Tom Daschle Hones His Demagoguery I took a cab to work last Friday morning, after dropping Junior off at school. Nothing extraordinary about that; after kissing him goodbye, I doubled back to a westbound street and flagged a driver who ignored my instructions to take 5th down to 29th. So what, I figured, there was still the Journal editorial page to read and I was in no rush.
We were putt-putting on Central Park W. when the dimwitted cabby missed a hand signal from a Rudy Giuliani-empowered cop, who instantly pulled him over and asked for his timesheet and driver's license. The trembling Pakistani clearly didn't understand what he'd done wrong, had no idea what the copper wanted, so Mr. Tough Guy, looking to make his daily ticket quota, started to verbally abuse him. "Okay," he loudly said to no one in particular, "there's one in every crowd. Can't speak a word of goddamn English, dumb fucker."
He then told me to get out of the cab, since he was going to detain the driver with some bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, and hail another taxi. Which I did, but didn't return to Paul Gigot's column in the Journal; instead I ruminated about demagoguery and how Giuliani is the most obvious regional example of an insecure man so consumed with power that his considerable intellect, ambition and cunning is blighted by this personal failing.
But at least Giuliani can point to a stunning record of success in New York City.
Last week, the Democratic Party, previewing the desperation that will shape their 2000 election strategy, staged the most naked, partisan peepshow of politics that I've ever seen in such a short period of time.
Using Pat Buchanan as a backdrop, taking advantage of the still-bubbling controversy over his fringe, right-wing views?which are not limited to curious interpretations of World War II?but never mentioning his name, Democrat after Democrat stood before the press to denounce their opposition. It's a clever ruse: I give credit to Bill Clinton, who obviously has a lot of time on his hands if he's really playing golf in the rain, and James Carville. Drape the GOP as a Father Coughlin/Joe McCarthy/Pat Buchanan organ of the shadowy past, despite the infectious optimism of front-runner Gov. George W. Bush, and let savior Al Gore rush in from Nashville to guide the country safely into the millennium.
But it's all too scripted, even for Clinton.
After the President's petulant and ugly press conference about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty's defeat didn't play well even in the liberal mainstream press, Clinton sent surrogates?on every front?to blast the Republicans. In a speech last Thursday night at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York, Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said: "The new isolationism of 1999 fails to understand precisely what the old isolationism of 60 years ago failed to understand?that local conflicts can have global consequences." This absurd attack was meant only to shroud the GOP in Buchanan's rhetoric, for Republicans including Gov. Bush, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Richard Lugar, Henry Kissinger and Richard Cheney, all of whom opposed the bill, are hardly isolationists.
On the same day, Oct. 21, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle spoke from the gutter at a DC press conference, essentially calling all Republicans racists. Daschle's comments are remarkable for their sheer political calculation, and will follow him for the rest of his career. It's been said Daschle's an honorable man, who rises above Carville-/Blumenthal-like invective and hyperbole: this performance proves that theory wrong. This is the background: Carol Moseley-Braun, the ethically challenged (to slip into Democratic jargon) former senator from Illinois, is up for an ambassador's post to New Zealand, and GOP Sen. Jesse Helms, as expected, is not giving his blessing. I have little in common with Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but bear in mind that Moseley-Braun is a Democratic sacrificial lamb. She'll never be confirmed, mainly because she's a corrupt and crooked politician who under ordinary circumstances would never even be nominated. The Democrats simply want to make Republicans look like racists: Clinton could've nominated one of 100 other qualified public servants, black, white, yellow or purple, and he or she would be rubber-stamped. This was just about politics and everyone in Washington knows that.
But Daschle said to reporters: "I have never seen a party become this defiant when it comes to protecting minority rights in my time in public life. Carol Moseley-Braun is just the latest victim of increasing sentiment expressed by an increasing number of Republican senators that I think is very dangerous for this country and very, very harmful to the progress we've made on minority rights over many decades... It's a sad, sad commentary on circumstances involving minorities in the country and in the Senate, and I just hope that it's recorded as such... I think there's a pattern here, and I think we ought to be given some explanation for why this pattern has become so apparent and so dangerously ill-considered."
Now, you must remember, the last controversial ambassadorial appointment that was held up by Sen. Helms was in 1997 and the nominee was a Republican. A redheaded patrician and twice-elected governor from Massachusetts, William Weld. Roosevelt money, summer resorts. And the last former senator to be denied confirmation for a cabinet post was the late John Tower, a Republican from Texas who served in the Senate with infinitely more distinction than Moseley-Braun.
Democrat Daschle speaks as the Senate leader of the same party that lied to Christians in Missouri and Maryland last November and said that if Republicans won in congressional districts churches would be burned. He speaks as the representative of a president who's conjured up fictitious church-burnings in his youth in Arkansas. And he speaks as a congressional leader of the party that excoriated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 and subjected him to the "politics of personal destruction" that President Clinton so hypocritically abhors.
Now let's blast abortion all over the front pages. Despite the fact that Gov. Bush, like his father and Ronald Reagan before him, has not made his pro-life position (as well as no "litmus tests" for Supreme Court nominees) a key component of his campaign, listening to Democrats you'd think that every Republican was a back-alley doctor looking to make a sleazy buck off a poor girl's misfortune. Last Thursday, in a simple Senate vote that merely resolved that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin (once a pro-lifer) took the occasion to blast members of the other side. "It is now clear what the true agenda of the anti-choice members... really is. They want to criminalize choice." I don't really know what that's apropos of, except to trot another Democrat out before cameras to make general statements that cloak the Republicans in Buchananism.
And also on Thursday, when the Senate passed a bill outlawing partial birth abortion (although it's not veto-proof) by a margin of 63-34, California Sen. Barbara Boxer felt it necessary to chime in about the defeat. "Here we are in the Senate," she said, "a hundred of us and not one of us an obstetrician, not one of us a gynecologist, deciding what procedures should or should not be used, and under what circumstances, in a matter that should be left to the medical profession, left to the families of this country, left to loving moms and dads."
Last Wednesday, the day that Elizabeth Dole dropped out of the GOP presidential nomination contest, Clinton, echoing Buchanan's complaint that the Republican fix is in, consoled Mrs. Dole by criticizing Gov. Bush. He said: "Governor Bush is the first candidate in the history of the modern era?when we've had federal financing?who's given it up so that an unlimited amount of money could be raised. It's something that some people urged on me four years ago because I could have done that, and I decided it wasn't fair and I didn't do it. I didn't think it was the right thing to do."
Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director, responded to Clinton: "We appreciate the President's advice?but we don't intend to use him as a model for how Gov. Bush will raise money or lead the nation."
And Washington Times editor Wes Pruden had a fitting comeback last Friday in his column: "Well, [Clinton's] '96 fund raising certainly made life interesting for Johnny Chung, and for the upstairs maid who had to change all those sheets in the Lincoln Bedroom. And maybe for himself, too. He complained the other day to the White House physician that when he burps he still tastes Szechuan chicken."
This campaign-finance reform scam is out of control. Lars-Erik Nelson, the Daily News columnist, whom I've sort of taken a liking to this year, despite our wide gulf in opinions, was back to his Richard Cohen self last Friday when he wrote about the pity of Liddy Dole's exit from the race. Mind you, this is a woman whose husband was the GOP's candidate in '96, who raised a ton of money?soft, hard, squishy, edible, fungible?and had a rolodex at the ready. But the Republican Party wanted to move on. Nelson quotes Mrs. Dole, "In the real America, it's more important to raise issues than to raise campaign funds," and then he continues: "But she is not in the real America; she was trapped by the corrupt new American process in which money wields political power."
Now, let me get something straight. Gov. George Bush wants to become the country's next president, as do Al Gore, Bill Bradley, John McCain and a few other people. What is Bush supposed to do: not raise money, to satisfy media critics? And why is Gore always excluded when the subject of big money corrupting this year's campaigning is discussed? Gore, if not for Bush, would be setting records this year for campaign contributions, and it ain't all from Jefferson Smith Cub Scouts, a nickel at a time. Nelson concludes: "We say goodbye not only to Elizabeth Dole, but to a big piece of our democracy. Bigwigs trump voters in presidential contests."
Lars: Did Americans say goodbye to "a big piece of democracy" when Joe Kennedy made deals with the mob in order to ensure John Kennedy's victory in 1960? How clean was LBJ's dough?
Dole's departure is good news for Bush: most of her traditional GOP support will go to him, giving the Governor time to reassure cultural conservatives. Meanwhile, McCain, who's already admitting that he's part of the campaign finance corruption this year that he supposedly detests, will continue to suck up to The New York Times and The New Republic. However, the beginning of this week finally brought the backlash to the media-supported McCain race. In Monday's Times, Richard Berke, describing how McCain might not even win the presidential primary in his home state of Arizona?Gov. Jane Hull has endorsed Bush?quotes the influential Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler: "John [McCain] is a very good one-man performance. It's not as clear how effective he is as part of a team."
And though Hull described her endorsement of Bush as not "anti-McCain" but "pro-Bush," it's clear the two most famous Arizona politicians don't get along. Speaking of McCain's famous temper, which he's kept in check for the benefit of the White House press corps, Hull told Berke, "We all have our faults, and it's something that John has to keep control of."
In the Nov. 1 editions of both Time and Newsweek, it's reported that McCain doesn't always practice what he preaches when it comes to raising money. Time goes easier on the Senator, eliciting this reaction after it was pointed out that executives like AOL's Steve Case and George Vradenburg have been present at, or hosted, fundraisers for the "maverick" legislator. McCain says: "I know there is an appearance problem. But I have never pressured a lobbyist to contribute." Time's reporters add: "[McCain] also says the donations are too small to be corrupting?$1,000 from individuals and $5,000 from political-action committees."
However, Michael Isikoff reported in Newsweek that McCain, in the last election, received more money from the communications industry?$562,000?than anyone else in the Senate. And earlier this year, contrary to what McCain told the reporters at Time, after a favor from McCain, Colorado satellite-television billionaire Charlie Ergen "threw a fund-raiser for McCain's presidential campaign at his Denver home. Estimated take: $47,000."
But back to the Democrats.
On Oct. 15, in a speech at the White House, Clinton was truly incomprehensible when he spoke out about the necessity of hate crime legislation. As an internationalist, he tied in the murders of Matthew Shepard?a gay man, in case anyone forgot?and James Byrd, the black man killed in Texas, to Kosovo and Bosnia. I'm not putting you on: This man has lost his marbles. Clinton said: "It seems to me very hard to make the case that America, for our own sanity and our own humanity, and for what we owe to the rest of the world, should not pass strong hate-crimes legislation and do it without delay this year. If we're trying to make peace in Kosovo and Bosnia, what are we trying to do? Trying to get people over their ethnic and religious hatreds."
Finally, when all else fails, bring out the corpse of Richard Nixon, one of Buchanan's mentors. The recent release of yet another series of tapes made by Nixon during his White House years has occasioned many pundits to once again proclaim that the enigmatic president was an anti-Semite. How convenient, to use a phrase from the Watergate era, at this point in time. First of all, Nixon tapes are a dime a dozen: he was stupid to let the damn things roll while he was conducting official business, cocktail chatter or semi-serious speculation.
JFK had his eye on history: he taped only at certain meetings, informing just his brother Bobby, but never his guests. Therefore, the inappropriate remarks about blacks, Jews, gays and other minorities that would naturally come up in conversation back then, and today would brand him with a Buchanan tattoo across his chest, were never heard. Likewise, do you think Bill Clinton, for all his jazz about being the first Black President, the first Woman President and the first Gay President, hasn't yukked it up with friends at the White House, telling off-color jokes about each and every one of those groups? And, let's not forget Jews and Eye-Talians, whom I'm sure Carville and Clinton have had plenty of jokes about in private. And probably pretty funny ones too.
Slate's Timothy Noah was horribly offended by the latest batch of Nixon slurs. Writing on Oct. 7, he said: "Whenever the academic world is tempted to adopt a more favorable view of Nixon's character, new Nixon tapes always seem to appear that squelch the impulse... We already knew, of course, that Nixon had a pathological hatred of Jews.... But even Chatterbox was taken aback at the virulence of some of Nixon's comments on the new tapes... Chatterbox won't dispute that this century has seen bigger anti-Semites than Richard Nixon. On the other hand, Nixon's comments about Jews make, say, Pat Buchanan's seem comparatively benign."
Nixon also called Tip O'Neill an "all-out dove and a vicious bastard" and Teddy Kennedy "a goddamn lily-livered mealy-mouth," but those Massachusetts Democrats were simply Irish-Americans and therefore Nixon's remarks are not worthy of most journalists' ire.
New York Observer booby-hatch-escapee-in-residence Anne Roiphe is a Noah soulmate, but she directs her wrath at Times columnist and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire. She falls just short of calling him a self-hating Jew. Roiphe writes in the Oct. 25 Observer: "I don't believe these anti-Semitic remarks were made in front of Mr. Safire. That's the sort of remark you make when the servants are back in the pantry, not when they're pouring your coffee. But now that he knows, doesn't he feel a bit queasy? Mr. Clinton may have his sexual hang-ups, but he truly is not a man of little bigotries. His vision of America includes all of us, and no tapes will turn up in the future that belie that."
Two points, Anne: Clinton's "vision of America" includes Bill Clinton and no one else. And, dummy, of course we'll never hear any secret tapes of Clinton speaking in the privacy of his golf cart or pickup truck. Nixon's example made that the first lesson of the modern American Presidency: only tape what you want history to record.
Dulled Lights in The Morning Rack up one more odd week in the MUGGER household. First, Junior swore he saw a flying saucer last Friday night?I insisted it was just the reflection from a Nickelodeon show on the window?and Mrs. M was all ears, since she likes to dabble in that realm as well. I'd barely struggled through a dinner at El Teddy's, my first evening out in several weeks, given the combination of the last strains of bronchitis and cessation of smoking on Junior's birthday last Wednesday. A lot of people say that nicotine withdrawal rivals that of heroin; I've never used that stuff, but I can't believe it's true. Sure, there's some sweating while you sleep, the once-a-minute urge to light up, followed by a sweep of melancholy over the body, but certainly nothing like the Sid & Nancy stories you hear too often about people trying to kick junk. I've tried nicotine gum in the past; it didn't turn out well. I was prepared to give the patch a whirl, but read the booklet detailing possible side effects and said fuck it, I'll go the all-natural route. How California of sad MUGGER.
I was simply a wreck on Saturday and couldn't quite figure out why. In the afternoon, MUGGER III was down below in the gymnastics section at a Chelsea Piers birthday party for his friend Cy, swinging from ropes and jumping into a pit of foam blocks, while I zoned out above, trying to make conversation with other parents. I did meet a very pleasant woman whose family of four lived in Paris on an exchange program last year?she's an artist, her husband a teacher?and it was rather fascinating to learn how they assimilated quite rapidly into the culture. As opposed to eight years ago, when they also spent a year in that city, not far from Notre Dame, she said the Parisian artists had given up the notion that they were still kings of the art world, and were more receptive to a New York point of view. Briefly, in my fog, I considered getting her take on the "Sensation" show and funding for the arts in general, but was afraid that her inevitable pro-NEA stance would rub me the wrong way and I didn't feel like being an asshole. Besides, the woman was a doll and said she was a real fan of NYPress, her favorite parts of the paper being Jim Knipfel's "Slackjaw" and "The Mail."
I then read Frank Rich's column in that day's Times and continued to marvel that even though his work appears every other week, each essay reads as if it's from a glossy with a three-month lead time. It's one thing for GQ to run political stories that are hopelessly dated; quite another for Rich to do so in the Times. But there it was: a spirited defense of Jesse Ventura (although I think he was secretly pissed at the Governor's Playboy line about fat people) and how he's no crazier than any of the mainstream politicians of the day. Uh, Frank, even the newsweeklies have had their whirl with Third Party-mania: you've missed the gondola and sorbet.
Rich did manage to correctly chide Elizabeth Dole for the issueless campaign that she abandoned; but then, predictably, attacked Gov. Bush for a similar lack of substance (while, in true September form, giving the obligatory nod to John McCain for speaking up on Kosovo and fighting for campaign finance "reform"). "Not that Mr. Bush is any gutsier," Rich wrote. "'Compassionate conservatism' is a slogan that, simply translated, means: I'm in favor of charity, and I'm not Newt Gingrich." Good job, Frankie, it took you six months, but you finally got the message.
Next assignment: find six instances of the Times' favoring Al Gore over Bill Bradley in its supposedly objective "news" coverage. Rich also wanted to get his claim in that Pat Buchanan is currently a "Jew-bait[er]" whom Bush should've publicly flogged as he ushered him out of the GOP. It goes without saying that Frank Rich would, for any number of reasons, make a very bad candidate for political office.
Earlier in the week, on Oct. 20, it was Junior's birthday and the poor little guy was barfing throughout it, and missed two days of school. Mrs. M had painstakingly made cupcakes the night before, a couple dozen of them, but soon after came the first spew of vomit, a high fever, and we knew our soon-to-be seven-year-old would be resting on his big day. He was a real sport, though, and insisted on waking his mother for the present ritual at 6 a.m. that morning. Junior's a joy to give presents to; he's all smiles and inevitably says that's what he always wanted. It was a Beanie Baby and Lego spectacular this year, and he nearly fainted when he saw that we scoured the city and finally found Hippity, Hoppity, Sheets, Spooky, Holiday Bear and Lizzy for his collection. Beats me: I think, for about the third time in this space, that Ty Warner's a brilliant fraud, but who knows, maybe in 30 years, these little dolls will be worth something. It's this parent's hope that he won't need to sell his collection on the street and instead will pass it on to his own progeny.
In the Sunday haze that included sending Junior and MUGGER III out with their friend Allison to buy Mrs. M a K'Nex model for her birthday (Oct. 25, same day as the boys' Uncle Gary), while I hid other trinkets for her in my messy, windowless garret, I found two rather startling bits of news in my stack of newspapers and magazines. First, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol has ceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Bill Bradley, writing some debate advice to the latter in the Nov. 1 Newsweek: "Let Clinton squirm again Wednesday night. Evoke the memory of your heroes?of Harry Truman when you defend your health-care proposal, of Bobby Kennedy when you explain your plan to attack youth poverty. These are your kind of Democrats. Bill and Hillary Clinton, it will go without saying?and Al won't say it?are Big Al's. That contrast is why you will win the nomination."
Then, in The Washington Post, George Will has finally made up with the Bush family. Seems that Will and GWB had a long talk about baseball in Austin recently and that did the trick. Will, who is as pretentious a writer about the sport as any in existence (he actually wrote on Sunday, by way of introduction, "The columnist, who writes about politics to support his baseball habit..."), must've agreed on some arcane ninth-inning strategy with the Governor and suddenly saw the light on his presidential ability.
But I don't mean to make light of Will's virtual endorsement. This is how the process unravels the year before an actual election; the establishment poohbahs sniff at all the candidates and make their choices. A commentator of Will's standing in the Beltway community going over to the Bush side doesn't augur well for McCain. And Will happens to be correct. He writes: "The presidential selection process administers, unforgivingly, this pertinent text: Can a candidate, who if elected must staff a vast government to advance a complex agenda, orchestrate a continental campaign? Only Bush among the Republicans is taking, let alone passing that test.
"The media's monomania about Bush's fund-raising...reflects a refusal to recognize that Bush has lots of money because he has lots of supporters, not vice versa...
"This, then, is why Bush's campaign is remarkable for more than its operational proficiency. He is comfortable around people of high intellectual quality, and has a cadre of them devising theoretical justification for his instinctive proclivity?call it 'strong-executive conservatism.'
"The former president's first son favors filial piety, but only up to a point: A second Bush presidency would be more muscular than the first in exercising executive power."
The Sky Fell and What Happened?
There was much hysteria among the pundits after Bill Clinton was handed a legacy-damaging defeat on the nuclear test ban treaty, but some of the prose was truly specious.
Mary McGrory, in The Washington Post, Oct. 21: "In Trent Lott's Senate, they vote for the unthinkable one week, and for the unspeakable the next. Republicans killed the Test Ban Treaty on Oct. 13 and made the whole world shudder. Tuesday's rejection of campaign finance reform was at least only a domestic embarrassment."
The Boston Globe's David Nyhan, Oct. 15: "It was never this bad. Not during the first 99 years of the 20th Century. Not till the very last year of the bloodiest, weapons-drenched, cordite-stenched, violence-saturated century has the Congress of the United States behaved in such awkward, backward, retrograde fashion. The Republican majority's rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty marks the century's low point."
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, Oct. 19: "But an intelligent partisanship that seeks to sharpen choices is different from a partisanship that thwarts debate and needlessly reduces the country's capacity to create a less dangerous world. At least 62 senators knew this. They will long regret the fact that they failed to work their will."
And, in the increasingly discredited Salon, on Oct. 19, Joe Conason writes: "To comprehend the criminal idiocy of the senators who voted down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it is useful to try to imagine the world as anticipated by President John F. Kennedy."
Speaking for the sensible opposition last Friday in The Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer wrote: "[Clinton's position] is hilarious. Under our current president, who is for the test ban, North Korea has blatantly violated the Nonproliferation Treaty and extorted billions of dollars from the United States to remain a nominal signatory to an agreement it openly flouts. Indeed, this is a president who for seven years has presided over the worst proliferation in the history of the nuclear age. When Clinton came into office, Iraq's nuclear program was contained. As we speak, Iraq is developing its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons unmolested and unmonitored... Clinton believes that a signature on a piece of paper will stop these developments. Bad enough. Worse is the way he attacks the good faith and patriotism of those who do not share his fantasy."