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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2000 /19 Shevat, 5760

Roger Simon

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Bauer's desperation -- DES MOINES, Iowa -- The boom mikes stretch out toward the candidate and over the trampled snow that covers the graves of the children. The pinwheels that are stuck into the frozen ground next to the small granite markers spin in the winter wind. A cold, pale sun hangs in the western sky.

Gary Bauer has come here to Glendale Cemetery for a "photo op," for a "press availability," for a political stunt.

That using the graves of little children for this kind of event might be in poor taste had been considered by Bauer and rejected. "It's something that we wrestled with," he says.

But Bauer needs the numbers. He must do well enough to plunge on with his presidential campaign, to get invited to the debates, to get his mug on the TV shows, to get his message across.

A few days before, he charged people $250 for a political fund-raiser at the home of Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey, who in 1997 had the world's first living set of septuplets. (If you wanted to see just Bauer it cost you only $25.)

Bauer does not attract a lot of media attention. He is given no credible chance of attaining the Republican nomination. And his campaign believes, therefore, it must give the media a reason to show up at his events, hence the septuplets and this event at the gravesite of a fetus that anti-abortion groups buried and gave the name Baby Isaiah.

About three dozen journalists and five camera crews have come to the cemetery on this Saturday. The photographers take pictures of the fetus' gravemarker and then wait around, stamping their feet in the cold, waiting for Bauer to arrive. A few yards away, a mother and her teenage daughter build a small snowman at the grave of another child. The media pack ignores them; they are not news, they are merely genuine mourners.

Eventually, Bauer's van pulls into the cemetery and drives up to where the media are waiting. Bauer, coatless and hatless in the subfreezing weather, gets out carrying a few red roses.

He walks toward the grave, as some photographers shout: "Over here! This way!"

Bauer looks down at the grave, lays down his roses and then walks over to the cameras.

"Baby Isaiah was apparently a stillborn baby that was found in 1994 in Des Moines at a wastewater treatment center," Bauer says solemnly. "He wasn't aborted ... (but he represents) the fact that increasingly we treat our own flesh and blood as if they were Styrofoam cups. Our country is better than this. If we cannot get this issue right, we cannot get anything else right."

He goes on a little more and then says, "I'd be happy to answer any questions."

"If someone were to suggest that using a gravesite for a photo op was in poor taste, how would you respond?" I ask him.

Bauer is no fool. In fact, he is quite intelligent. And he has his answer for this one ready and waiting.

"Well, I think we would be in poor taste if we continue to take these children and keep them out of sight and out of mind," he says. "Being here reminds you that these are real human beings. So I would obviously disagree with anybody who says it is exploitive."

Then the reporters start asking political questions about whether George W. Bush is sufficiently committed to ending abortions -- Bauer believes he is not -- and whether Steve Forbes is stealing Bauer's positions -- Bauer believes that he is -- and pretty soon, we are in the middle of a full-blown press conference.

"I plan on going all the way to Philadelphia!" Bauer says, speaking of where the Republicans will hold their convention. "I think I am the one candidate in the race that can go all the way ... because of the broad-based nature of the campaign."

The next day, Sunday, Steve Evans, 68, will come to Glendale Cemetery to visit the grave of his grandson. Before he does so, however he will sit in his car for 30 minutes trying to summon up the courage to get out.

"You curse G-d. You curse the trees around you," he tells April Goodwin of the Des Moines Register. "A car drives by and you try to avoid eye contact, but when your eyes meet, you see the same kind of questions, the same kind of sadness."

When he does get out of his car, Evans will notice that the teddy bear he left on his last visit is now smashed and cigarette butts litter the graves, the result, Evans believes, of the media horde and Bauer's stunt.

Evans had planned on voting for Bauer but now says he wants to sue him instead.

When the Bauer campaign is contacted, Bauer's campaign manager, Frank Cannon, says he is really sorry and that the campaign believes the cemetery "is an absolutely solemn and sacred place."

Unless of course, the Bauer campaign needs it for a photo op.

The day before, with the cameras whirring, Bauer had said that tossing away a fetus, "represents, I think, the coarsening of our culture."

And who would know more about the coarsening of our culture than Gary Bauer?

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate