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Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 1999 /3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

David Corn

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Bush Whacks -- THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY RACE has been further enlivened by Gov. George W. Bush’s veiled and not-so-veiled attacks on the Gingrichites of the GOP.

In a speech last week in New York City, Bush slapped his own party. “Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah,” he said, breaking with the cranky conservatives who yearn for a vicious culture war. He also chided his fellow GOPsters for promoting “a disdain for government itself.” These well-choreographed kicks came days after he smacked congressional Republicans for floating a hocus-pocus scheme to delay tax credits for the poor in order to keep the budget bills within spending limits.

Bush was showing that there’s nothing like $56 million to let you say whatever the hell you like. Congressional Republicans grimaced and bit their tongues. (“I’m not sure we’ve been on the road to Gomorrah,” House Speaker Denny Hastert muttered.) Like Clinton with the Democrats, Bush showed he doesn’t care much about the electoral prospects of his fellow party-mates, not even when the House Republicans are expected to face a tough time retaining their five-member majority.

This was quality entertainment for Democrats, who saw it as evidence of yet more Republican disarray (added to the House Republican leadership losing control of the HMO legislation, as a chunk of Republicans provided the winning majority to a Democrat-favored bill allowing patients to sue negligent HMOs). But today’s glee can be tomorrow’s gloom. Bush’s Republican-bashing renders it harder for Dems to attack him as a toadying tool of the right. There is his opposition to abortion rights, support of the GOP’s budget-busting tax cuts and affection for the gun-uncontrol positions of the NRA. But in politics, impression usually supersedes policy stances, and W is doing a bang-up job of creating an image for general election voters.

Remember the senior Bush’s pitch for a “kinder and gentler” nation, a timely call that came after the bitter ideological battles of the Reagan years? W is aiming in the same direction. Right now, “kinder and gentler II” may discomfit Tom DeLay, a nasty fellow who is the Republican truly in charge (but not in control) of the House, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, causing Democrats to titter. The last laugh, though, is a long time off.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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©1999, David Corn