Jewish World Review December 11, 2002/ 6 Teves 5763


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GOP hubris | Last Friday I mistakenly assumed that Christmas had arrived early. There was the long overdue sacking of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Lindsey. The Iraqi government announced it would provide a mountain of worthless paper proving it possesses no weapons of mass destruction. And it appeared that Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu would lose her Louisiana Senate seat.

So St. Nick didn't deliver all the goods. I watched Fox News' coverage of the Landrieu-Suzanne Terrell election on Saturday night, anchored by a way-out-of-his-depth Shepard Smith, but by 10 p.m. it was essentially over, leaving conservative journalist/pundit Michael Barone to mask his disappointment with some repetitive and unconvincing spin. While Fred Barnes guessed, correctly I think, that the GOP, still flush with its smashing Nov. 5 win, flooded the state with too many party luminaries-in retrospect, President Bush would've sufficed-Barone insisted the unusual December contest was similar to a casual off-year election. While the runoff wasn't a national referendum on Bush, as the midterm elections were in part, White House strategist Karl Rove wouldn't have spent millions and enlisted the President's parents, Bob Dole, Rudy Giuliani and Dick Cheney if the pick-up of another Senate seat wasn't a high priority.

Landrieu obviously learned from the defeats of colleagues like Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan a month earlier, and was also fortunate that Terrell's candidacy wasn't of the same caliber as John Sununu Jr. and Jim Talent.

Still, I was surprised by Landrieu's narrow win: Earlier that morning I couldn't even place a $2 bet on Terrell's expected upset. The Wall Street Journal missed it too, concluding in an understated editorial late last week, "We can understand why Ms. Landrieu feels she has to pose as a Republican. But we also wouldn't be surprised if Louisiana voters compare the two candidates and decide they'd rather go with the real thing." P>

The New York Times justifiably gloated on Dec. 8, in an article by Katharine Q. Seelye-no doubt vetted by Howell Raines, even if it had nothing to do with Tiger Woods and Augusta-although as usual the paper's analysis was slanted.

Seelye's lede: "In a rebuff to President Bush's political power and personal prestige, Louisiana voters today rejected Suzanne Haik Terrell, his hand-picked candidate, and retained Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a freshman Democrat."

Later in the piece, Seelye attempted to brighten Whining Tom Daschle's morning with the following flawed speculation: "Ms. Landrieu's victory keeps the Republican majority in the Senate to 51 votes to 48-still enough for them to control the committees but not enough to immunize them against renegade Republicans who might defect." Seelye didn't name the potential Benedict Arnolds-presumably she was referring to Lincoln Chafee and John McCain-but the scenario is unlikely.

Unless they act in concert, neither Senator would jump to a minority party whose members have less clout.

In addition, after Jim Jeffords' betrayal of the Republicans who reelected him in Vermont in 2000, and declared himself an independent six months later, voting with the Democrats, Bush and Rove aren't likely to take their slender majority for granted. Chafee, for example, will probably receive a powerful post in January, even if he's not up to the job. As for McCain, he thrives on needling Bush and creating self-aggrandizing headlines, but with a war about to start, which he supports, he's not going to join ranks with the likes of tort-lawyer John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Jon Corzine.

The Washington Post, now the nation's "paper of record," was more accurate in its report. Lee Hockstader said: "Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, staving off a concerted challenge by the ascendant Republican Party and by President Bush, won reelection to a second term tonight against state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell in a runoff." Let's hope that the RNC's over-the-top hubris in Louisiana was just one more for the road.

It's also a perfect time for the GOP leadership to dump Trent Lott as Majority Leader, a move that's better late than never.

Lott's never demonstrated the teeth of, say, Rep. Tom DeLay, and is far too willing to accommodate his colleagues across the aisle. Fortunately, Lott's weird comments on Dec. 5 at a Washington party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond give Republican leaders with a modicum of political skill and balls the excuse to oust the pork-loving cheerleader from Mississippi.

Lott said, incomprehensibly, that had Thurmond won his third-party segregationist bid for president in 1948, the United States would be better off today. Swell. Either Lott was nipping at the cooking sherry or was just joshing around. In any case, his demotion-in favor of Sen. Bill Frist, for example-would deprive Democrats of an issue they'll use from now until the 2004 elections.


But far more significant than Terrell's disappointing loss was the administration's dismissal of O'Neill. The former Alcoa chairman, an honest and reputable man, was a bad choice from the start; he was hostile to Wall Street, awful on tv talks shows and prone to making embarrassing off-the-cuff remarks that undercut his boss. Typical of his temperament was a comment last May while on tour with the insufferable rock star Bono in Africa. O'Neill told reporters: "One of the great things about where I am now: If people don't like what I'm doing, I don't give a damn. I could be off sailing around on a yacht or driving around the country..."

Hours after the announcement, National Review's Larry Kudlow wrote: "Last week, O'Neill lost a critical policy debate to chief economic adviser Glenn Hubbard over a big-bang economic package that includes dividend tax cuts, faster implementations of last year's personal tax cut, business investment incentives, enlarged IRA supersaver accounts, and other measures such as tort reform to curb legal abuses. Having lost this battle, it must have been quite clear to the president that it would be impossible for O'Neill to defend and market the new tax-cut package, which will undoubtedly be the center of next year's domestic agenda."

The replacement for Bono's buddy, as of Monday morning, is John Snow, chairman of CSX Corporation, and according to my sources a confident, smart man who'll hew to Bush's economic plans. I'd have preferred Commerce Sec. Don Evans, a smooth pol who's not only known Bush for 30 years, but could charm both tv talk show hosts and financiers. But it's certain that Snow's been vetted more extensively than O'Neill, who was a mistake from the start. Newsweek's loopy "Conventional Wisdom," in this week's issue, is already nostalgic for the deposed cabinet member, saying, "The smartest guy in the cabinet was too candid and independent for Bushies-so he got the bum's rush."

Oh, and the media isn't dominated by liberals.

O'Neill's lone accomplishment ought not be forgotten. Last summer, he had the guts to do battle with one of the Senate's scummiest members, West Virginia's Robert Byrd. In an exchange in which each man tried to one-up each other about their humble roots, O'Neill got the better of the former KKK member who's now lionized by the liberal press for his long-winded, stream-of-consciousness speeches that in his addled mind tie together Roman politicians and philosophers with current events. Byrd disgraces the U.S. Senate-at least Thurmond, in his later years, just kept quiet-and O'Neill was one of the few men to expose him as a fraud.

One of the media's common themes is that Bush is terrified of repeating his father's mistake in 1991-92 of concentrating on foreign policy to the detriment of domestic issues. It's true that if the U.S. economy doesn't improve by the summer of '04, the President will have an uphill election against whatever loser the Democrats nominate. However, the father-son analogy isn't quite correct. First, in the current analysis it's either forgotten or conveniently omitted that Bush's father alienated his Republican base of voters by lying on his pledge not to raise taxes. In addition, although for a short time he had 90 percent approval ratings after the Gulf War, in contrast to his son-whose popularity has remained historically robust since Sept.

11-the first President Bush saw that popularity evaporate quickly as the economy faltered and the afterglow of the war was dampened by criticism that he hadn't knocked off Saddam Hussein.

Finally, in '92, there was the Ross Perot factor: It remains to be seen whether a credible third-party candidate emerges in 2004, but the Texan pipsqueak certainly robbed more votes from Bush than Bill Clinton.

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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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