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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999/22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760


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Who Is John McCain?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AS TRANSPARENT EXCUSES go, at least Gov. George Bush had a pretty decent one for skipping the “debate” in New Hampshire last week. Insisting he wanted to be by his wife Laura’s side as she received an honor from Southern Methodist University was a lot better than the “other commitments” dodge he pulled a few weeks ago. It was, as they say in the 90s, a family values conflict, and can’t hurt with women voters, but probably a mistake.

Still, in truth, if any of the other GOP contestants had the advantage of Bush’s staggering amount of cash, dominance in the polls and overwhelming stack of endorsements, they wouldn’t be attending every rinky-dink town meeting either. Steve Forbes can mouth off all he wants to the New York Post’s Deborah Orin about Bush’s absence (“Blah, blah, blah, blah,” he told her, and self-righteously said it was an “insult” to New Hampshire voters) and produce attack ads to run in the early primary states, but the plain fact is that the publisher is going nowhere in this race. He’s simply wasting his family’s inheritance on an ego-fueled road to single-digit finishes. Forbes is a smart man with a logical vision of scrapping the IRS and would be a valuable addition to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey, a seat that would be his for the asking. But he’s strung out on the presidential narcotic and refuses to face reality.

As John Fund’s article in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday blasts home, POW John McCain’s free ride with the media will crash soon, but probably not until he’s on the cover of at least one dimwitted newsweekly. (More on Fund below.) In last Saturday’s New York Times, for example, there was a shameful puff piece on McCain, headlined “Bobbing Up in the Polls, McCain Is Feeling Buoyant,” in which Melinda Henneberger gushed about how much “fun” the Arizona Senator is having on the hustings. She writes: “McCain, who bounced onto his campaign bus at 6:45 this morning in an almost illegally good mood...was, on the other hand, completely accessible throughout the day,” in comparison to Bush, who keeps a tighter reign on reporters. The Times reporter jauntily noted that McCain was “[M]ainlining glazed donuts and mixing it up with reporters in the back of his bus,” and never did get around to telling readers exactly what polls McCain was “bobbing” up in. Details.

(Actually, while McCain has pulled to within 12 points of Bush in New Hampshire, in the latest Newsweek poll, he’s trailing the Governor 63 percent to 12 percent nationally.)

Michael Kramer, in last Sunday’s Daily News, wasn’t quite as obsequious as Henneberger—he actually questioned whether McCain’s frankness was an “act”—but he’s caught the Senator’s “truth” bug as well. Criticizing Bush for not attending the New Hampshire meeting, and predicting that he made a big mistake by doing so, Kramer fully bought into McCain’s corruption-in-politics act that’s so popular along the Amtrak corridor, especially among Democrats and Independents. How all these journalists have advanced to their cushy positions is beyond me, especially when they can’t spot a phony like McCain. I suppose it says as much about their bosses—Arthur Sulzberger Jr., out in your country home, ruminating about the homeless over Sunday brunch, can you hear me?—as them.

But Kramer is nonetheless smitten. He writes: “The polls say the public doesn’t care about how our politics is financed, but the audience in New Hampshire sure did. They asked about it repeatedly and clearly warmed to McCain each time he invoked his desire to fix it. Overall, one had the sense that this particular politician means it, and that he just might be able to pull it off if he ever gets the chance to fight for it from the Oval Office. Whenever Mr. Bucks finally shows up—and he has to at some point—the battle over the role of money in politics could be joined in earnest, and that will be worth skipping whatever else is on the tube to see.”

And leave it to Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, one of the media elite’s Top 5 blowhards, to write yet another testimonial to McCain in his “Between the Lines” column for the Nov. 8 edition. Better watch out John, Alter warns, crusty journalists may love a maverick but they can turn on a dime. Sure. If that were true, McCain, the candidate of The New York Times and Washington Post, would be playing golf with Dan Quayle by now.

As is often the case with pundits explaining their fixation with this hypocrite, Alter insists on telling his readers just how he got to know the Great McCain. It was just after he traveled to Vietnam in ’95, he writes, and he was simply struck with the Senator’s ability to joke about his captivity. That McCain might be putting on a show for Washington reporters Alter doesn’t consider. Many cynics, myself included, have ascribed the baby boomer gush-fest over McCain to James Fallows-like guilt over their lack of wartime experience, but Alter says in reality “it’s more like awe over his lack of bitterness.”

Alter indicts, inadvertently, fellow journalists in their schoolgirl crushes on McCain. His quote from veteran tv correspondent Bruce Morton, now of CNN, is a beaut: “What we all like about McCain is that he might actually govern on principle, and what a strange sight that would be.” This is truly sickening stuff. Alter continues: “Even if he loses, McCain could have an important impact on the Republicans. It’s been 75 years since the GOP boasted any major figure who described himself as a reformer.” Some would argue that Barry Goldwater, just a generation ago, was a real reformer, not a fake like McCain, but I don’t suppose the ’64 version of Goldwater is on Alter’s radar screen.

McCain’s Mercurial Mettle

I just love it that the theme this year in presidential politics is campaign finance reform. Where were all these good-government journalists when Jerry Brown was sleeping on couches and raising money with an 800-number in ’92 while telling the truth about Bill Clinton’s corrupt regime in Arkansas? Sucking up to Clinton, that’s where. The truth is: The American public, as a whole, doesn’t care about money in politics.

The fact that a number of screened people at Dartmouth last week showed up to ask questions means nothing; they’re part of the 1 percent who take politics seriously. A chilling number of this country’s populace can’t even give an interviewer the correct name of the Vice President, let alone members of the Cabinet. They care about the economy, crime, schools and whether their sons or daughters will be sent to war. In other words, about themselves.

Any journalist, or politician,
who deludes himself into thinking otherwise is just blowing gas. Fund’s seminal McCain piece on Oct. 28 was deceptively polite, acknowledging his “courage and candor” in the military and Senate. Still, it was the first mainstream article of this presidential campaign, tellingly datelined Phoenix and headlined “Arizona’s Unfavorite Son,” that goes beyond McCain’s faux-folksy shooting the breeze with gullible Beltway reporters. As I’ve written for months, this walking time bomb is a fraud who’s hated in his own backyard and has a tempestuous relationship with journalists in his home state, who know that the Senator is not only quick with an off-color joke but also a first-class scumbag who grandstands for willing audiences. Fund says that conservatives in Arizona aren’t as compelled by McCain’s antitobacco stance as Democrats in Washington and that the most current poll in the state shows Bush defeating him by a 35-31 percent margin.

His most recent blowup was after The New York Times reported that the state’s GOP governor, Jane Hull, endorsed Bush over McCain; the Senator immediately accused the Texan’s campaign of dirty tricks, releasing a statement that said: “Apparently the memo has gone out from the Bush campaign to start attacking John McCain—something that I’d hoped wouldn’t happen.”

Fund concludes: “[A] president can’t rule by heroic example alone; he must build and lead a team. In light of Mr. McCain’s record and reputation in Arizona, one must ask how effective a Lone Ranger like him would be in the White House. After all, as powerful a bully pulpit as a president commands, he also has to be able to win the support of Congress.”

But the Journal piece was nothing compared to an editorial on Oct. 31 in the Arizona Republic. Called “Does McCain have presidential mettle?,” the statement was an astonishing indictment of a home-state elected official, one the newspaper has endorsed every time he’s run for Senate. Writing about McCain’s hissy fit over Hull, the Republic said: “Even more disturbing was McCain’s reaction to Hull’s simple expression of truth. He noted his propensity for passion but insisted that he doesn’t ‘insult anybody or fly off the handle or anything like that.’”

“This is, quite simply, hogwash. “McCain often insults people and flies off the handle. This newspaper has chronicled just some of these unfortunate exhibitions. There was the time McCain blew up publicly at a Jewish man at the Camelback Inn who objected to McCain’s reference to ‘Christian’ compassion for the homeless. There have been the many times McCain has called reporters ‘liars’ and ‘idiots’ when they have had the audacity to ask him unpleasant, but pertinent, questions.”

I guess Beltway reporters like the Times’ Henneberger, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg (possibly the journalist the farthest up McCain’s ass), Thomas Oliphant, Charles Lane, Lars-Erik Nelson, Albert Hunt, Margaret Carlson, Howard Fineman, Eleanor Clift, to name just the obvious, haven’t had the same experience as Arizona’s journalists.

The Republic continues about Hull: “This is, sadly, not an untypical McCain remark: unfounded, sarcastic and condescending. It demeans Hull as an independent political actor, and pretty well validates rather than refutes her description of their relationship and his treatment of her.

McCain is running dangerously close to sanctimony in his bid for the presidency, depicting himself as the last honorable politician in America…

“If McCain is truly a serious contender for the presidency, it is time the rest of nation learned about the John McCain we know in Arizona. There is much there to admire. After all, we have supported McCain in his past runs for Senate.

“But the presidency is different. There is also reason to seriously question whether McCain has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States.” I’d imagine George W. Bush has won the Republic’s endorsement in the Arizona primary.

But that doesn’t mean squat to the Times. It’s obvious that the Gore broadsheet will attempt to sabotage Bush’s campaign just as it did his father’s in ’88 and ’92: on the same day as Henneberger’s valentine to McCain there was a front-page story about Bush’s ties to financier Richard Rainwater. Barry Meier writes: “A review of Bush’s relationship with Rainwater did not produce evidence that Bush, as Governor, has sought to aid the businessman, though there would be more potential for conflict if he became President.” I’m sure the Times already has an investigative team at the ready should Bush become president, but isn’t it a bit premature to announce it before any primary votes have been cast?

And on Nov. 1, there was yet another front-pager on Bush, this time written by Frank Bruni about the Governor’s stump speech, that rarely varies. Noting that Al Gore has changed his standard speech “in midstream” and that Pat Buchanan is liable to say anything at anytime, Bruni says about Bush: “But the ink on Mr. Bush’s oratorical calling card has almost dried, and it spells out, as well as any other aspect of his campaign, the personality he wants to project, the place on the political spectrum he wants to inhabit and the priorities he wants to set.”

Bush’s lack of oratorical skill is front-page news? I think that deficiency has been amply, and correctly, discussed in the past year. Yet the Arizona Republic’s denunciation of John McCain is relegated to page A-15, a small Associated Press dispatch.

Despite the beginning of the McCain backlash, I expect that the two-man race the media desires in the GOP, to mirror that between Bill Bradley and Gore in the Democratic primaries, will materialize for a short period of time. That’s not at all bad news for Bush: the McCain boomlet is essentially harmless, as the Frank Capra character from Arizona won’t go far in the conservative GOP primaries (accepting the gospel that New Hampshire is always a wild card).

On Nov. 1, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, in analyzing the Dartmouth meeting, spelled out McCain’s problem as the political calendar advances: “Planned or not, he sounded markedly liberal for a self-described ‘proud conservative.’ His closing statement could have been drafted for President Clinton: ‘There are great causes in the world, where there are hungry children, where there’s seniors without shelter, and where people are killing each other because of ethnic and tribal hatreds.”

As the expected Republican nominee Bush needs to get his face bloodied—granted, he’s already been scrutinized by reporters more thoroughly than any other candidate, especially McCain—on the way to Philadelphia. And the mainstream media’s bias toward the hypocritical Arizonan— sheez, he even admits that he’s part of the campaign finance problem that he barks about—is just part of it. $47,000.”

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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