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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2000 /30 Shevat, 5760

Roger Simon

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Gore's goons -- MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Politics can be pretty rough. It ain't beanbag, as they say, but when I heard that Bob Kerrey had been called a "cripple" by a political opponent, I was literally speechless.

Kerrey, a Democratic U.S. senator from Nebraska, is backing Bill Bradley, and he has been very tough on Al Gore, accusing him of lying and such.

On Sunday, Kerrey went to a Gore rally to try to "spin" the reporters there. This wasn't very polite of Kerrey, but this has not been a polite campaign.

A few months ago, at Bradley's big Madison Square Garden fund-raiser, the Gore campaign sent a guy out onto the basketball floor to try to disrupt it. (Security guards grabbed him.)

Sunday, the Gore campaign would not let Kerrey into where the reporters were writing their stories and Sen. Tom Harkin, who is backing Gore, came out to confront Kerrey.

Things got pretty wild and at one point, according to one published account, a man wearing an earphone and presumed to be a Gore staffer called Kerrey a "cripple."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York was also with Kerrey and was called "fatso," which is rude, but not really fighting words.

Calling Kerrey a "cripple" is so awful, however, that there is no possible excuse for it. Though you would not know it to see Kerrey walk or jog, he lost a leg in Vietnam in a firefight that earned him the Medal of Honor.

And anyone who would call him a cripple is a) a disgusting human being and b) more than a little nuts, since Kerrey was a Navy Seal and probably knows about 11 different ways to kill a person with his bare hands.

Kerrey, according to reports, also got splashed with some mud when somebody purposely stepped in a puddle.

The Bradley campaign was spreading news of this far and wide, and so I expected it would create a huge firestorm in the press.

But it did not, perhaps because some witnesses think Kerrey was called a "quitter" and not a "cripple."

Quitter would be more logical, since Kerrey announced recently he was not running for re-election to the Senate. (The Gore campaign has repeatedly leveled the same jibe at Bradley, because Bradley left the Senate after 18 years.)

But the "Inc." gossip column in the Chicago Tribune quoted Kerrey as saying: "They were calling me a cripple. I am a cripple -- that's the only (bleeping) honest thing they said all day."

I talked to a reporter who was in the crowd right next to Kerrey, and he said he never heard the world "cripple" but did hear the word "quitter." According to the Boston Globe, Kerrey had been called a "quitter."

No more Mr. Nice Guy
The New York Post quoted the "quitter" jibe, and not "cripple" and said that Kerrey had been "stomped with mud." It quoted Kerrey as saying: "Better than a grenade."

The story, as confusing as it was, might have died there, but then the Republicans got into the act.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee called upon Gore to "formally apologize" to Kerrey and to Nadler.

"I have my political disagreements with Bob Kerrey and Jerry Nadler, but this performance by Gore's goons -- at least one of whom seems to have been formally outfitted as a campaign aide -- is inexcusable," Jim Nicholson charged.

It is true that many staff members wear earphones these days, but so do a lot of regular people who don't want to hold cell phones close to their ears.

In any case, the Gore campaign was not apologizing. "They're volunteers," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said. "They have a First Amendment right to say what they want."

Tuesday, the Boston Herald kept the story going by repeating the "cripple" accusation and quoting Kerrey as saying that the person who yelled at him was "a young person carried away in the heat of emotion -- the vice president would never say that to me."

Republican chairman Nicholson didn't care. "If Al Gore is half the man Bob Kerrey is, he'll apologize to Bob Kerrey and Jerry Nadler at once, find out who's responsible, and fire the thugs involved," Nicholson said. "This kind of tactic is reminiscent of Central Europe in the '30s, not New Hampshire in the new millennium."

I doubt Nicholson would express the same outrage if this had been a fight among Republicans, but the Democrats were not taking him seriously anyway, assuming that he was just trying to stir up trouble.

What really was said to Kerrey? Could he have he mistaken "quitter" for "cripple"?

I don't know. I don't suppose we'll ever know.

But I have some advice for the next person who wants to get into Kerrey's face and shout something at him: They better be smiling when they shout it.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate