were full of men, of all economic brackets, with hats perched upon their heads. But not too many years later, hats were seldom to be found.

Clinton has accelerated the dumbing down of the presidency. I'm not making a case for a royal separation between a country's leader and its citizens, but it's disgraceful that the President of the United States has no dignity. Last spring, in Manhattan, the financial companies suddenly abandoned their ritual dress code: every day was now "casual Friday," causing severe heartburn, I'm sure, for clothiers like Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers and Brioni. I doubt that would've happened without Clinton's slovenly appearances, not to mention Al Gore's shedding his blue suits for poll-tested tight khakis and polo shirts on the campaign trail.

Yes, perhaps this dedicated follower of fashion is putting too much of a burden on Clinton himself for the decline in manners and pride of appearance in this country. But wasn't it grand that Ronald Reagan never entered the Oval Office without wearing a suit and tie?

THERE ARE numerous reasons why I prefer George W. Bush-who's on the verge of winning the presidency-to his Democratic competitor Al Gore. The nuts and bolts case for Bush's candidacy is clear: far from being the witless dilettante the elite media has evoked in its ongoing caricature of him, the Texas Governor has proposed the most visionary blueprint for the United States in 40 years. Unlike Gore, who was painstakingly groomed for the White House since he was a toddler, which has led him to do or say anything to fulfill that goal, Bush, like Reagan, came to politics later in his life.

Although born into privilege, Bush floundered about in college, attempted a career in business, sometimes successfully, other times not, before shocking the pundits by defeating the popular Texas Gov. Ann Richards in 1994. Critics have said that Bush's Austin "iron triangle" of strategists has encased him in a bubble, fearful that he'll mispronounce a four-syllable word. Fine, that's suitable material for late-night comics. But think about the bubble Gore's been in for his entire life. The second child of domineering parents, Gore never really had an opportunity to wander far from his self-imposed destiny.

At the Al Smith charity dinner in New York last week, Gore joked that Bush's Republican platform would build a bridge to the 1930s. It was a passable one-liner, and appropriate for the occasion. But even a cursory examination of the stark differences in the campaign pledges of Bush and Gore proves that the latter is stuck in the quicksand of the 1960s.

While Bush acknowledges that Social Security was a necessary entitlement when it was enacted in desperate times by FDR, he now wants to modernize the program to conform with the realities of the 21st century. Gore says if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Bush also says he'll gut the anachronistic, bureaucratic maze known as Medicare and transform it into a subsidy that doesn't pit the old against the young.

Bush has discussed in detail his desire for a complex missile defense system, as well as for restoring the morale of the military and refurbishing its equipment, realizing that with the end of the Cold War, other international crises-which we can't precisely pinpoint now-will inevitably occur. Gore scoffs at these plans, puffing out his chest and stating the obvious: that the United States' armed forces are the strongest in the world. Thanks for the wake-up call, Gen. Gore, but your administration can't boast of having developed a coherent international doctrine in the past eight years. Why was a pharmaceutical company in Sudan bombed? Why was Baghdad blitzkrieged on the eve of Clinton's impeachment-when it was clear such a mission could have, and should have, been undertaken months earlier?

Gore, in hock to most unions in the country, makes robust promises about restoring the public school system, making it a pillar of excellence: hiring more teachers, buying more computers, etc. But he really hasn't the foggiest about why schools are failing at a local level. During his Harlem debate last winter with primary challenger Bill Bradley, the sad-sack, contemporary Adlai Stevenson, Time's Tamala Edwards asked the Vice President why he didn't send his own children to public schools. He dodged the reporter, and thus raised questions about his competence to speak on the issue.

On the other hand, Bush has had a successful record on education in Texas, holding local schools to strict accountability, and has seen positive testing results in just the past few years. Bush is for increased school choice-vouchers is the word, although it's not often used explicitly in this media-distorted campaign-and the opportunity for parents and local officials to act in response to a municipality's unique needs. Education is traditionally considered a Democratic concern-G-d knows why, since the prevailing infrastructure is a mess-but Bush has shrewdly co-opted the hot-button issue and made inroads into Gore's base of voters.

Then there's the question of taxes. Gore, foaming with the kind of rhetoric that's made him such an unlikable candidate, has distorted Bush's equitable plan, practicing class warfare by saying the Governor intends to reward only the very wealthy. In reality, Bush has laid out a simple tax-cut table that benefits all Americans, regardless of income. He'd decrease the top marginal rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent; on the other end of the scale, those in the 15-percent bracket would have their taxes reduced to 10 percent. In addition, Bush'd abolish the undemocratic estate tax, yet another heinous example of government invading the lives of its citizens, sometimes destroying the businesses for which people have worked their entire adult lives so that they can bequeath something to their children.

There's the queer notion that in a country that's driven by capitalism, the affluent should be punished for being successful. That's the impetus for trial lawyers gouging corporations; that's the reason why left-wing activists, often wealthy themselves, believe in the redistribution of wealth. Bush doesn't believe in any of this nonsense. It's his contention that all Americans should be treated equally, that no one should be screwed by a class-conscious government; that it's morally wrong to penalize those hard-working citizens, who, as Bill Clinton said years ago, "play by the rules." It makes you wonder about some of Gore's celebrity supporters. If they're so concerned about the economic disparity that's inevitable in a nonsocialist state, why don't they divest themselves of their fortunes and put some heft behind their beliefs, instead of merely writing checks to the Gore and Hillary Clinton campaigns?

In addition, Bush will attract to his administration the most able of his father's advisers, as well as some of the smartest and most capable conservative men and women at both the federal and state levels. Such breadth of talent hasn't been seen in decades. Needless to say, Bill Richardson, Janet Reno and Madeleine Albright won't be receiving phone calls from Austin on Nov. 8.

You get the feeling that Gore, as a micro-manager, will appoint himself to every cabinet position, with the exception perhaps of attorney general, which he'll reserve for Tony Coelho. And while a Bush administration won't be staffed according to quotas, as Clinton's was-funny, though, how many rich lawyers the Arkansan chose to represent the "face of America"-Bush's record of bipartisanship and fostering diversity as governor of Texas could be a model for the country.

That's the main governmental reason to vote for Bush. If he fails to deliver, Americans will give him the hook in four years. I must also note, however, that like any future president, there are goals and ideas that can't be revealed during a campaign. For example, if John F. Kennedy had made a central issue his dream of sending a man to the moon by the end of the 60s, citizens would've thought his brain was made of green cheese. Similarly, Bush has a 21st-century vision for America that, should he be elected, won't be revealed until his administration is under way. I'm not privy to Bush's aspirations, but he's hinted broadly at a shift in the way the United States involves itself with countries in the Western Hemisphere. Canada and Mexico, not to mention the rest of Latin America, I suspect, will be integral to Bush's international interests.

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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