Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762


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Hunt down in the gutter -- THE Wall Street Hournal's Al Hunt, an affable fixture of the Permanent Media in Washington, DC, is a goo-goo liberal whose columns are usually merely irritating, sort of like those of his Capital Gang colleagues Margaret Carlson and Mark Shields. He's invariably wrong on the issues of the day, but isn't in the same league as truly pernicious pundits such as The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the Times' Paul Krugman or Newsday's Robert Reno. In other words, it's easy to read Hunt's weekly pap on Thursday mornings and just shrug instead of chewing your liver for five minutes.

Hunt wandered off the benign cocktail-party reservation last week, however, with a venomous piece headlined "Republicans on the Defensive at Home." He first indulged in some premature gloating about the likely victories of Democrats Mark Warner and Jim McGreevey (gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively), making the somewhat preposterous claim-given the unique political dynamics of the next year-that wins in both those states will "energize the party in recruiting candidates and raising money for the congressional elections next year."

Hedging his bets, Hunt didn't speculate on New York's mayoral contest, where ersatz-Republican Mike Bloomberg has a shot at knocking off perennial candidate Mark Green-largely because of Bloomberg's barrage of TV commercials featuring Rudy Giuliani's endorsement and the in-fighting that's plagued NYC Democrats all fall. At the center of that controversy-and Culprit Number One should Green lose-is self-appointed world diplomat Al Sharpton. (I have the disadvantage of writing a day before the three elections and haven't a clue about the outcomes, although I suspect one of the three Republicans-Mark Earley (VA), Bret Schundler (NJ) or Bloomberg-will salvage the off-year elections for the GOP. The least likely victor, unfortunately, is Schundler, a political casualty of Sept. 11.

A charismatic politician who's consistently defied the odds, Schundler hasn't received the necessary national Republican support-neither in funds nor in even one appearance in Jersey with President Bush-to pull off the upset that seemed possible last August. Bush, who went to Yankee Stadium last week, could've indulged in partisan politics, as FDR did during World War II, for at least one evening without sacrificing his moral high ground.)

Hunt then meanders into the current political turf battles in Washington, as the sham of bipartisanship has thankfully been put to rest. It's silly enough that the columnist portrays Bush, on the domestic front, as a captive of the "narrow right-wing ideology" of congressional Republicans, but then he gets downright nasty about the President's ability to wage the war abroad. He writes: "[T]he private view now held by more and more Democrats [John Kerry and Joe Biden, perhaps?]-and a handful of Republicans [John McCain? Duh.]-is that Mr. Bush is a figurehead leader in this effort, and largely clueless with regards to a long-term strategy."

That's quite a statement from the mild-mannered Hunt. On the contrary, I believe Bush, far from being a "figurehead," is coming on a little too strong: all this hype, gobbled up by reporters in the first month of the conflict, that the war is his "calling" is spreading the peanut butter a little too thick. In addition, let's stop with the Shakespeare analogies.


JWR's Suzanne Fields was the most recent, but surely not the last, to lazily fall into this trap. On Nov. 1, she wrote: "The president has an extraordinary opportunity to show himself to be like Shakespeare's Prince Hal, the young royal who became King Henry V. Prince Hal, like George W. the former frat boy, enjoyed carousing with fun fellows, his drinking and sporting companions, but when he was called on to take reins of power, he put away his childish things."

In any case, Bush may not have a "long-term strategy"-did Roosevelt in 1941?-but just as the elitists who dominate the media stupidly believed last year that Bush was snoozing in Crawford while James Baker took control during the Florida recount battle, this President is calling the shots. If he were truly a bystander, Colin Powell would still be talking about halting the bombing of Afghanistan during Ramadan and trying to recruit a few "moderate" Taliban leaders to flip to the other side when whatever hash of a government is finally installed in that pitiful country.

Hunt then goes for the cheap shot when anticipating last Thursday's GOP victory in the House on the issue of airport safety. He savages Tom DeLay and Dick Armey for the crime of fighting against federalizing security forces, a stance that Bush agrees with. He writes: "Politically, the two Texans [DeLay and Armey] are doing the bidding for the private airport-security forces that have done such an atrocious job. Ideologically, they hyperventilate about adding federal unionized workers; union members somehow wouldn't be as effective or dedicated, they suggest. During today's debate, maybe someone will ask these union-bashing right-wingers if union cards impaired the effectiveness or dedication of most of the 366 fireman and policeman who died on Sept. 11 while trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center."

I'm surprised he didn't include a few stanzas of "Joe Hill" to further embellish his tiresome tirade.


Using the slain firemen and cops as cover for his pro-union bias is shameless: those men were professionals who performed their job with honor, but the last thing this country needs is another layer of massive union bureaucracy. I mean no disrespect to workers who are handling mail these days, but the U.S. Postal Service is a disaster that should've been privatized years ago. Likewise, it's a national embarrassment that so many underqualified people are teaching in public schools; we can thank union protection for that.

In reality, the Senate and House bills aren't all that different. Both give President Bush broad authority to completely overhaul a flawed system that's allowed criminals and weapons to pass through metal detectors. The former was hastily passed 100-0 on Oct. 11 in an apparent effort to prove senators were actually doing something in the war against terrorism. The only real issue is that of federalization. Democrats and their media handmaidens insist that the current deployment of minimum-wage workers at airports is unacceptable. No argument here that the lackadaisical screeners at airports have to be replaced, or more strictly trained, so that the public overcomes its fear of flying. But isn't it ironic that demagogues like Dick Gephardt, champion of the "little guy," now belittle those in the lowest income bracket-the "burger flippers"-in favor of union employees?


Even The Washington Post, in a Nov. 3 editorial, recognizes that the controversy is unseemly. The writer said: "The House and Senate must now reconcile different approaches to airport security. Our sense is that the House has offered a reasonable formula, with its dedicated agency and mix of federal and private employees. There's no magic to a federal workforce, as mandated in the Senate bill... What matters now is quick passage of legislation to produce a highly trained, well-equipped force under an agency that is dedicated only to safety. The approaching holiday travel season demands a swift congressional agreement."

Hunt then moves on to the House's stimulus bill, which he characterizes as "a tax cut directed by K Street corporate lobbyists and the big campaign contributors." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter trumped even Hunt when he wrote on Oct. 25, "Acting piggish just now might not be burning the flag, but it's sure not respecting it either." Granted, the House version is larded with gratuitous breaks for corporations, but that's just presenting a strong offense in order to compromise with spendthrift Democrats. One of Tom DeLay's great strengths is that he's a tough negotiator; Bush, who got rolled on his education bill earlier this year, could use a few pointers from his fellow Texan.

This economy, while not in freefall, badly needs some juice. Accelerating the tax cuts-at all income levels-to Jan. 1 instead of years from now as in Bush's original bill, is essential to fiscal recovery.

Congressional Democrats, engaging in typical class warfare designed to help them in next year's elections, are crying foul and will no doubt put up a fuss when this bill is also reconciled between the House and Senate, but it's likely that DeLay's offensive strategy will yield positive results.

An editorial in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal noted, in praising GOP Sen. Charles Grassley's alternative: "[L]iberals don't stress the proposal's economics; they attack its politics. They claim it helps 'the rich,' also known as entrepreneurs, also known as the people who create jobs for other people. Many of these 'rich' are small, so-called Subchapter S companies that pay the top individual tax rate because they are unincorporated. Treasury data from 1998, before the income boom of 1999-2000, showed that more than 750,000 tax returns paid the 39.6% top individual rate. Cutting their rate down to 33% next year will be a big economic lift."

Continuing his wacky rationale, Hunt tries to fool his readers (and maybe himself) into believing that the House stimulus bill will become law without the inevitable alterations. He writes: "Only seven House Republicans abstained from this non-stimulus outrage. Instructively, two of these defectors were Iowa's Greg Ganske and South Dakota's conservative John Thune, both of whom are running for the Senate next year and realize what an albatross this horrific bill could be. Moderates like Connecticut's Nancy Johnson, and freshmen like West Virginia's Shelley Capito who won narrowly last year, may come to regret that indefensible vote."

This is "piggish" grandstanding. When the 2002 congressional elections occur a year from now, no constituent will remember the House's bill, which is merely a blueprint; rather, who wins or loses will be determined by the country's economic health next fall, and, to a lesser extent, the progress of the war. Hunt is deceiving himself if he thinks that an October 2001 party-line vote in the House is going to make a damn bit of difference in whether the Democrats or Republicans prevail in the midterm elections.

The United States is not in a complacent cycle right now. A year from now so many news events, so many unimagined crises, will obscure any politically motivated squabbles in Congress. Already, Sept. 11 seems distant, the marker for a new era in the country. One can't even imagine how the political and cultural landscapes will look in the autumn of 2002.

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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© 2001, Russ Smith