Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2004/20 Teves, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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A disillusioned dog ponders the party | You can't say much for January, the most miserable of the months, but this one marks the beginning of the end of the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. This campaign has gagged every yellow dog between Charleston and Texarkana.

The Sunday night "debate" in Des Moines, the last before the Iowa caucuses Monday, continued the familiar tank-town vaudeville that began almost a year ago. Where was the stagehand with the hook when we really needed him?

Howard Dean, with no discernible sawdust on his shoes, displayed no sign of his promised collision with the old-time religion. His most memorable line was addressed to a citizen voter who wanted to know why he was picking on President Bush: "Sit down and shut up." John Kerry, showing up again without a bloody shirt, reminded everyone twice (or was it three times?) that he had seen combat in Vietnam. John Edwards told us how trial lawyers aren't really in it for the money but are driven through their hard lives by an obsession to help the poor, the lame, the halt and any abused widow or orphan looking for a lawyer. Dick Gephardt offered still another mea culpa for sins real or imagined and invited us to fill in the blanks. Joe Lieberman continued to beg someone, anyone, to tell him he's a good person. Dennis Kucinich did his entirely credible impression of Dennis the Menace.

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Wesley Clark was AWOL. Have we missed anyone?

The Rev. Al Sharpton, as sharp as ever, trotted out his dog-eared race card, eager to dance. Nobody gets an unctuous liberal's number quicker than a black preacher.

"Can you explain," he asked the pious Howard Dean, "since ... it seems as though you've discovered blacks and browns during the campaign, how can you explain not one black or brown working for your administration as governor?"

"Well," replied the ex-governor, "actually, I beg to differ with your statistics."

"This is according to your [news]paper in Vermont, Associated Press, and the Center for Women in Government."

"Well, perhaps you ought not to believe everything the Associated Press — "

"Oh, so you're saying they're incorrect?"

"We do have African-American and Latino workers in state government, including — "

"No, no, I said under your administration, did you have a senior member of your Cabinet that was black or brown?"

"We had a senior member of my staff — "

"No," insisted Al, the long-suffering schoolmaster making a show of not losing his patience. "Your Cabinet."

Finally the ex-governor, who ought to know better than to bandy words with his betters, gave it up. "No," he said, glumly, "we did not."

This was merely the prelude to Al's impression of Honey Coles, and he proceeded to tap dance across the prostrate Dr. Dean. "We must be honest about discrimination, and have a president what will enforce antidiscrimination laws. ... We still have institutional discrimination, which is worse than blatant discrimination." This would have puzzled Al's granddaddy, but Al was only getting warmed up. "Fifty years ago we had to watch out for people with white sheets, now they have on pinstriped suits. ... Our fathers had to fight Jim Crow, we've got to fight James Crow Jr., Esquire."

Al gave the audience a look that said he, too, knew he was full of it. But it was great show, and he knew that, too. Nevertheless, it was too much for Carol Moseley Braun, who seemed embarrassed by her colleagues' flaccid willingness to submit meekly to Al's lecture. She was determined that someone bestow a little dignity on the occasion.

"The fact of the matter is," she said, addressing her gaze and remarks at the Rev, "you can always blow up a racial debate and make people mad at each other, but ... this country cannot afford a racial screaming match — we have to come together as one nation to get past these problems."

The rest of the evening was the usual tame stuff, as the dwarfs traded tributes to themselves, recycled statistics and barbs aimed at George W. Bush. The barbs were stale, like the candidates. The public-opinion polls show the race tightening, with Howard Dean, the leader for weeks, now in a virtual tie with Dick Gephardt. Hillary's shot in 2008 looked utterly safe.

It was clearly time for someone to take the campaign out and shoot it. The campaign, not the disillusioned yellow dog.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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