Democrats Play the Race Card; Is It the Only One in Their Deck? As repulsive as the Democratic Party's race-baiting is in general, and Vice President Al Gore's in particular, there's one benefit: the GOP, from county sheriff to Gov. George W. Bush, now knows what lies ahead this fall. The election of 2000 will be by far the ugliest and most dishonest in a generation-the '88 contest won't even compare-and it's fortunate that the Democrats have already tipped their hand. First, there was Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile's comments a few weeks ago calling Colin Powell and J.C. Watts Uncle Toms. That was on top of her bragging that no "white boys" are going to control this campaign.
She has yet to be fired.
Now, there's the wholly contrived controversy over the Confederate flag flying in South Carolina. Frankly, I don't give a hoot about that damn piece of cloth; it's up to South Carolinians to decide whether it should fly atop the state Capitol. Yes, it commemorates the Confederacy, and no, I don't agree that slavery should be glorified. But remember that the flag, which was first hoisted in 1962, was approved by a Democratic state legislature. Sen. John McCain fell into the Democrats' trap by tripping up on the issue, first by agreeing that it was an offensive symbol and then, thinking twice about conservative voters in the upcoming primary, reversing himself by claiming it honored the heritage of the Old South.
Gov. Bush, although he's taken a lot of flak from the media, is correct to steer clear of the issue. Consider this: We know the flag has been waving for 38 years. Why is it now, with a Republican primary approaching, that the NAACP has called for an economic boycott of South Carolina until the flag comes down? Because that group is a pawn of the Democratic Party. Every January, the country rightly celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. (although it's optional in South Carolina): why hasn't this controversy, if it's so significant, been visited in nonelection years? Why haven't Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume and Al Sharpton camped out in Columbia until the flag is removed?
Two years ago, Republican Gov. David Beasley, the first governor who advocated the flag's relocation from the state Capitol to a Civil War monument, was defeated in a reelection bid. His Democratic successor, Jim Hodges, must not have much clout if the flag's still flying.
Beasley told Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, no conservative, for a piece she wrote Jan. 21: "It upsets me when I see Al Gore out there talking about this issue... [I]n 1996 and 1997, when I first proposed [moving the flag], Al Gore did not make one single phone call to me. Neither did one Democrat, black or white. Now Mr. Gore is making this an issue, saying Mr. Bush should speak out. If anyone has a right to determine who should speak out, it's me. I'm the one who paid the ultimate political price. Mr. Gore lifted not one single finger when it was the issue of the day. He was AWOL. He did nothing."
But in Nashua, NH, on Jan. 15, Gore had a change of heart. He said: "It's troublesome to me that so many of the Republican candidates have spoken out against affirmative action and have been silent about the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina Statehouse, which is obviously so hurtful to so many Americans."
What humanity this man, this ally of the racist Al Sharpton, possesses.
In reality, if the politicians would butt out I'd agree with what John Shelton Reed wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 20: "I suspect that many Southerners of both races are profoundly bored with the subject and would welcome even another celebrity murder trial or presidential sex scandal if it would just get the flag off their front pages and TV screens."
As for the NAACP, Beasley, a Bush supporter, said: "Their hands are not clean, their hearts are not pure. In 1996 and 1997, the NAACP did not get behind our efforts because of pure, old, rotten politics."
And Vennochi is correct when she writes that the sudden concern over the flag in South Carolina has nothing to do with the Civil War. "It is more symbolic of the shallowness of American politics," she writes, "especially American presidential politics, than it is of any true moral outrage about the racial divide in the United States. Ethanol in Iowa, taxes in New Hampshire, the Confederate flag in South Carolina... Sometime quite soon, the presidential campaign caravan will move into New York. We'll know it because the candidates will be talking about Israel in an effort to push the levers for the Jewish vote."
Funny, I don't remember any New York Times editorial about the flag last year, do you? But on Jan. 21, eager to slap the leading GOP candidates (including Sen. McCain!), the paper wrote: "[Gov.] Hodges's challenge to the legislature makes the cowardly mumbling on the issue by the leading Republican candidates for president, Gov. George Bush and Senator John McCain, look even more disgraceful than it already seemed."
That's the Ivory Tower opinion. It also makes any journalist, or newspaper, look just as "disgraceful" for exploiting an issue for political purposes.
Joe Conason, who writes for The New York Observer and Salon, is horrified by the prospect of President George W. Bush, but at least give him credit for not being suckered in by the McCain sweet talk that's seduced most of the Beltway media. In a Jan. 21 Salon article, Conason details, citing The Center for Public Integrity's The Buying of the President 2000, McCain's coziness with U.S. West, the rail, airline, liquor and gambling industries. McCain makes his involvement with Charles Keating almost a virtue, as he confesses his public sins to anyone who's dumb enough to listen, but, as Conason writes, there's more to that chapter of corruption: "What is usually omitted from this uplifting tale...is the fact that although McCain eventually paid back Keating and the U.S. Treasury for various vacation junkets and other financial favors, the senator's wife and father-in-law only sold their interest in a Keating-sponsored shopping mall two years ago for a profit of between $100,000 and $1 million."
Hey, if it's legal, fine by me. But this is a blemish on Mr. Integrity's record that DC apologists like Al Hunt, Jacob Weisberg, Lars-Erik Nelson and The New York Times prefer to ignore. Cover it up with Clearasil and poof! An instant American hero.
Back to the flag: Conason doles out more blame to McCain than Bush or Steve Forbes, mostly because the Arizona Senator has a coordinator in South Carolina, Richard Quinn, who's the editor of Southern Partisan, "which functions as the propaganda spearhead of the 'neo-Confederate' movement.'"
As for Bill Clinton-who's insisted the flag in South Carolina must come down-according to Crossfire's Mary Matalin, when he was governor of Arkansas, "he memorialized, through proclamation, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president." In addition, the Saturday before Easter each year in Arkansas is Confederate Flag Day.
And, Mr. Gore, let's not single out South Carolina for derision. The state flags of Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi all incorporate the Confederate "stars and bars." Since those states aren't as reliably Republican in presidential elections, I doubt a similar fury will be sounded when their primaries come due.
Official state songs, anyone? Here's the last stanza from "Give Me Louisiana": "A State of old tradition,/of old plantation days/Makes good ole Louisiana/The sweetest of all States." Or "My Homeland, Tennessee": "Could we forget our heritage/Of heroes strong and brave?/Could we do aught but cherish it,/Unsullied to the grave?/Ah no! the State where [Stonewall] Jackson sleeps,/Shall ever peerless be./We glory in thy majesty;/Our homeland, Tennessee." Finally, an old favorite, Florida's "The Swanee River": "Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,/Far, far away,/Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,/Dere's wha de old folks stay./All up and down de whole creation/Sadly I roam,/Still longing for de old plantation,/And for de old folks at home."
And when it's Ohio's primary turn, I'm sure Gore will be protesting the logo of the Cleveland Indians.
The calculated comments from Gore about Gov. Bush being cowardly for not injecting himself into a state scuffle, and implying that he was trolling for racist votes in South Carolina, is typical of the campaign he's been conducting. Bill Clinton has a reputation for being a man of the people, and blacks are his most approving constituency. There's an irony in this, for Clinton, I'm convinced, cares less for blacks, Latinos, Pakistanis or any other minority group in America; certainly less than Gov. Bush or John McCain. Why? Because Clinton cares about no one but himself. Because Clinton has treated black people like sheep, despite their massive support, which he takes for granted. Don't believe me? Ask Lani Guinier.
The mainstream media, naturally, has been putty in Gore's hand on this issue. But, again, this is a positive reminder for the Republican Party: while a shameful number of reporters have eagerly boarded John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" (a ruse I give the Arizonan credit for, considering the vast ammunition diligent journalists have at their disposal to unmask McCain as a fraud), when the general election gears up, almost the entire communications industry will be biased in favor of the Democrats. Republicans need to remember that: it may be galling, it may be unfair, but it's a fact. Just as corporate America (with the goofy exception of Hollywood and the entertainment industry) can be relied upon to help the GOP.
Here's an example: Newsweek, in its Jan. 17 issue, was ready to run an excerpt of Inventing Al Gore: A Biography, by one of its own writers, Bill Turque. However, the book segment was canned when Newsweek editors decided that the allegations of an old Gore friend, John Warnecke, that Gore was a pothead until his '76 congressional election, were too controversial to print. After all, Gore, on repeated occasions, has said that his potsmoking was "rare and infrequent." According to Salon's Jake Tapper, who obtained an interview with Warnecke for the Jan. 22 online edition, "Newsweek editors apparently tried to water down the language and descriptions in Turque's book, scheduled to be published in February. But since Turque and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, own the rights to the excerpts, he had final say about what Newsweek would publish... After all, Turque devoted three years of his life to the book, had confirmed Warnecke's allegations with other sources, and didn't want any of his research watered down."
I mention this not because I care that Gore apparently smoked a lot of dope when he was young, but for the glaring hypocrisy Newsweek, and other media outlets, have demonstrated on this story. Why did Bush's supposed cocaine use, for which there wasn't a single allegation, cause such a huge commotion last fall? Because he's a Republican who's currently favored to capture the White House.
Forbes Flames Out The Iowa caucuses are taking place after my deadline, but I'll stick my neck out to predict the following: Al Gore defeats Bill Bradley by a 55-33 margin; George W. Bush finishes with 42 percent, followed by Steve Forbes at 20 percent, Alan Keyes with an astonishing 18 percent and the other votes split among Orrin Hatch (gone), Gary Bauer (gone) and John McCain (badly mistaken to skip Iowa).
It was sad to see Bill Bradley lose three points a day last week, looking droopier by the hour, a week that culminated with the revelation that he's suffered four more incidents of atrial fibrillation since he first announced the mild heart condition on Dec. 10. And then blaming the irregular heartbeats on cream soda! Bradley must be mentally taxed if he couldn't come up with a better explanation than that equivalent of the dog-ate-my-homework classic.
I hope Bradley can keep hope alive: his put-downs of Gore are priceless, like the one in a recent debate in which he said, "Let me explain to you, Al, how the private sector works."
Unlike the increasingly pro-Gore press, I thought Bradley got the better of the Vice President during the Jan. 17 debate in Des Moines. The event had odd overtones to begin with-sponsored by the Iowa Brown-Black Presidential Forum, in a state with less than 3 percent minority population-and heated up when Bradley pointedly challenged Gore to make good on a promise concerning the abolition of racial profiling. He said: "You know, Al, I know that you would issue an order to end racial profiling if you were president of the United States. But we have a president now. You serve with him. I want you to walk down that hallway, walk into his office, and say, 'Sign this executive order today.'"
Gore didn't tell the truth by responding that he rarely sees Clinton anymore, and only when it's convenient for his campaign, but said instead: "I don't think President Bill Clinton needs a lecture from Bill Bradley about how to stand up and fight for African-Americans and Latinos in this country. It's one thing to talk the talk. It's another thing to walk the walk."
That last comment drew boos from the audience, mostly because Gore has zippo street cred. It might also have been because Bill Clinton could use a lecture from Bradley on any number of subjects: first up, perhaps, would be a lesson on how to be a decent and admirable human being.
In Monday's New York Times, William Safire (the only readable op-ed columnist on that page; Maureen Dowd has suffered a three-month slump and Gail Collins is just a plain nitwit) offered some excellent advice to Bradley. He wrote: "In going upbeat negative, don't dredge up ancient history about Gore's first use of Willie Horton. In this week's debate, be realistic about the great danger to Democrats in the fall campaign: Gore's shameful record in abetting Clinton's 1996 political money corruption... Your central point to Democrats: Gore Can't Win. Recount the influence-peddling charges sure to come from Republicans as stipulated in Orrin Hatch's recent damning speech. When all this sleaze was going on, where was Al? Up to his hips in it. Where were you? Miles away, earning an honest living."
Another Democratic note: I'm tickled that Nebraska's Bob Kerrey is leaving the Senate, creating another open seat that the Republicans can capture. However, it's a shame that Kerrey's the one who's abandoning the city that's fouled by the likes of David Bonior, Dick Gephardt and Henry Waxman. Kerrey was independent and blasted Clinton when he felt like it; his comment in Esquire a few years ago that the President was "an unusually good liar" particularly stands out. It almost mitigates the sad fact that he chickened out and opted for acquittal in last year's impeachment vote.
Bill Kristol: Please Come Home It's one thing when the unwitting Beltway comic Thomas Oliphant, who also writes a very bad political column for The Boston Globe, wastes space kissing the ass of Sen. John McCain. Oliphant may be the last Washington journalist who hasn't caught on to McCain's act-a curious situation because Oliphant is sure to back Al Gore in the fall. You wonder why he bothers to write drivel like this (Jan. 23): "Unlike Ronald Reagan, who beat the other Bush 20 years ago for the nomination, Governor Bush is going after that prize from the top down, not from the grass roots up. It may yet be enough to prevail in the end in this still-hierarchical party. Ever since the straw poll put on by the party [in Iowa, which Bush won] last August, Bush has been at best a mediocre candidate in Iowa and a wretched one in New Hampshire. Adversity made Al Gore better; it is making Bush worse."
Okay, so Oliphant thinks Bush will be scared silly by Steve Forbes in the Iowa caucuses.
Time's Margaret Carlson is still in league with McCain. In the Jan. 31 issue, Carlson excused McCain for his offhand comments last week about people being able to tell who is and who isn't gay. She writes: "McCain's remarks constituted at most a mild distraction, barely diverting him from his last-ditch effort to shame Governor George W. Bush into a fair fight in New York by helping McCain get on the ballot there." Two points: Since when is a presidential aspirant supposed to "help" his competitors? Also, fine by me that McCain got a free pass for his acute gaydar; not that Bush would've. But I wonder if Carlson would also applaud the Senator's Jewdar? Probably so.
On the other hand, what's up with Weekly Standard editor and publisher Bill Kristol, who can't appear on enough tv shows saying that Bush's candidacy is in deep trouble? Kristol is plainly backing McCain; it's to his credit that the Standard (owned by Rupert Murdoch, and God knows whom he favors) is filled with the opinions of diverse-thinking conservatives. Ever since McCain, almost alone at the beginning, took over President Clinton's role as the United States' commander-in-chief during the war with Slobodan Milosevic, Kristol's had a soft spot for the con man from Arizona. Never mind that McCain was a champion of two pieces of legislation that are anathema to the right-campaign finance reform and the antitobacco effort-his internationalism won Kristol over.
Fair enough. But now Kristol's in a delusional state when he speaks publicly about Gov. Bush. On Jan. 18, Kristol kicked around the Bush candidacy with Chris Matthews on Hardball; after a few obligatory jokes about Al Gore knocking on Clinton's door and finding who knows what, the respected Republican strategist took off on a strange journey.
Kristol: "Four months ago, George Bush was running as a compassionate conservative. It was a new kind of Republicanism, criticized Bob Bork, criticized Tom DeLay. It wasn't going to be the old standard, you know, conservative establishment, Republican-type campaign. Now he is running a totally orthodox Republican establishment campaign...
"Bush is running the campaign he did not want to run. He wanted to run a general-election campaign from the get-go, and now he's being forced to run the campaign that Bob Dole ran in '96, that his father ran in '88... You know a lot of Democrats, even more than I do, Chris. Do you know a single serious Democratic strategist who thinks Bush would be a tougher November opponent than McCain?"
Kristol continued through the week, pumping up Forbes' chances in Iowa, shilling for McCain. Things got really nutty when he made an appearance on CNN's Capital Gang last Saturday and criticized Bush for being in favor of eliminating the estate, or "death," tax. Huh? I think Kristol must be taking too many lunches with Gore adviser Bob Shrum in Washington.
Obviously, there's something much more personal going on. Remember that Kristol was Vice President Dan Quayle's right-hand man; I don't think George W. Bush was one of his favorites during the laconic '92 campaign, especially when the son urged the father to dump Quayle. As for changing tactics, Bush had to: McCain, because of his fawning press, suddenly emerged as a longshot contender and the Governor couldn't ignore him. He was smart to go after McCain on taxes, rather than campaign finance reform, which would've gained him even more biased media rebukes.
And Kristol's contention that Bush will now have to run a Dole-style campaign is just stupid. Did Dole have the financial assets that Bush has at his disposal? Of course not. That's one the reasons he lost; while Pat Buchanan and Forbes were hammering him in the primaries, Clinton and Dick Morris were running general election ads all over the country. Also, Dole was charisma-impaired, old and uninspiring. With Bush, the GOP has its first relatively young candidate in decades, a man who won't have the gender gap problem that wounded Dole, and who's neatly wrapped up the Christian right and centrist Republicans.
Kristol's beef with Bush is personal, and all his left-field predictions at this juncture, to anyone who'll listen, will only diminish his reputation in the Republican Party. And who knows, maybe that's just fine with him.
It's Still '65 In My Head Junior and I had a rather quaint experience last Tuesday at the local Citibank, where he opened his first savings account. Like many kids, he's been fascinated by money for some time, and Mrs. M and I agreed that now that he's seven-the minimum age for banking, apparently-it's time he understood the value of a dollar. The idea is that on Fridays, when he has a half day of school, he'll report to 333 and perform some work in my office and be paid for it. That dough will be deposited weekly. Anyway, the two of us sat in a very pleasant woman's office for about half an hour, answering questions, filling out forms, making small talk, and when it was all over, I asked her, "When will he receive his passbook?" She looked at me like I was from Jupiter, and then spoke extra loud, like Al Gore does to people he assumes he's smarter than (the entire nation): "Oh, we haven't issued passbooks in years. Your son's account will be connected to yours."
Well, duh. Don't ask me why, but I imagined he'd receive, like I did decades ago, a small, treasured document that would become dog-eared, and filled with handwritten dates of deposits and withdrawals. When we crossed the street for breakfast at Socrates, Junior asked over pancakes just what I was expecting. "Dad, everything's done by computer now." Great-logical advice from my son: what a harbinger of the future. I later told the story to friends and they had the same memory, and all agreed that the disappearance of the passbook was a small bit of Americana, right out of a Norman Rockwell magazine cover (as if kids today remember the Saturday Evening Post) that makes the United States a slightly less innocent place in which to live.
There was an article in the Jan. 14 Wall Street Journal called "Bratlash!" that made me think. It wasn't particularly well written, nor did it offer any original information or insights, but the long piece did raise a quandary that affluent parents, who grew up with lesser means, often grapple with. How do you teach your children that money comes as a result of hard work? I have no clue. Our two boys can't possibly understand the middle-class backgrounds of Mrs. M and me: since they were babies their standard of living has been their reality. MUGGER III's jaw dropped when I told him that I was never on a plane until I was 14, for a short trip to Chicago with my mother to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I could've told him that on that journey we toured the famous Marshall Field's department store and when my mom asked if there was a sale on for teenage clothing, and was told no, we left the store without buying a thing. I doubt he'd have believed me.
Recently, the family was flying to Los Angeles when Junior asked, "Dad, have you ever sat in the second-class section?" It wasn't at all an obnoxious question, but honest: after all, he's been on the Concorde several times and traveled to many parts of the world. When I told him I didn't sit in the front until I was 30, after I'd sold my newspaper in Baltimore, he just shook his head.
So, what to do: I don't believe, like some of the parents interviewed in the Journal article, that your lifestyle should be arbitrarily tamped down because of guilt. How can you buy budget clothes, say, when you send them to private schools, drive a Mercedes or have a country home? I think it's best to level with the kids and hope for the best. I remember as a young boy my mother constantly reinforcing the importance of college and achieving excellent grades; that was her idea of the ticket to success. You can debate the point, but I did work hard at school, prepped for the SATs (without Stanley Kaplan's help, thank you) and made a chart, at my parents' insistence, of all my extracurricular activities that colleges back in those days favored. Today, I'm told, with competition even more fierce at the top private schools, it's critical that your child is a violinist, published author, sculptor or stand-up comic.
I do know that Mrs. M and I were extraordinarily proud of MUGGER III last week when he was admitted into the kindergarten class next fall of Junior's school. We thought the sibling connection would be a plus, but applications have doubled at the private school in the past two years, leading us to worry. Obviously, it's essential that they're together. Fortunately, MUGGER III aced his kindergarten boards and that nightmare's been averted.
My family's fortunate to be in this position, not having to worry about feeding or clothing our children. But it sure would burn my butt to raise a couple of lazy, unappreciative and unproductive kids. It's up to my wife and me to do our best; that's all we can do.