Al Gore's Mondale Impersonation; Bush Conquers California

| 13 Aug 2014 | 12:23

    Bush Conquers California What a disastrous week for the hapless Al Gore. Not only was his impressive fundraising total for the first half of '99 dwarfed by George W.Bush's astonishing $36.3 million, but his erstwhile bus buddy, Bill Clinton, was monopolizing the news cycle, doing his best to sabotage Gore's flailing presidential campaign.   No, there's not a rift between the two, Clinton insisted, even though everybody knows that's just another lie burbled from his lip-biting mug. Last Thursday, Clinton joined some of Bush's GOP opponents and criticized the amount of money the Texas governor has amassed so far, saying Bush is captive to big money interests. David Beckwith, a Bush spokesman, said: "Gov. Bush has several ideas for campaign finance reform. It's not surprising that they're different from President Clinton. For example, we're not taking Chinese money."

    Every time you think Clinton has redefined the word "hypocrisy," he ups the ante.

    At this point in his lame-duck term, the President is like a kid who's been banished to his room for the remainder of the evening, yet reappears every five minutes for another stab at attention. I suspect that when the devil comes a-knockin' and Clinton descends below, his funeral will be well attended but will bear a remarkable resemblance to Ebenezer Scrooge's in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Eulogies will be given while the various guests look at their watches and wonder what kind of buffet will be laid out after the crocodile tears are shed.

    Also last week, Gore's campaign chairman Tony Coelho, who was an architect of the Democrats' disastrous '94 election effort, demonstrated his faulty political acumen by shaking up the Vice President's staff. Coelho hired Carter Eskew as a consultant, a choice that's curious for a couple of reasons. First, Eskew was once a business partner of Bob Squier, a close Gore ally, but the two had an acrimonious falling out. The bad blood between them, as well as others in the Gore camp, like pollsters Mark Penn and Celinda Lake, guarantees daily fistfights within the organization. More importantly, however, Eskew, a partner in the firm Bozell Eskew, produced, according to the Associated Press, "a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign for the tobacco industry that is credited with helping kill the Senate's tobacco bill last year." Squier told The Washington Post, "He certainly would not have been allowed to represent a client like this inside our company."

    So, speaking of hypocrisy, it seems that Gore, who choked back tears at the '96 Democratic Convention describing the lung-cancer death of his sister and vowed to fight the evils of tobacco until his final breath, has learned a lot from Clinton. Gore hasn't commented yet on this compromise of his beliefs and I doubt he will: What possible explanation can he offer for such a bald-faced contradiction?

    Then there's Bill Bradley, who surprised, and scared, Gore supporters with his report of $11 million raised through June 30, thus guaranteeing that his candidacy will be well funded and not just a nuisance of the Lamar Alexander variety. Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who must regret not getting into the race himself, endorsed Bradley on Monday, joining Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, and I imagine that several other members of the Democratic establishment, smelling defeat and suffering from post-impeachment guilt, won't be far behind. In addition, Stephen P. Yokich, leader of the United Auto Workers, repudiated an endorsement of Gore by the union's Iowa branch. Yokich said: "A group of less than twenty members in Iowa does not speak for the International Executive Board of the union and no one should think that they do." Gore is also having trouble rallying the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and building trade unions, groups that have disagreed with the Clinton administration's stance on trade policies.

    Buttressing my oft-stated view that Gore will go down in history as Bill Clinton's last victim, Ed Koch, who's endorsed Bradley, wrote in the Daily News last Friday: "The public sees the same Clinton swagger undiminished. He is neither cowed nor bowed, and there's a sense that like O.J. Simpson, he flouted justice... If there ever were a whipping boy, a surrogate for the now unreachable, untouchable Clinton, it's Al Gore. Gore's decision now to condemn Clinton for his affair with Lewinsky, when he was so circumspect and resolute in defending the President during the impeachment proceedings, looks like an act of desperation by someone slipping in the polls."

    The delusional Gene Lyons, still suckered by Clinton, used his Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column on June 30 to offer advice to the pal he calls Al. "Only six months after the failed GOP impeachment effort, the episode has already taken on the feel of a half-remembered dream," Lyons fantasizes. "Only two groups seem unable to let it go: crackpot Clinton-haters and the great majority of the Washington press corps. For the latter group, the failure of the nation's first-ever TV coup d'etat constituted a terrible blow to their self-importance... Mr. Vice President, you have already apologized for Bill Clinton's misbehavior a couple of times too many... Every time reporters badger you into deploring Clinton's adventures with Monica, they succeed in making you look like a pantywaist who's afraid of the Washington punditocracy."

    Oh right, there's that coup chatter again.

    Back to reality. At least Gore can rely on The New York Times to ram his candidacy down its readers' throats. Last Thursday, the day after Bush announced his fundraising total, the Times ran a sanctimonious editorial that was another de facto endorsement of the Vice President. Not that it was presented that way. The writer used Sen. John McCain's speech in New Hampshire about the necessity for campaign finance reform as a vehicle for its pro-Gore sentiments. The Times advises Bush, as "the leader in the Presidential polls" to "shove his party's leaders in Congress toward a fair and open vote on Mr. McCain's legislation. If he chooses not to do so, voters will have a right to question whether his brand of conservatism offers its compassion first and foremost to big-money special interests."

    A few points here. I guess last year's defeat of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill wasn't "fair and open" because it didn't yield the result the Times ivory-tower Big Thinkers desired. The Times asserts that "the stunning totals Mr. Bush is amassing could goad Vice President Al Gore into copying President Clinton's reckless methods." Short-term memory problem at the alleged paper of record? Does the writer not remember Gore's mantra of "no controlling authority" when trying to wiggle out of his Buddhist nun contributions in the '96 campaign? Besides, it's not as if the Times, in the unlikely event that McCain is the GOP nominee, would endorse the Arizona senator. He's simply a pawn for their irresponsible agenda of continuing the corrupt Clinton-Gore administration.

    Gore has raised upward of $18 million for his campaign, which would've been a record haul if it had not been exceeded by Bush. What if the Governor had reported, say, $14 million? Would the Times have then made Gore the recipient of its high-minded lecture on the evils of "special interest" money? Not likely, even though Gore certainly didn't raise that much cash by collecting nickels from kids all over the country, a la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

    But the Times wasn't alone in criticizing Bush for raising money. In an outrageously one-sided editorial on July 3, The Boston Globe asked, "Is [Bush] trying to buy the election? Why should voters think otherwise?" Incredibly, ignoring recent history, the editorial continues: "Bush's donor list, like those of other candidates, already includes hundreds of people with a financial stake in federal policy decisions. What are they buying? Will their contributions secure invitations to the White House?" When the Lincoln Bedroom was sold in '96 for Clinton's reelection effort, it's simply amazing that a major newspaper can ask such questions without mentioning that campaign. In addition, Gore is never cited in the editorial: Could it be possible the Globe editors really believe the Vice President has had as little luck at shaking down contributors as Alan Keyes?

    Perhaps the most pleasing result of Bush's $36 million report last Wednesday was seeing the temper tantrums by Beltway beat reporters, who aren't used to GOP candidates playing smart politics. The Bush campaign purposely downplayed estimates of their fundraising, knowing the press would distort the total and declare it a "disappointment." All David Beckwith told the media was that Bush would exceed the original goal of $15 million and expected more than $20 million. He told the truth. Yet, according to Howard Kurtz's Washington Post story last Friday, several reporters were seething at what they interpreted as deception on the part of Bush's staff.

    Kurtz quotes John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal: "I think they were spinning. It's dangerous when you're talking about a moving target and a campaign that has an interest in low-balling you." Good guess, John. Kurtz continues: "The Bush campaign 'has not established a good track record of credibility with reporters' in describing its finances, said Susan Glasser, who covers money and politics for The Post. 'In presidential fund-raising, a difference of $13 million in one day's time is an extremely misleading thing to say to reporters that cannot be justified as a press strategy.'" The New York Times' Don Van Natta Jr. added, "I don't quite understand why they're doing it... They're playing a game with us." Only the Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak admitted the press was outfoxed, saying, "They left themselves a certain wiggle room, an almost Clintonesque kind of thing... You sort of have to tip your hat to them."

    Given the partisanship that the major U.S. dailies display every day in favor of Democrats, and the abysmal track record of Republican candidates?Bob Dole being only the most obvious example?of acquiescing to that bias, it's refreshing to see a GOP candidate who has the same kind of "war room" strategy that served Clinton so well. The media is perplexed: mostly because it can't fathom Republicans not playing by conventional rules.

    Not surprisingly, Bush's GOP challengers for the presidential nomination were not pleased by the front-runner's financial report. Elizabeth Dole, interviewed by Judy Woodruff on CNN's Inside Politics last Wednesday, was downright silly, saying that gosh, with all that money going to Bush's campaign, Americans won't have enough left to buy Christmas presents! It was Steve Forbes, of all people, who registered the most outrage. The millionaire publisher, who's never held elective office, lashed out at Bush, saying that the Texan is now a captive of Washington insiders. As reported by The Washington Post last Friday, Forbes claimed that Bush's contributors are "substantial people, lobbyists, part of the establishment?who are backing him because they know that this way there is not going to be real, substantive change." Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Forbes, told The Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, "This is self-mutilation that Bush is engaged in. He has stepped into a big bear trap."

    I expect Dole to drop out of the contest before the New Hampshire primary. A picture in Monday's Times, showing Bush with his arm around her at a New Hampshire rally, says it all: Liddy's lobbying for a cabinet post in GWB's administration.

    And McCain, despite his POW credentials and forceful statesmanship during the Kosovo intervention, will never be the GOP nominee, mostly because the usually conservative Senator has engaged in some wacky behavior during the past year. Forget his legendary temper, and impolitic, off-color jokes; McCain's real sin with Republican primary voters is his campaign finance reform crusade and sponsorship of anti-tobacco legislation last year that would've resulted in a huge tax increase. Last Friday, in The Wall Street Journal, columnist Paul Gigot speculated that McCain's views are colored more by his desire to finally cleanse himself of his limited involvement in the Keating Five scandal in the late 80s. McCain said in a speech last week: "The people whom I serve believe that the means by which I came to office corrupt me. And that shames me... Their contempt is a stain upon my honor, and I cannot live with it." Gigot writes: "In that sense, campaign finance is a metaphor for the entire McCain candidacy. It's more about the man than the message. The senator's fiercest convictions are about his personal character, not his ideas."

    And that's why the media's favorite Republican (although they'd never vote for him over Gore or Bradley) doesn't have a shot with the GOP's rank-and-file voters. Still, the Daily News' Lars-Erik Nelson continues to plump for the ethically challenged Senator. In his July 4 column, like Jim Bowie at the Alamo, Nelson writes: "But McCain has something even more powerful than money. He has a story as old and as beautiful as America. With luck it will be the story of the next year: a courageous, scrappy underdog fighting the most powerful special interests in the country so that this nation of ours works for the benefit of all its citizens, not the 75,000 richest."

    Wasn't corn pone like that made illegal at least three decades ago? Ignore for the moment that Arizona beat reporters, who know McCain a lot more intimately than Nelson, will tell you another story?and it's not pretty?about this "scrappy underdog." I have a question for the naive News pundit: Sir, do you really believe that if McCain could raise as much money as Bush, making him the prohibitive favorite for the GOP nomination, that he'd turn it down?

    It's open season on Bush for reporters, which explains the thin article published in the Los Angeles Times on July 4 questioning whether the Governor received preferential treatment 31 years ago in the Texas Air National Guard. Reporter Richard A. Serrano writes: "While there is no evidence of illegality or regulations broken to accommodate Bush's entry and rise in the service, the documents do show that doors were opened and good fortune flowed to him at opportune times." Fair enough: President Bush was a congressman at the time and it's not surprising that Guard officials might grease the wheels for his son. Just as they did for the son of Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, the Texan who ran for vice president with Michael Dukakis in 1988.

    Serrano interviewed retired Col. Walter B. Staudt, who said, "Nobody did anything for him. There was no goddamn influence on his behalf. Neither his daddy nor anybody else got him into the Guard." And Willie J. Hooper, a retired major in the Texas Air National Guard, said, "He did the work. His daddy couldn't do it for him." Bush told the press in New Hampshire on Sunday: "I wanted to fly fighters. I applied and I was accepted. I'm very proud of my service."


    Of course, The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, on last Sunday's Meet the Press, furrowed his brow when speaking about Serrano's story, saying that, well, I don't think it's fatal to the Bush campaign, but it certainly raises questions. The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot quickly batted him down, insisting that the only slight beneficiary of the "revelation" would be POW John McCain, and his campaign is going nowhere anyway.

    Bob Beckel, Walter Mondale's campaign manager in '84, wrote an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times on July 4, making the preposterous claim that "Bush has yet to prove he has any base outside Texas." Say what? Where is all this money and adulation coming from, then? In fact, Bush hasn't even tapped into many lucrative markets yet for donations; he's expected to raise big bucks in Denver, Seattle, Virginia and even reliably Democratic Baltimore. Why, even lifetime liberal Warren Beatty attended an L.A. fundraiser for Bush that netted $2 million and spoke with the candidate, introducing himself as "Bulworth." According to the Daily News' Rush & Molloy, Beatty showed up at the home of Warner Bros. executive Terry Semel?a longtime Democratic contributor?where the candidate said, "My job is not to hold up anybody for scorn... There's a lot of reasons why we have violence in our society."

    Even Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for President Clinton, who now holds a position at Vanity Fair (honorific, if you ask me, but that's another story), was complimentary about a Bush appearance she witnessed in Los Angeles before a teachers' group. She told Washington Post reporter Dan Balz: "He's utterly Clintonian in his style. It's a totally Democratic audience and he connected with them." She added that Bush's campaign apparatus was "at almost a White House level of execution."

    Beckel also repeats the tired claim that no one knows where Bush stands on the issues: "Bush is a likable yet unproven candidate with an unknown record. Already, he has made several mistakes, from gun control to abortion." What were the "mistakes"? He's been clear about abortion: He's pro-life but won't impose a litmus test on the issue for Supreme Court nominees. You'd think Beckel would applaud that stance, even if right-wing nuts like Gary Bauer don't. As for gun control, Bush has signed a bill in Texas that makes it difficult for gun manufacturers to be punished by frivolous lawsuits. Beckel obviously doesn't agree with that, but it's not a "mistake," not a "gaffe."

    The New Republic, Marty Peretz's propaganda sheet for Al Gore, is so distressed by their favorite son's performance that Dana Milbank went so far in the magazine's July 19 issue to take Sen. Orrin Hatch's late entry into the campaign seriously. Milbank makes the obligatory jab at Hatch's noble performance during the '91 Clarence Thomas hearings, satisfying his readers' sympathy for Anita Hill, but then praises the veteran legislator as a man of substance. I agree with that assessment, but it's somewhat strange coming from The New Republic. Milbank writes: "What's more, Hatch's background contrasts nicely with George W. Bush's. Hatch grew up in poverty [sort of like Gore], not privilege (the senator once worked as a janitor), and he has had far more experience in government?than the Republican favorite." Hatch told Milbank that he's worried Bush will have a "tremendous learning curve... Do we want somebody like that leading us into the new millennium?"

    Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a hard-line conservative, had a different spin on Hatch's candidacy. Writing on July 4, he said: "Longtime friends say Sen. Orrin Hatch is running for the GOP presidential nomination because of intense personal dislike for his colleague and now presidential rival Sen. John McCain... His friends contend Hatch wants to divide support that might make McCain an effective challenger." According to Novak, Hatch has another goal in mind. By helping Bush, and "keeping fellow Mormons from backing conservative candidates Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer," he hopes to be rewarded with a seat on the Supreme Court.

    In addition, Novak pushes the chances for Michigan Gov. John Engler as Bush's veep selection. Novak's soft on Engler, but I don't think that will influence the Bush campaign to deviate from their plan of tapping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Vietnam vet. In the general election, Ridge's Rust Belt state is just as crucial as Engler's, and his stance on abortion will be a plus for swing voters.

    Milbank trudges on: "This should be a potent argument?except that, if the 2000 campaign has taught us anything so far, it's that voters don't care much for the experienced candidates. The most experienced guys in the race are Hatch, Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Lamar Alexander and, to be sure, Dan Quayle. Just look how they fare in matchups against Bush. Experience, it seems, is a liability. No wonder there's a clamor for a Jesse Ventura candidacy."

    The clamor for Ventura, if you ask me, is strictly in Milbank's programmed mind. The New Republic, as well as Democrats in general, just can't stand that Bush has become so popular. Contrary to what the Beltway insiders would have you believe, it's not the Republican Party that's heading for a crack-up, but rather the Democrats. And there's ample reason for concern: With Bush creaming Gore in national polls for the past several months, leading in California and running neck and neck in New York, it's not inconceivable that there's a GOP landslide on the horizon. Unlike the mistaken opinion that this campaign resembles the '88 race, where Vice President Bush was temporarily trailing sad sack Michael Dukakis in the polls, it's more similar to the Tony Blair-John Major faceoff in England two years ago. Major was baffled: The economy was strong, yet voters were ready for a change after years of Tory control. While Major was personally popular, and considered a man of integrity, unlike Bill Clinton, Britons simply wanted to clean the government's house.

    Another common theme sounded by pundits is the disingenuous complaint that this year's campaign has started so early. That's silly. Any time there's an open seat in the White House the race begins shortly after the current president's reelection. For example, it was in May of '87 that Gary Hart, the leading Democrat, was banished because of his exposed philandering with Donna Rice; it was in September of that year that Joe Biden had to withdraw because of plagiarism charges.

    Liberal journalists are so confused, and miffed, at Gov. Bush's dominance this year that some have resorted to praising his father, the former president who was reviled by the media in his unsuccessful reelection bid against Clinton in 1992. In Slate, for example, David Plotz writes an essay posted on July 1 that compares father and son. Not surprisingly, he finds the latter lacking. He writes: "The elder Bush enlisted in the Navy in 1942, became the service's youngest fighter pilot, flew 58 missions in the South Pacific, was shot down over enemy waters, and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. The son also became a fighter pilot?for the Texas Air National Guard. He spent the Vietnam War flying 'missions' over the Texas scrub... (Americans tend to forget the heroic life of President Bush. This was one of his unfortunate talents: He could make the extraordinary seem mundane.)"

    How times change. Why, it was only seven years ago, writing in The New Republic, that Sidney Blumenthal besmirched President Bush's combat record and all but called him a phony war hero. Never mind that the Beltway media swooned over Clinton in '92, who wasn't even in the National Guard during Vietnam, even though he gave ample evidence of all the lying during that campaign that would define his presidency. I don't know that Plotz was writing about politics in '92, but I'll bet he was a Clinton supporter.

    Nevertheless, he now praises President Bush as a noble man who achieved "high-status accomplishments." Gov. Bush, by comparison, Plotz implies, is a lucky guy who's lacking in brains, courage and the gravitas of his old man. Plotz concludes: "George W. Bush jokes that his father's idea of a perfect son is Al Gore Jr. This may be America's choice in 2000: the George W. Bush who isn't George H.W. Bush, or the Al Gore who is."

    As Jay & the Americans sang back in the 60s, "Only in America." It's true that the country's voters feel a certain nostalgia for President Bush: Jumping out of that plane a couple years ago was merely symbolic of the change in heart; the comparison to Bill Clinton is the substantive reason. But when journalists, so dismayed that Gore is flaming out, resort to comparing Gore to President Bush, you know the Vice President is in serious trouble.

    The newspapers on July 4 ran a lot of hokum about the Fourth of July and continually invoked "the Founders," presumably to knock down Bush. Mary McGrory's column in The Washington Post was typical. She wrote, in a piece headlined "Not What the Founders Had in Mind": "Voter participation in presidential elections is shamefully low... Our highest office is for sale, and the process has become too crass for most Americans?but they have refused to do anything about it. Where is Jefferson when we need him?" Well, aside from being corpses, I don't imagine Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington or any of the other 18th-century American heroes would have much to say. After all, the Declaration of Independence was written more than 200 years ago and the country has evolved at a prodigious pace. It's not as if "the Founders" were from Mt. Olympus; there were plenty of scandals, moneygrubbing and slave ownership back then. It's absurd to even contemplate what those men would think of our present political system. Hillary & Sharpton: So Happy Together The Hillary Clinton/Rudy Giuliani slugfest continues, as it will for months to come, but I got too lost in national politics to concentrate on the preliminary squabbles. The week started off with Jeffrey Toobin suggesting in The New Yorker that President Clinton might run for Senate in Arkansas in three years, a for-now far-fetched story that the White House lingered in responding to, presumably to keep Al Gore out of the news cycle. Then Hillary's house-hunting: Frankly, I don't care where she ends up (as long as it's not in Tribeca); it's simply not an important issue. Ditto for all her taxpayer-funded trips to New York. You just can't compete with the White House spin on that one, and ultimately, one more example of the Clintons on the take won't make a difference in the Senate race. At this point, who has the energy to point fingers at those two? Far more significant was Ken Starr letting felon and presidential scapegoat Webb Hubbell off the hook, cutting a deal, thus avoiding a trial and gobs of Hillary sympathy from the likes of The New York Times. My friend Peggy Noonan is worried that Hillary might actually win; I still can't see it. Even traditional Democrats are recoiling at her hubris. James Brady, writing in Crain's New York Business on June 28, was downright mean in describing the First Lady, and he's not known for pissing people off. A lifetime of schmoozing does that to a writer. Anyway, he bitches: "Hillary, angry, cynical, ambitious, clever and conniving, a Lucrezia Borgia in pantsuits, hasn't even gotten to town yet and already she's got people at each other's throats. The latest?Tina Brown, John Kennedy and the mayor... Maybe the Senate race is her only option in getting out of a dysfunctional marriage and creating a new life for herself. I can't believe that's what senate seats are for, but still...when I hear 'Hillary,' I think of Lillian Hellman, a bitter, vengeful woman defined not so much by her ideas as by her resentments."

    The Post's Jack Newfield, no Giuliani fan, wrote a dumb column on July 1, one of those imaginary bits where "A mole at the White House faxed us..." but it still shows where he stands. Newfield's not a born humorist, but he tries: "Spielberg told me to put on paper three true reasons why I want to be a senator. So here goes: 1. I am entitled to this as a reward for all the humiliations I endured because of Bill. 2. Rudy is part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. 3. I want to be president while Bill is a junior senator from Arkansas."

    I doubt that either Brady or Newfield would actually vote for Giuliani, but it is an indication that Hillary's supposed electoral base isn't as solid as her adviser Harold Ickes thinks. This might be the first time in his life that Newfield sits out an election.

    Before he was felled by a heart attack late last week, Ed Koch joined fellow former mayors David Dinkins and Abe Beame at City Hall to denounce Giuliani's silly scheme to revise the City Charter so that the obnoxious Mark Green can't replace him once he?I hope?defeats Clinton for the Senate. When will Rudy get it through his meanspirited noggin that this is an issue that won't gain him a single vote? So what if Green takes over as mayor for the short spell until the 2001 election? Giuliani would be better served by plotting in secret to make sure there's a credible Republican challenger who will carry on his regime despite the short interruption.

    But I did get a kick out of Dan Barry's June 29 column in the Times describing the unlikely triumvirate of Democratic pols uniting against Giuliani. Barry describes Beame's appearance: "Abe Beame is 93, slight and on the short side of five feet?so fragile in appearance that Mr. Green made a move to help him. But Mr. Beame quickly demonstrated that he needed no assistance, striding up the steps as though it were 1975 again."

    Just what the doctor ordered: a reminder of Beame's calamitous tenure as mayor, when the city almost went broke and even Jerry Ford made fun of New York. One can only hope that Beame campaigns as vigorously as possible for his fellow hack Democrat, Hillary Clinton.

    Which brings us, no surprise, to Mr. P.T. Sharpton. He's made it clear that HRC will have to kiss his butt if she wants the support of him and his "people," and simply being invited to the White House to watch her don a Yankees cap isn't enough. In a fine July 19 New Republic piece by Michelle Cottle, she quotes political scientist Fred Siegel, in an amusing cough of hyperbole: "[Sharpton] is the single most powerful Democrat in terms of being a kingmaker." My goodness, what in the world does that say about the state of Democratic politics in New York City? Shiver me timbers!

    But more ludicrous, and perhaps frightening, are the Rev's own words: "There is no question that the majority of people in the African American and Latino community, many of whom support me, would support a Hillary Clinton. The question is: Can she turn them out?... [This] is the reason Hillary Clinton at some point is gonna have to deal with people like me. If she only goes with the traditional club and union kind of campaign?that's what we had in '93 when Dave Dinkins lost."

    Could be, Al. Trouble is, Hillary's is a statewide election. I hope she's foolish enough to bring Sharpton along on a leash as a mascot, but I suspect that Ickes knows that won't play too well upstate or in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

    Back to Hillary's major booster: The New York Times. In a front-page story on July 4 about the upcoming Senate race, fully 80 percent of the article by Adam Nagourney was devoted to Clinton, even though the headline read "In New York Race For Senate, Pacing Takes Prominence." Why the piece merited front-page status is beyond me. After all, Nagourney's third paragraph reads: "But there is a growing perception among New York's political leaders that the 16-month campaign for Senate that effectively begins with Mrs. Clinton's appearance in Pindars Corners will pose an extraordinary challenge for the Democratic First Lady and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican New York City Mayor who is also likely to run for the seat."

    Well, that was illuminating. If you're a tourist visiting the city from Little Rock.

    On the op-ed page, Gail Collins voiced what Hillary must be thinking, writing about her meeting with Sen. Moynihan in Oneonta this week. "If establishing an exploratory committee, renting office space and hiring staff are not enough proof that Mrs. Clinton is a serious candidate, this trip ought to do it. Nobody travels to Oneonta without a really, really good reason."

    And in the July 12 Newsweek package on the New York Senate contest, readers are treated to a poorly written, let's-state-the-obvious primer from George Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton flack who threatens to provide media analysis as long as one or the other of the First Couple remains in the public spotlight. George's advice to his former boss? Raise a lot of money. Lose the Secret Service bubble that separates you from real New Yorkers. Be friendly to the media. Watch out for Giuliani's attacks. I don't know how much Newsweek is paying Stephanopoulos for this grad student thumb-sucking, but if it's more than a penny a word, the magazine is getting ripped off.

    The lead story about Clinton, written by Jonathan Alter and Debra Rosenberg, has more substance than Stephanopoulos', but not much that's new. The two reporters rehash the Giuliani/ George Pataki feud, and state with near certainty that the Mayor will face a primary challenge from Rep. Rick Lazio and possibly Rep. Peter King. An unnamed national "Republican insider" is quoted as saying: "[Giuliani] will drive the largest turnout of minorities in the history of New York. This would hurt George W.'s ability to carry this state. Here's a presidential candidate trying to reach out to women and Hispanics. Rudy takes all those pluses away from you."

    This doesn't smell right to me. After all, as Fred Barnes said on The Beltway Boys last Saturday night, the media is treating Hillary Clinton like the second coming of Joan of Arc. I suspect that Alter and Rosenberg's source is in the Lazio or King camp: His or her analysis doesn't square with Bush's desire to prevent a bloody primary fight. He wants Giuliani on the ticket, unbruised, to showcase the Mayor's remarkable achievements in New York City. Giuliani's gutter-mouth will be hard to zip, but if he wants a future in national politics, if may be the first time in his life he takes marching orders with a smile.

    Finally, a few words from NYPress correspondent Bill Monahan, who's pondering whether it's worth the effort to write about the campaign.

    Monahan: "What's frightening about Hillary is what's frightening about Bill Gates. They know they have a crap product; they don't care. That may be an angle. Hillary has no talent, no brains, she's sort of this virus-like thing, that should, maximum, have been a low-rent personnel officer, but escaped from the petri dish and hit the road, wearing that sick smile, altitude-sick, totally out of her depth, but on the march. She's gotta know she's gravely unsuitable and actively bad for people, who deserve better. She doesn't fucking care. She wants what she wants. That's what creates the late-century nausea.

    "There's also a tragic component in a literary sense: She's making a huge, overreaching mistake, and the only thing she's gonna accomplish is making Giuliani look like a combination of Thomas Jefferson and Jesus Christ. I saw her on tv talking to the U.S. citizens as if they were illiterates to whom she had brought religious tracts and wagons of food paid for out of her own personal First Lady Treasury and almost lost my lunch.

    "So it's insane. I could do it. I wouldn't like it. But I could get something out of it if the nausea is just gotten over with, which is the thing I was missing." Hotter Than a Matchhead It was a slow week in the city for the MUGGER family, and it was only the central air conditioning in the loft that left Mrs. M feeling human. We're opposites in that regard: Years of living in Baltimore, where soupy summers are the norm, and traveling to Bangkok many times, erased my Northeastern dislike of extreme heat. I think New York's climate sucks. I'd far prefer it to be like Houston or Miami, where the humidity is so intense that people are lulled into a fever-like calm, a wash of well-being settles in that stimulates imagination and Big Thoughts. But I suppose that's a minority view. Last Wednesday, Mrs. M, Mike Gentile and I traveled to East Soho?what the Times belatedly calls NoLita?to a gallery on Mott St. to view a painting of John Waters by our old friend Susan Lowe. The small space was too crowded to spend more than a few minutes there, and Mrs. M was put off by the "cologne" that many young women wafted?she likened it to vaginal discharge?but amid the poachers drinking Budweiser tallboys, pretending to look at the jammed walls of art, we did manage to spend a few minutes with Sue and Dennis Dermody.

    I hadn't seen Sue in a coon's age: Back in Baltimore, in the late 70s and 80s she was a regular on my social circuit, and we often shared bottles of wine at croquet tournaments in Hampstead or the splendid garden parties of Vince Peranio and Delores Deluxe down in Fells Point. One night that I barely remember, Sue, Gentile, Waters and I, after the Club Charles had closed, wandered to Pat Moran's apartment for an after-hours nightcap, and I was horrified to find that the only booze in the house was vodka. I have a huge problem with that popular potable: It dates back to college when my roommate Mark and I polished off a half gallon of Smirnoff's with our friends Jenny and Paula while playing poker. Never did regain a taste for the stuff. However, I threw caution to the wind for the 99th time that particular year, and the five of us yakked until the sun rose.

    After the gallery opening, Mrs. M, Mike and I walked on Houston St. to Boca Chica, at 1st and 1st, and it was simply remarkable how that stretch of concrete has been transformed in just the past couple of years. It's one thing to notice all the chic shops that have opened east of the Puck Bldg.?Blue Bag, Terra Plana, Wang, Zero, Hedra Prue, Janet Russo, Jamin Puech, to name just a few?but Houston had always been a dicey stroll. Instead of bums sprawled on the sidewalks, smashed glass in the gutters, we found a stream of well-dressed passersby, not one collegiate panhandler and even the caged-in park by the restaurant, once the repository for crackies and other undesirables, was on this night, at least, populated by at least a dozen upright citizens, three with cell phones, four waiting on line at an ice cream stand. My feelings about Rudy Giuliani are well-known, but this wasn't David Dinkins' New York.

    Our boys have just about exhausted their mania for Pokemon?I can only hope those damn trading cards are worth something in about 15 years?and have dived into all the Star Wars paraphernalia. Junior's seen the film three times, and on Saturday engaged in a conversation about it with a guy behind the prepared-foods counter at Dean & DeLuca. I have no patience for movies of that ilk?I missed the first installment and never caught up?but the kids are gung ho and so that's meant trips to Forbidden Planet, King's Pharmacy and Toys R Us for all the action figures.

    On Sunday, Junior found a "rarity" at Forbidden Planet, Mace Windu, and it made his day. He and MUGGER III have a Star Wars lineup in their room, including the likes of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Padme Naberrie, and a dozen more that I don't have the patience to list here. After that excursion, we patronized the Virgin store at Union Square, where MUGGER III was jubilant at finding a Freddi the Fish CD-ROM and I was just as happy picking up the I Love Lucy European series videos. My six-year-old tried to sneak a South Park tape into our basket, but that was quickly met with a parental "N," as in no, Señor Junior.

    Later that 4th of July, we hosted a small gathering of friends on our rooftop and besides all the complaints about the heat, the one common thread of conversation was about the lack of fireworks exploding nonstop. Time was, not so long ago, that Chinatown was a war zone for a solid week in and around the holiday, with shady youths selling explosives and tossing cherry bombs willy-nilly into the crowded streets. That's a no-no in Rudy's New York and I don't miss it a bit: The first year I lived in Manhattan it was kind of cool, the continual, deafening noise on the Fourth, but enough is enough.

    It was too hot for a proper barbecue, so Mrs. M laid out a spread of Smithfield ham, guacamole, jerk chicken salad, olives and cheese?downstairs in the kitchen?and a dozen or so of us drank beer, Evian and Cokes on the roof, looking across the river to Hoboken and noticing that no one else was on their Tribeca terraces. At one point, MUGGER III took a spill on some steps, adding a nasty bruise to his little body, but an ice pack and some children's Tylenol fixed him up quick. Mrs. M and I were proud of Junior: Not only did he alert us to his brother's mishap, but after the incident he stayed in bed right next to the little nipper, watching a video with him. The two of them are less than two years apart in age and despite the frequent skirmishes they taunt us with, they become closer each day.

    JULY 5