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Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 1999/15 Kislev, 5760


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Sloth is Not a Virtue, Maureen -- IS AL GORE GAY? I don’t think so, or particularly care, but Maureen Dowd’s phoned-in Times column of Nov. 10 might lead you to wonder. She writes: “So Al and I are dishing about clothes. I figured if I covered politics long enough, I’d have uncomfortable moments when a president or vice president would want to hash over something I didn’t know much about, like helium reserves or the money supply.

“Nah. With this White House, I’m safe. The deeply important issues are sex and clothes. I ask the vice president about his new color palette. He’s in his casual uniform, a blue shirt to bring out his eyes, a heathery brown sweater, khakis and black cowboy boots. ‘Tipper picks out my clothes,’ he says quickly, before I have a chance to mention That Woman Naomi.”

On Nov. 14, after Gov. George Bush flunked his world leaders pop quiz, Dowd got together again with Gore, and he bragged about his breadth of cultural interests, in an obvious dig at that cowpoke down in Texas. One of Gore’s favorite books is Stendhal’s The Red and the Black; he’s a fan of Christo, van Gogh, Paul Klee and Thelonious Monk.

Dowd, working hard, asks Gore what he’d do if he could “play hooky for a day.”

The answer, in an ideal world, would knock him out of the presidential race. “I’d watch the sun rise... Be with the people I love outdoors. Tipper and my children and grandchild... Go for a long walk on the farm.

Go swimming in the river... Organize a touch football or softball game with the family and friends. Have a picnic for lunch.”

All this, as Dowd notes, before lunch.

Afterward, he’d ride a horse, take a spin on his boat, enjoy another dip in the lake, build a fire, fix a barbecue and “light candles and talk and tell stories. And laugh. And laugh some more.”

I’m not sure what’s more nauseating: Gore’s answers or Dowd actually sharing this tripe with her readers. I guess she figures it’s better than exposing her colleague Richard Berke for his consistent Gore-shilling, which is no doubt at the behest of publisher Artie Sulzberger Jr., who’s apparently decided that the 2000 presidential election must pit Gore against “maverick” John McCain. And so that’s why Berke wrote a story on Nov. 9 about Bill Bradley, the rumpled, Adlai Stevenson-Paul Tsongas candidate of this cycle, actually turning to Madison Avenue to spruce up his image and come up with a slogan.

(Not that “It can happen” is worth whatever Bradley paid.)

Presidential candidates hire pollsters, consultants and advertising experts. So was the headline, “To Polish His Ad Campaign, Bradley Worked With Madison Avenue for 16 Months,” really necessary? This revelation, Berke writes, “demonstrates the seriousness of his presidential campaign.” Imagine that: Bradley’s not putting up with jerks like New York Times hacks for a lark.

Berke is just one of the worst Beltway political writers: the lot of them are well-educated, high-income, culturally and politically liberal stiffs who travel in a pack, eating and drinking together and gossiping about private schools. Their big rush is to be on Imus’ show. They yearn for power and for respect from those they cover, so are easy prey for someone like McCain, who fawns all over them. Bush treats them like (eventual) Gore toadies, so he’s dismissed as a dumb fratboy who sullies their Ivy League diplomas. Bradley doesn’t give them the time of day; he’s treated like a crank who’s somehow shady for calling in his basketball chits now after ignoring the game for years.

Now if Dowd really wanted to earn her salary, and maybe win an honest Pulitzer, she’d write about the outrageous behavior of the Gore campaign last week when it attacked Bradley for having the gall to hire an adviser, Alex Kroll, who, according to Berke, “had extensive contacts with the tobacco industry when he was chief executive of Young & Rubicam, the Madison Avenue agency.”

One Gore campaign official told Berke that it was “hypocritical for Bradley to campaign on a promise of protecting young people, particularly the poor, while working with ‘a guy who was responsible for trying to sell tobacco products right to inner-city kids.’” As Kroll told Berke: “I was C.E.O. of a company with 5,000 clients, one of which was R.J. Reynolds.”

I can just see Al, after his swim and horseback ride, telling Tipper, “That Bradley’s an effer. How inconsiderate, after I told the country at the convention in ’96 that I’d spend every waking hour, until my last breath, fighting the interests of big tobacco.” Never mind that Gore, who bragged about his prowess as a tobacco farmer in his brief ’88 presidential campaign—four years after his sister died of lung cancer—hired Carter Eskew, a brilliant advertising man, as a chief consultant on his campaign. Trouble is, Eskew, unlike Bradley’s man, concocted the campaign that helped kill McCain’s tobacco bill in Congress last year.

But Maureen and Al like to dish.

And while we’re on the subject of the Beltway’s favorite candidate, Sen. McCain, Maureen devoted her space to his fraudulent campaign just last Sunday, in which the headline “Nuts or Guts?” was the best part. I’d opt for the former, naturally, since I can’t imagine that any man or woman, tortured and confined like McCain was during the Vietnam War, could emerge with a fully coherent view of the world. But in Manhattan, Dixville Notch and certainly DC, that’s a minority view. But think about it: Despite Dowd’s pandering to McCain, letting him make jokes at his own expense about being the Manchurian Candidate and “hearing voices,” do you want the leader of the free world to be a man who views every additional day of his life as a blessing?

Last Friday, Elizabeth Drew wrote a column, “Those Whispers About McCain,” in The Washington Post—in a far more sober tone than Dowd’s, which is why Drew’s no longer at The New Yorker—about a “smear campaign of the ugliest sort” against McCain, but I think the idea should be debated in public. Does McCain have an itchy trigger finger? Did his confinement lead to a scrambling of his brain?

It would appear so. Why would a hard-nosed conservative like the Arizona Senator, involved in the Keating Five scandal, propose something as ridiculous as campaign finance reform? Not only would it be a violation of the First Amendment, but it would give more power to incumbents. If McCain is so outraged about the corruption in Washington, why isn’t he railing against Democrats like Patrick Kennedy and Dick Gephardt, who are stuffing their pockets with “soft money” in hopes of taking back the House? And bragging about it! Why isn’t McCain, a Republican, attacking Hillary Clinton, an unannounced candidate for Senate in New York, who’s using soft money for an advertising campaign? Is McCain a Republican or Democrat? Is his brain hard- or soft-boiled?

Unlike Dowd, who just doesn’t try very hard, I truly think her op-ed colleague at the Times, Gail Collins, simply isn’t very bright. Another McCain supporter—until it’s time to cast a ballot next November—Collins laments in her Nov. 12 column that the Senator, while making a contest of the New Hampshire primary, is “still way, way behind Mr. Bush in the Luck Sweepstakes.”

You see, according to Collins, “It’s pretty apparent that Mr. Bush became the odds-on favorite to get the Republican nomination because he was born with a famous political name. He happened to start running for president at a time when the campaign began so early that asking voters to name their favorite candidate was like asking them for their favorite poet.”

I guess defeating Ann Richards in the ’94 gubernatorial race in Texas was all luck, too, even though the incumbent was extremely popular in that state and the heavy favorite to win. And I suppose Collins hasn’t considered that the GOP establishment, in looking for a candidate who could actually take back the White House, saw Bush as a telegenic, relatively young, dynamic governor with a successful record in the nation’s second biggest state. Doesn’t that make sense, especially after the ’96 debacle when Viagra-pitchman Bob Dole sleepwalked through the general election?

Despite Bush’s gaffes on foreign policy—and let’s remember that Bill Clinton, the Beltway’s anointed candidate in ’92 despite overwhelming evidence that he was a crooked and immoral scoundrel, wasn’t a whiz kid on international relations—he’s a quick study and has recovered from that unfortunate pop-quiz gimmick by a two-bit Boston television reporter.

His defense speech last Friday in California has been roundly praised—except by The Manchurian Times and Washington Post—and his one-hour segment with Tim Russert on Sunday’s Meet the Press, a live interview that no doubt worried the Bush campaign, was an admirable performance.

Dubyah being grilled by Russert
The Weekly Standard, which flirts with Sen. McCain’s candidacy from time to time, nonetheless gave Bush’s speech last Friday a rave review. Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote: “George W. Bush’s November 19 speech at the Reagan Library represents the strongest and clearest articulation of a policy of American and global leadership by a major political figure since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. In his call for renewed American strength, confidence, and leadership, Bush stakes a claim to the legacy of Ronald Reagan.”

McCain has used up most of his time, even if he outduels Bill Bradley for the independent vote in New Hampshire and winds up defeating Bush there. With this one-two punch—the defense speech and his first major interview with a tough talking-head—Bush has reclaimed his aura of inevitability.

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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©1999, Russ Smith