Now, of course it's true that money plays a pervasively perverting role in party politics, but most of the hacks who whine about fundraising at their drop-out press conferences are begging to be asked by some reporter: "What kind of morons do you take us for?" Liddy is absolutely right that the big reason she was out-money-raised by George Bush is that the very expectation that Bush would get the nomination turned after a while into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But where did that "expectation" come from? From the correct assessment that Bush had considerably more character, considerably more intelligence, considerably more integrity and considerably more weight on policy matters than the Lid of Dope herself.
It would indeed be a shame if our campaign finance system left us with candidates whose only claim to the nomination was that they got the party organization wired early enough to turn the campaign-finance system into a protection racket (or, to be more charitable, a monopoly). But thinking back, I can remember only one candidate who sewed the nomination up that early, that corruptly, and with no serious credentials for the presidency. That would have been Liddy's own husband Bob Dole in 1996.
I happened to be at the convention in San Diego that year. If Liddy expressed any misgivings about the self-destructiveness of Republicans' dumping the nomination on her time-serving husband, then I must have been out of the room when it happened.
But this year Liddy Dole proved, against mighty stiff competition, the most content-free politician of our time. Let's take her position on Kosovo. In the early moments of the bombing campaign, Liddy didn't know Kosovo from Carpaccio. So she took the position that, well, whatever the President decided would be fine. That's patriotic, but it also bespeaks a lack of ideas and a lack of moral bearing.
Fine. But once her advisers convinced her that foreign policy consists, at least in part, in having firm moral principles, Liddy took the attitude of: "Okey-dokey?where do I get some of those?" There had always been a logical disconnect about Liddy's way of mixing the rhetoric of I Am Woman?Hear Me Roar with the delivery of I Am Helpmeet?Hear Me Dust. But her Kosovo turnaround made her seem positively deranged. Within days, she was pushing a position that would scare the bejaysus out of any rational voter, sounding at once like the most bloodthirsty of the major candidates and the most flippant: Idnit jiss awww-ful whuss happenin' over there in Colombo? Let's send a few of our boys over to teach them a lesson!
As it happens, I'm writing this on the TGV train between Lille and Paris. Interesting, because Liddy reminds me of nothing so much as the Eurocrats and Euro-business meatballs sitting around yip-yapping on their cellphones. (The 55ish accountant who's sitting across from me, sharing a fold-down table, with his gold rings, his matching floral tie and hanky, and his $250 hairdo, even looks like Liddy.) Like Mrs. Dole, these gasbags have mastered an entire language?or at least a long list of words?without having figured out what any of them mean. They don't speak a word of English, but just listen to the crap they spout: "Ja wohl, es wäre besser, wenn sie den software des customer service industry management downloadieren könnten!" Or: "Oui, bien sûr, le quality control impact assessment team les a envoyé un quick-response e-mail form!"
The Ashes Of Europe To those readers of NYPress who love Europe, I have some really bad news. The handwriting is on the wall that smoking is dead over here, too. This is a real blow to me. Like other American Europhiles, I was under the impression that the reason American smoking laws hadn't been reproduced in Europe was that the Euros had a more sophisticated appreciation of human liberty than we did, not to mention that they lacked the American social sickness of oscillating wildly between libertinism and prudery.
But I was totally, absolutely wrong, and I feel like a fool of the worst grass-is-greener variety. They're just like us, only a couple of years behind in the sophistication with which they deploy bogus "scientific" "studies" for partisan political ends.
And I should have seen it coming. Because I've spent much of the last half-dozen years following the creation of the European Union. If there's one thing that the EU teaches, it's that the tendency that gave rise to American smoking laws?the increasing willingness of elites to police the behavior of the global economy's losers?is even more widely developed in Europe than it is in the States.
The change in the nine months or so since I've been here last is shocking. Paris subway platforms all have no-smoking signs. It's not just that they're there: It's that they're plentiful, and they're huge, kind of the way they were in America in 1986, when you'd walk into a 6-foot-by-6-foot automatic-teller cubicle and there would be 12 warnings in letters 9 inches high. It's the same here?a gauntlet is being thrown down.
In the Paris Metro, the smoking ban is announced in all European languages. It's even in languages I've never seen before: "Nikka Pooka Smokey-Dokey Nooka Nokka Metro!"?that kind of thing. The message is: We are so serious about this that we're not even going to let you get around it by pretending you're an Azerbaijani monoglot.
I'll admit that in previous years I've seen those little, red circular butt-with-a-line-through-it stickers on Paris taxis. But it was always either something that was meant as a joke or an informal warning that the cab driver was some sort of weirdo or health pervert. Now they're on pretty much all the cabs. Last Thursday I got into one and asked if the driver minded if I smoke. He went berserk. "Il ne faut ab!-so-lu!-ment pas! fumer dans mon taxi!" It was like the way Sicilians are supposed to respond if you make reference to their mothers' bedroom prowess.
You can still smoke in any restaurant. But it's on its way out. Ten years from now, there won't be a single restaurant in Paris where you're allowed to smoke. How do I know? For one, there are a few restaurants, even bars, that have signs outside promising a très grande espace non-fumeurs. For another, for the first time ever in Paris, I saw people?if you can call them that?do that phony, little cough-cough that Americans pull when they want you to know that the tiniest little puff of your exhaled smoke will send them to their graves in five or 10 minutes.
The nonsmoking activism is too bad. It's not only inconvenient and authoritarian. It also removes a barrier that for a long time kept Paris more asshole-free than it would otherwise have been. But it was good while it lasted, wasn't it?