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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2000 / 21 Tishrei, 5761

Roger Simon

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Dubyah chills out -- EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin | "Funny people!" the governor of Texas is saying. "Where are the funny people? How come I don't have any funny people?"

He is kidding. The funny people hired by his campaign have been working overtime since the last presidential debate (which wasn't all that funny).

George W. Bush has to go on David Letterman's show and then tape a "Saturday Night Live" and also appear at the Al Smith Dinner in New York along with Al Gore.

The Al Smith dinner is an old political tradition, and the candidates who appear are expected to be very, very funny.

So on the day after the debate, right after he boarded his Boeing 757 that he calls "Responsibility One," Bush tried out his latest routine.

As reporters crammed into every available seat, wrestling with their computers and cell phones and tape recorders, Gov. Bush got on the intercom.

"Attention please, attention please. This is your captain. Are there journalists on board? We do not want to forget any journalists," he said.

This was an inside joke. During the debate, Al Gore had said that journalists had exposed a flaw in a Bush position and Bush had responded, "Forget the journalists."

(I didn't say it was a funny joke: I just said it was an inside joke.)

"I want to make sure all journalists are on board," Bush continued over the loudspeaker. "After all, we do not want to forget any journalists. For all journalists on board raise your hands. For those of you missing, will you please raise your hands."

A few journalists groaned.

"At any rate," Bush plunged on gamely, "there's a little less than three weeks to go. I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are, too. May your stories be objective."

At this last statement, there was total silence on the plane. Some press critics believe the Bush press corps has been too easy on him, while the Bush campaign thinks many reporters have been too rough on him.

And more roughness is not what Bush is looking for right now. Bush got slammed hard in the last debate by an Al Gore who felt if he did not do something dramatic, Bush would beat him. So Gore attacked from the opening moment to the closing statement, and afterward he and his campaign staff were delighted.

"It reminded me of the first Ali-Liston fight," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane. "And we're Ali. We dominated."

The Bush campaign staff was angry.

"A hit dog barks, and they are barking," said Bush adviser Mark McKinnon. "We saw the old petulant Al Gore. I don't think Al Gore was presidential."

Bush media adviser Stuart Stevens said, "Gore seemed overly aggressive, rude and overbearing. I would have thought he would have found a better tone. He was too snarly. And it's disconcerting that a different Al Gore has shown up for every debate."

Speaking for himself, Gore thought he did just fine. "The first (debate) was too hot, the second too cool, the third just right," he said the next morning, borrowing freely from "Goldilocks."

Not surprisingly, Bush had a different view. "He's an aggressive campaigner but I don't think it stands him well," Bush said. "Attacking somebody all the time prevents him from talking about what he intends to do."

Just before Bush got on his plane, his advance staff gave him a championship wrestling belt with a big gold buckle that said, "Presidential Debate Champ 2000."

Bush held it over his head for a second, then smiled and said, "From an objective group of people."

With just about three weeks to go until Election Day, Bush is looking for lots more of them.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate