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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2000/ 3 Teves, 5761


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Living darkly in the past -- DURING THE COURSE of George W. Bush's 18-month quest for the presidency, I wrote several times that in order to win he'd need-in addition to a compelling platform and tough-as-toenails campaign team-an inordinate amount of luck. Al Gore's immense advantage in having a country at peace, and in the midst of an economic boom, led most academics, statisticians and pundits to predict a landslide for the Veep, despite his unattractive personality and the baggage he was carrying from Bill Clinton's corruption-riddled administration. It was my belief, back in '98, that only Bush-whose arsenal included name recognition, a smashing reelection in Texas, relative youth (an anomaly in recent GOP presidential politics), the ability to raise money and a personal desire to avenge his father's 1992 defeat-could win the election.

John McCain's improbable political celebrity-manufactured largely by a boot-licking media-prevented an easy primary waltz for Bush. If the Texas Governor hadn't been tested by the Arizona Senator's stunning transformation from a grumpy, profane frog into the King of Campaign Finance Reform, he'd have been an easier mark for the more experienced Gore. After a well-deserved drubbing in New Hampshire, Bush waged a brutal and victorious campaign in South Carolina, only to be bested in Michigan just days later when Democrats and Independents flocked to the polls for the Vietnam War hero. (It's conveniently forgotten now by journalists that McCain's tactics in Michigan were every bit as dirty as Bush's in South Carolina and New York.) McCain's temper-one reason why he would've been swamped by Gore in the general election-eventually got the best of him in Virginia, where he made a self-indulgent speech excoriating the religious right.

In the fall campaign, Bush was lucky once more when Gore, handed a stunning reversal in the polls after his convention speech and his creative selection of Joe Lieberman as his runningmate, imploded during the first debate, coming across as a snippy know-it-all who wore too much makeup. An astounding get-out-the-vote effort by the Democrats, coupled with the suspicious last-minute revelation that Bush was arrested 24 years ago for a DUI charge, resulted in the closest election in more than 100 years. Gore's political and legal team expected the Texas Governor to roll over in short order, like a polite Kennebunkport WASP, but miscalculated Bush's competitive drive. Warren Christopher, brought out of mothballs by the Gore campaign, was outdone by another former secretary of state, James Baker, who was tenacious but eloquent in denouncing the Florida Supreme Court's rogue decisions.

But Bush's most meaningful streak of luck came after the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to the Florida charade and he was finally declared the winner of the presidential contest.

While he's assembling a cabinet and making plans for his upcoming administration, the Beltway media is living in the near past. None of that crew can believe that Bush-a moron!-actually won, and so they're wasting valuable time plotting an opposition strategy as they simultaneously wallow in an embarrassing public catharsis. This absurd spectacle has several facets.

There's the time-consuming recount effort-permissible under Florida's "sunshine" law-under way right now by numerous news organizations. The assumption is that these gladiators will finally prove-by dint of examining ballots that have been stepped on more times than a bad bag of cocaine-that Gore won the election. Guess what, guys and gals: the American public is sick of Florida, dimples, undervotes and reporters in general.

The NAACP, which ought to be disbanded after its disgraceful conduct during the campaign-its infamous James Byrd commercial implying that Bush was a murderer was only the most egregious example-has been stupid enough to continue its disinformation campaign that blacks were discriminated against by faulty voting machines, unsympathetic polling clerks and because, well...because they're black.

The Democrats did a masterful, and mostly laudable, job in their registration of first-time voters. But they forgot to provide teach-ins on how a ballot is actually cast: instructions vary from state to state and it's not a user-friendly exercise, whether you're black, blue, yellow or white. Instead of spending money slandering Bush, the NAACP's Kweisi Mfume could have quietly mobilized his forces to make sure the votes of his allegedly nonpartisan organization were successfully delivered to Gore, the born-again civil rights activist.


Bush's aw-shucks demeanor when he visited Washington a week and a half ago to meet with Clinton and Gore was a clever ruse. He came across like a hayseed who'd never set foot in the White House before. Clinton, the smartest politician the country's witnessed in 50 years, saw right through it, but even though he was livid over the election's results, he played the game and sat through a long, photo-op-filled session with the President-Elect. Gore couldn't be bothered, and frankly I don't blame him. There was no upside for him in a schmooze-fest. He's a political corpse, and will have to content himself by joining that wealthiest one percent of the American population that he demonized during his faux-populist campaign. Hey, Tipper, that mink's on the way!

Clinton's aides, never as quick as their boss, blundered left and right while Bush took center stage and started assembling a cabinet that's far more diverse than his predecessor's ever was. On Dec. 21, Gene Sperling, Clinton's national economic adviser, reacted to Bush's comments that the country's economy was heading south. He said: "By appearing to be willing to treat the economy as just another political football, they send the wrong signal to the markets about the seriousness with which they take their economic stewardship."

This sort of rhetoric does the Democratic Party no good at all. Obviously, Bush is making sure, for the record, that Americans realize that the economy started to sour on Clinton's watch. But to accuse him of treating a recession that started two months ago as a "political football" is just silly. Why does Sperling think Bush's main campaign pledge was a $1.3-trillion across-the-board tax cut? Passing this legislation can't be done with the wave of a wand, so Bush is putting congressional Democrats on notice that he has no intention of caving in to their notion of "bipartisanship," which means tiny and symbolic cuts instead of substantial tax reform.


Last night (Dec. 27) on Hardball, former Clinton flack Paul Begala made the spurious claim that one of the President's accomplishments was the rise of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest. According to the dazed Begala, it was Clinton, because of his tax increase in '93, who created the capital necessary for the tech firms to prosper. This is the kind of thinking that ought to land him in Bellevue, if not Rikers Island. Is Begala so brainwashed that he doesn't realize that entrepreneurs succeed despite the government's intrusion, mostly because of vision and long working hours? (Neither of which Washington bureaucrats and MSNBC commentators like Begala are familiar with.) Additionally, where was Begala, who makes ordinary lapdogs like Lanny Davis look like independent thinkers, when Clinton's Justice Dept. wrongfully prosecuted Microsoft-a landmark case that contributed to the current recession?

(Begala, who wrote an infamous column for MSNBC that claimed that the bulk of this country's "hate crimes" occur in states that Bush carried, must've been surprised when the latest mass murder took place in Massachusetts, home of the Kennedys, Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Barney Frank.)

Sen. McCain's bitter efforts to force Bush into a campaign-finance reform deal became a lot more difficult to achieve last week when-who else?-Clinton threw a monkey wrench in his plans. According to a Dec. 28 Washington Post article, McCain said: "I intend to bring it up as early as possible, and I hope we can get it dispensed with before the Bush legislative agenda comes over. They [Republican leaders] want me to delay. You know, hearing before the Rules Committee and all that. But I think this issue has been fairly well ventilated... I think the time has come."


Think again, sorehead. Clinton's insistence that Terry McAuliffe-the massive soft-money fundraiser who's always one step ahead of the law-take over as chairman of the Democratic National Committee makes McCain's crusade near impossible. How in the world can Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, who are McAuliffe supporters, join with McCain on his mission when their party head is the symbol of everything the Arizona Senator disdains? I'm still waiting for McCain's Democratic cohort, Sen. Russ Feingold, to denounce Clinton's virtual appointment. Not to mention Paul Wellstone, Kerry, Ed Markey, Al Gore, Tom Harkin and all the other sanctimonious Democrats who protest the influx of corporate and Hollywood cash into the campaign process. Teddy Kennedy might be expected to join that list of august legislators, but then again it was his son, Dim Patrick, who was so successful in raising soft money for the Democrats' failed effort to retake the House.

McCain ought to think about the typically grandiose statement McAuliffe made just before Christmas. He said: "I have broad support from every element of the Democratic Party: labor, business, conservative, liberal, every ethnicity involved. We need to be one organized party to deal with the Republicans and I want to bring a lot of excitement, unity and purpose to this party and build on the successes we had in this election."

Meanwhile, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson is quixotically planning to challenge McAuliffe for the post, arguing in effect that as a black Southerner he can bring more to the party-electorally-than the gabby and greedy McAuliffe. Blacks voted nine-to-one for Gore in the recent race, an aid to the Democrats that, one would think, deserves some sort of acknowledgment. Guess again. Blacks, taken for granted by white Democrats and patronized by race-baiters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the increasingly divisive Mfume, are likely to fare better under a Bush administration than they can even imagine.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith