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Jewish World Review March 7, 2000/ 30 Adar 1, 5760

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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When all good things
(sob) come to an end


     Sen. John McCain is fielding rapid-fire queries from reporters aboard his campaign bus. The candidate displays the aplomb of a veteran baseball shortstop lunging for grounders, line drives and pop-ups during the pepper drills of spring training. One minute, McCain is offering his political calculus of victory and defeat in Tuesday's 13 Republican presidential primaries. The next minute, he's revealing intimate details of his personal life, such as how he likes to pray.     

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Today's the day. One of the great love affairs of our time founders on the cold sharp rock of reality.

All fun things have to come to an end. You could ask Damon and Pythias, Dante and Beatrice, Eloise and Abelard.

Not a moment too soon, either. The senator from Arizona is throwing daily tantrums now, with his frustrations and anger getting the better of him.

Another week of this and someone will have to prescribe Ritalin. Jerry Falwell may be right: he's acting out of character. Or maybe one of his colleagues in the Senate is right: "Ah, now this is the Johnny we know."

The boys and girls on the "Straight Talk Express" will have a hangover tomorrow, too, and what some of them need is a trip to the woodshed with a tough old editor, of the kind long (and sadly) gone from the nation's newsrooms. In the Gelded Age, a lot of these boys and girls had never come across a politician or any other man with his toughness, patriotism and unapologetic manliness intact. But a president needs an even temperament, too.

The Associated Press described Mr. McCain yesterday as "feisty" and Bill Bradley, who also expects to see his presidential campaign come tumbling down in today's coast-to-coast primary gala, as merely "subdued."

A more accurate description of the latest presidential wannabe from Arizona following Barry Goldwater and Morris Udall might be "brash," "foolhardy," "rash" or even "reckless." Like a fighter-bomber pilot on the way home with "unexpended ordnance," Mr. McCain acted in recent days as if he were on a fighter pilot's holiday, looking for "targets of opportunity."

He continued to roll up film footage Al Gore's television mavens can use later, describing George W. as "so Clintonesque, it's scary," reprising the South Carolina television commercial he withdrew under pressure from friends who reminded him that comparing anyone to Bill Clinton was a blow too low for a Republican primary.

"It's so Clintonesque, it's scary raise the soft money, run the attack ads," Mr. McCain said yesterday in a remarkable display of chutzpah. "They're getting more and more like the Clinton campaign. They'll say anything."

Feisty or not, he sounded like a man trying to get himself used to the idea of the chase having just about run its course. He said he would support George W. if he is the Republican candidate, but only if the governor runs an "entirely different" campaign than the bitter primary battle. "You can't win a general election with the type of campaign he's run."

Well, he's right about that. A man can't concentrate on the enemy if his wing man takes shots at him every time they bank for a turn. You might have thought Mr. McCain would have learned that as a shavetail lieutenant at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Continuing to hammer the Bush campaign for the "attack" ads criticizing his environmental record, television commercials paid for (legally) by two rich Texas friends of the governor, Mr. McCain employed the incendiary language usually heard in an aldermanic race in Chicago or a contest for county supervisor in rural Mississippi. Presidential candidates usually affect to be too high-toned to say what they really think. Mr. McCain, at a rally in Santa Clara, Calif., urged George W. to "tell your sleazy Texas buddies to stop these negative ads and take their money back to Texas where it belongs. Don't try to corrupt American politics with your money."

It's too early to invoke the memory of Harry Truman, the patron saint of every long-shot loser on election eve, but Mr. McCain wraps himself in the long pants, if not the mantle, of Ronald Reagan at every stop. "I am a proud Reagan conservative," he says. "No one has any doubt of that."

Actually, a lot of people do, though none of the boys and girls on the "Straight Talk Express," many of whom never knew Ronald Reagan, bothered to remind him of Mr. Reagan's famous "Eleventh Commandment," which forbids trash talk about another Republican. Now we'll see what Republicans in 13 states say about that.


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

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© 2000 Wes Pruden