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Jewish World Review May 8, 2003 / 6 Iyar, 5763

Roger Simon

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Dem candidates say — and do! — the funniest things | MAYBE HE HAD TO FEED THE METER. If the "real" presidential campaign began last week with George Bush landing on that carrier and the Democrats debating in South Carolina, then the first Bonehead Move of the Campaign Thus Far Award goes to John Edwards for refusing to take the stage with the other candidates at U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's fish fry in Columbia, S.C.

Nearly a thousand people gathered in a parking garage (you really had to be there) to eat deep-fried whiting (which I always thought was a town in Indiana, but turns out to be a fish) on white bread with mustard and hot sauce, as the deejay spun the Charleston Shuffle and the crowd got down.

It was one of those all-too-rare, feel-good evenings in politics. The other presidential candidates in attendance worked the crowd and then took the stage with Clyburn to say a few words to the voters. But Edwards -- the only candidate who HAS to win South Carolina -- ducked out. And Clyburn was left to call plaintively from the stage: "Sen. John Edwards? Sen. John Edwards? We need you here. We need you here."

An Edwards spokesperson said the next day that it "diminishes" Edwards to be on the same stage with the other candidates.

Well, excuuuuuse me, but Edwards must diminish pretty easily in that case.

And in the weeks before next year's South Carolina primary, will Jim Clyburn still be saying, "We need you here," to John Edwards? Or will Clyburn have other fish to fry?

AND IF YOU NEVER CHANGE YOUR UNDERWEAR, YOU CAN FIT EVERYTHING IN A BEN & JERRY'S CARTON. I ran into Howard Dean at Dulles Airport on his way down to South Carolina and noticed he was wearing a very conservative gray pinstripe suit, blue pinstripe shirt and blue foulard tie.

"What are you going to wear to the fish fry?" I asked him.

"This," he said. "I only have this suit with me. You never have to carry a suitbag if you wear only one suit."

IT'S NOT WHAT I SAY THAT COUNTS, IT'S WHAT I MEAN: "I'm a former senator, a former Democrat," Carol Moseley Braun said at the fish fry. "And I come from a long line of voodoo ladies."

(She does have a great line in her stump speech: "My mother always said that it doesn't matter if your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, on slave ships or across the Rio Grande -- we're all in the same boat now!")

And then there was Dick Harpootlian, in his farewell speech as chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, saying that when he was running for statewide office years ago, "I went into bedrooms -- wait a minute, that was when I was with Clinton in New Hampshire -- I really went into living rooms."

I COULD HAVE BECOME A POLITICAL CONSULTANT, BUT THE MONEY WAS TOO GOOD: The first presidential candidate who endorses a tough federal anti-spam law could surge to the head of the pack. The death penalty for the second offense would get my vote.

CAN YOU SAY "AVUNCULAR?" They're decent, they're kindly, they're friendly, they're sweet. They are the old cardigan sweater with the leather arm patches and the frosty glass of lemonade on the front porch. They are Floyd the Barber from "The Andy Griffith Show." They are Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida.

But at a press conference in Miami Lakes, Fla., this week, Graham served notice that it was time for an image change.

"I've been elected five times in a politically complex state," he said. "I haven't done that by totally being a nice guy. There is nothing wrong with being civil, but it does not completely characterize me."

His new campaign slogan: "Vote for Bob Graham -- He's Not As Nice As You Think."

Note to Katie Couric: That was a joke. A joke!

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