The New York Post ran a Buchanan-like editorial on Oct. 4 slamming Bush's rebuke of Congress and questioning whether he has the conservative credentials to earn the GOP nomination.
One more reason new Post publisher Ken Chandler should immediately fire associate editor John Podhoretz. Claiming that Bush's remarks made him a de facto Democrat, the bizarre editorial said: "But this episode illustrates why many conservatives are still holdouts on the rush to [Bush's] coronation. The incident reveals a casual arrogance, and causes one to ponder how serious Bush is about the ideas of the party he wishes to lead." This is nutty. First of all, I don't see, judging by the polls and the endorsements Bush has received from conservatives, that many holdouts exist in the party. Sure, Alan Keyes: Think he'd do well against Bill Bradley or Al Gore? The Republicans simply aren't used to a passionate campaign, headquartered in Austin, where the desire to win is just as intense as it was in Bill Clinton's take-no-prisoners Little Rock war room eight years ago.
Liberals as well can't stand the prospect of what's coming up in November of 2000. Clintonite Joe Conason wrote an odd column in last week's New York Observer claiming that Gov. Bush was dishonoring his father?like Conason was ever a fan of the former president?by refusing to pile on Pat Buchanan like the no-chance John McCain, Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Dole, who have nothing to lose by making strong statements against the bigot who may or may not win the Reform Party nod. Conason: "But every vote certainly is what matters to Dubya and nothing more?no matter what the price to his father's legacy and his own self-respect. At least now we know what kind of leadership to expect from the son of that old Navy pilot." Yes, Bush wants to win, and assure the continuation of a Republican Congress. That's politics, Joe, and you, of all people, know it as well as I do.
Now consider the political events of the past week. Dan Quayle dropped out of the Republican race, realizing that he'll never live in the White House while lazy key-punchers like Newsweek's Howard Fineman dwell on inconsequential spelling gaffes from years ago, rather than the bold domestic and foreign policy programs he proposed. If Quayle had not been constantly ridiculed during his short run, his emphasis on tort reform and meaningful tax cuts would've remained in the campaign, even though he didn't. Dole continues her robotic quest, but gives no compelling reason why, except her gender. A woman president would be a dramatic and welcome revolution in American politics; but can you think of someone with Margaret Thatcher's or Golda Meir's stature in this country? I can't either.
Gary Bauer, who never had a chance, made the disastrous mistake of addressing at a press conference, family in tow, rumors of his alleged sexual misconduct. Two staffers resigned over the rumored improprieties; one now works for the fading Forbes campaign. Forbes is an odd bird: He could easily be elected the next senator from New Jersey, giving him credentials for a future presidential run, but instead rolls along with his nasty, quixotic campaign. Just two weeks ago, my brother and sister-in-law saw him once more in a local Jersey restaurant and again he wasn't recognized by a soul. Why he was in his home state at this juncture of the campaign is anybody's guess. There's word that he'll be running a series of muted attack ads on Bush in the coming months; however, unlike the hapless Bob Dole in '96, the Texas Governor will have the resources to strike back.
Sen. John McCain is still raking in the virtual endorsements from starstruck journalists who think that because he had the bad fortune to be imprisoned for five and a half years in Vietnam (it's incredible that writers give different numbers for his confinement; haven't they read his book?), every flaky political proposal he makes is simply brilliant. It'd be liberating if annually, by some act of God, 100 pundits across the country, but especially those posted in Washington, would be fired, never to be heard from again. It's a common assumption that McCain would be a supreme foreign policy president, all because he was tortured a generation ago. That makes me nervous: all those years of captivity must've scrambled his sanity, and would likely give him an itchy trigger finger. Military service is not a necessary prerequisite for conducting a war; after all, FDR never served in the armed forces and he, Buchanan's comments notwithstanding, carried out World War II with precision, and defeated Hitler. Yes, he was too feeble to adequately match wits with Stalin at Yalta, but had the United States not intervened the world would have a different makeup today.
Warren Beatty made a fool of himself in Beverly Hills, giving a speech that was filled with musty liberal propaganda while receiving applause from rich, pampered socialites. This is my favorite line from the actor's remarks: "The primary cancer in this sick system, the big money in politics, has so metastasized into every area of government that we can't afford to ignore that the patient?American democracy?is in mortal danger of dying on the table." Aside from the obvious infringements of First Amendment rights that Beatty apparently supports, where in the world does he think his heroes Jack and Bobby Kennedy got their campaign funds from?
The Reform Party is now deservedly in shambles, as Buchanan will never recover from his frightening World War II revisionism and associating with brainless kooks like Lenora Fulani, a woman so scrambled in her extreme left-wing thought process that she makes the gifted intellectual Alexander Cockburn look like The Wall Street Journal's Robert Bartley. Additionally, while Ross Perot stews away in Texas, scheming to no apparent purpose but to destroy another Bush, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura completed his political nervous breakdown magnificently by giving an interview to Playboy in which he ridiculed Christians and said he'd like to be reincarnated as a DD bra. And Brits thought Prince Charles was daft. When Ventura says stupid things like, "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers," he's not only offending his intended target, the Christian Coalition, but Americans of any faith. This a man of the people?
Ventura's rambling is as irritating as McCain's fraudulent campaign. When Ventura's in control of his faculties, he can speak with a commonsense passion that resonates among America's voters. True, he's not particularly articulate, but neither are most citizens, and his libertarian views tap into a political vein that few others dare to express. But remember that Ventura's election was an aberration; he won in a whirlwind three-week frenzy, competing against boring, machine candidates and taking advantage of the unusual state practice of same-day voter registration.
But when you say ego, I say Donald Trump. In an outrageous op-ed piece in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal the self-promoting developer outlined how he could win the presidency. Of course Trump won't actually run: the prospect is in the Cybill Shepherd realm. But when there's publicity to be had, Trump's first in line. I'm told he's an extremely engaging and generous man in private; why is he such a selfish prick in public life?
Trump wrote, displaying his ignorance of modern politics: "The Republicans are captives of their right wing. The Democrats are captives of their left wing. I don't hear anyone speaking for the working men and women in the center." I doubt you'd find an authentic left-winger like Sen. Paul Wellstone calling Al Gore a fellow traveler. Similarly, George W. Bush is hardly a "captive" of the GOP's right wing. Govs. George Pataki, Christie Whitman and Tom Ridge aren't in the Jesse Helms school either: Trump simply didn't think this through. I find his idea of extraditing Fidel Castro interesting, but historically, that hasn't worked out. Finally, Trump might want to reconsider his hug of Ventura. He writes: "I highly respect Jesse as the embodiment of the political qualities America needs and voters reward. Given the choice between yet another slate of stale political professionals and Jesse's common-sense principles and straight talk, it was no contest. He has convinced me that we need this combination in the White House."
Oy. In addition, a short interview by Howard Fineman in the current Newsweek, inevitably headlined "The Donald: 'You Just Do It,'" reveals that Trump is an odd duck. Fineman asks him if he's for cutting taxes and Trump responds, "I'm for major cuts in taxes." Fineman follows up by saying, "Will you spell them out?" Trump says, "Yes," and then instead goes on a tangent about Buchanan. No word on taxes. Naturally, the Newsweek reporter doesn't press him. But what struck me as especially weird is that Trump says he's never had a drink, cigarette, any kind of drug or even a cup of coffee. That inherent lack of imagination is frightening for a potential presidential candidate, wouldn't you say?
I imagine Trump's ideal reincarnation would be the front page of the New York Post in which his then-girlfriend Marla Maples was quoted about the developer: "Best Sex I've Ever Had!"
McCain's "Shame" And the Fools Who Fall For It But let's return to the Beltway media fan club of John McCain, whose numbers, impossible though it may seem, probably top the throng of adolescents who would kill to give Leonardo DiCaprio head. What's pathetic about the McCain idolatry is that liberals (some of whom know in their heart that Bill Clinton is a dreadful man and possibly a traitor) are trying to redeem themselves with a Republican whose spikier policies are Democratic.
First, a few excerpts. Charles Lane, recently deposed editor of The New Republic, wrote: "I know it shouldn't be happening. But it is: I'm falling for John McCain... My family and friends [and apparently TNR owner Marty Peretz, gone bonkers as his protege Al Gore melts down, thus losing Marty his dreamed-of position in the kitchen cabinet] might disown me for succumbing, even tentatively, to the allure of a Republican, and a pretty conservative one at that. But the guy is running such a terrific campaign, speaking so forthrightly about so many matters of real substance, that I just find him irresistible."
Abe Rosenthal, in the Sept. 24 New York Times: "Given his life and nature, Senator McCain probably doesn't think his attempt to free his party from Buchanan is particularly brave. It wasn't, except among Republican candidates. But Senator McCain's comments had the perfect pitch of political goodness and decency. We owe him thanks and an embrace for reminding us what they are like."
Richard Bernstein, in a Oct. 1 Times book review (he pegs McCain's imprisonment at seven years): "Still, McCain's description of what he and his fellow prisoners endured is gritty and moving. He shows admirable restraint here. He tells us about being regularly beaten or of having his arms roped and pulled behind him and left that way overnight, but he does not ask us to share his pain."
Funny, but it seems that's exactly what McCain is asking: share my pain. Why else would he publish a book, which could have been written anytime after his release since the narrative ends before his political career started, during his presidential campaign?
Slate's Jacob Weisberg, admittedly a smart man who simply chose the wrong occupation, is beyond the pale in his sheeplike writing about the ethically challenged McCain. (Why has the Senator's involvement in the Keating Five scandal been mentioned so infrequently this year? Seems to me that this relatively recent misuse of power is far more important than whether George Bush snorted cocaine a generation ago, as a private citizen.) When it comes to self-aggrandizement, Weisberg is no slouch, so when he sprinkles asides like, "[McCain] told me on the plane?a plush Citation borrowed from Rupert Murdoch..." it gives you a hint of what's to come. Weisberg, on Sept. 29, wrote: "McCain thinks the fact that special interest money dominates the electoral system is a big part of the reason that a majority of 18-26-year-olds don't register and don't vote. He sees political corruption [like the Keating Five, maybe?] not just as an Augean stable to be cleansed, but as a positive issue that can serve to re-engage the disaffected electorate."
Please. Most Americans don't vote, except the elderly who still feel it's part of their duty as citizens. Does Weisberg really think that McCain's ludicrous campaign finance reform proposal, which will never be enacted, will lure young men and women to the polls on Election Day? Uh, no.
Weisberg continues: "McCain has not yet managed to communicate his charisma in public, or to the young, in anything like the way John F. Kennedy once did. But his 'new patriotic challenge' seems to strike a chord nonetheless." Why, Jake? Because you and 200 other sycophantic political reporters get off on McCain's off-color jokes when you're having a beer with him in a New Hampshire hotel?
Roger Simon, in the Sept. 27 U.S. News & World Report: "John McCain wiggles around in the seat, leans the back of his head against the window of the bus, whips out a pair of dark, happenin' sunglasses that make him look like Sen. Blues Brother..."
Ultraliberal Bill Press and conservative Mary Matalin were like fawning schoolgirls after interviewing McCain on the Sept. 13 edition of Crossfire.
Matalin: "Are you ever not inspired by John McCain? That he's setting new rules for politics? He doesn't attack anybody. You're just for him or you're against him?simple as that. He's an American hero."
Press: "I agree with that. I have one thing to say: Please, please don't make John McCain the nominee of the Republican Party. That's all I ask. He's refreshing. He's gutsy. He's independent. He makes George W. Bush look like yesterday's newspaper. And you?you're not smart enough to nominate him."
Peter Kann, The Wall Street Journal's publisher, concluded a book review of Faith of My Fathers by saying, "John McCain, in this or any other political season, stands as an oak among saplings."
Never underestimate The Boston Globe's hack pundit David Nyhan for supplying a doozy of a quote. He wrote on Sept. 24: "And that is the best reason why the 99.6 percent of Americans who do not live in New Hampshire should begin to pay attention to the Captain Dauntless of the Republican field. You want to clean up politics, then Crash McCain is your New Hampshire man. Even Democrats should write him a check."
And always count on Time's Margaret Carlson to agree with her friends on the DC cocktail circuit. In her Oct. 11 column, while savaging Bush as a daddy's boy, she lavished praise on McCain: "McCain is no saint (he will tick off the reasons he isn't, if you don't beg him to stop), but he is the natural, solid alternative should there be second thoughts about Bush's preemptive coronation. Many people at the rally in Nashua clutched McCain's book and approached him for his signature with something like reverence. One man carefully removed his copy from a Ziploc bag to get the Senator's autograph, then carefully tucked it back in the bag. He didn't want any smudges or dog-eared pages. It's not a coffee-table book, but that's where he planned to display it."
You have to wonder. If there's all this "reverence" for McCain, why does he attain only single digits in most polls for the GOP nomination? Why has he raised so little money? Why haven't more of his colleagues, in utter awe of his "story," rushed out to endorse him instead of the "callow" Bush? Maybe because members of Congress know McCain in a way reporters don't. Chew on that.
Finally, the worst for last. Albert Hunt (who counts McCain's internment as six and a half years), in last Thursday's Journal, wrote the most obsequious piece yet about the Arizona Senator, a man he won't even vote for should he become the GOP nominee. "He is the ideal antidote to the Clinton years?an unusually honest politician, a straight-shooting genuine American hero, a man you'd like your children to emulate."
A few points: Hunt was a steadfast defender of the Clinton administration, through all its dishonesty, sleazy surveillance of innocent citizens and unprecedented illegal means of political fundraising. Second, McCain is a shrewd pol, not the aw-shucks "guy" that reporters crack up at, and is cynically trying to exploit, without much luck if you look at the polls outside Washington newsrooms, his POW history. In Arizona he's considered a shady businessman, with a questionable personal life, who even lost the endorsement of the state's governor, Jane Hull, to Bush. Third, leaving aside my two sons, I wouldn't want their damn Beanie Babies to "emulate" McCain.
Finding a writer who isn't dewy-eyed over McCain is rigorous work, but they're out there. For example, Vietnam vet Nathaniel Tripp wrote in the Oct. 3 New York Times: "Furthermore, civil leadership demands humanity, compassion and the skills of negotiation and compromise, which are often contrary to the military mind. Chimerically, McCain may go from the Keating scandal to campaign reform, from heavy smoking to anti-tobacco legislation, setting a zigzag course toward the White House and defying those who would put him in a box. But there is something hauntingly familiar about his confusion of mission with personal ambition."
I asked Amy Silverman, a Phoenix New Times reporter who's covered McCain for years, her reaction to the Senator's precious status within the Beltway. She replied: "John McCain is a politician. The fact that he poses as a maverick?makes it even worse. I'm horrified by the way that he's used his POW status to garner favor. He's done it for years, but it's gotten much worse in recent months. McCain is a master at milking his war hero story for all it's worth. He manages to do it in a way that allows him to emerge as humble, by having others tell the story for him. Using his [Vietnam experience] as his base point, McCain has been able to position himself as a maverick on issues like campaign finance reform, tobacco, gun rights, etc.
"He postures as a progressive on subjects that he took the opposite stand on relatively recently. In the 80s, before the Keating Five scandal, he repeatedly voted against campaign finance reform measures in the Senate. He used to take tobacco money. Ditto for NRA money. Furthermore, the measures he supports today?like the tobacco and campaign finance reform bills?are almost assured of failure. So he get points as a renegade and sucks up to the Beltway crowd, without having to do anything. It all comes back to his hero status: who wants to trash a guy who was beaten and mistreated by the gooks for almost six years. Finally, McCain gets sucked up to because he does his own share of sucking. He lets reporters feel special, like he's being extraordinarily candid for them, giving them extra access. It's all part of his shtick."
Nashville: A DC Outpost For Gore A friend of mine suggested that Al Gore's yearlong implosion is so disastrous that he might drop out of the Democratic presidential race by New Year's Day. Hyperbole, sure, but the odds on Bill Bradley taking the nomination are certainly better than 50 percent right now, despite what national magazines and newspapers might say. (For example, the clueless Newsweek, in its Oct. 11 issue, commissioned a poll matching up Gore and George W. Bush, and then added in Pat Buchanan as a third-party candidate. Bush won in both faceoffs, but the telling point is that Bradley wasn't even included.)
Gore's announcement last week that he was moving his political operations to Nashville so that he could traipse around Kmarts, looking for the soul of America, was such an obvious gimmick that even the most naive political reporters had to laugh. The best line of the week goes to CNN's Tucker Carlson who, appearing on Larry King Live last Wednesday night, said: "Well, I mean, obviously going to Nashville gives Gore the chance to slop the hogs and run the mule team, etc. I do think that it does seem a bit desperate. And I have to say, you do feel sorry for those people [Gore operatives moving with him to Tennessee]. I mean, where is Tony Coelho going to eat lunch in Nashville?" Coelho feigned enthusiasm, saying, "We anticipate the group in Nashville will be leaner and hopefully tougher. I'm packing my bags and learning country music."
But later in the week, it was apparent that Coelho, just one of Gore's many personnel mistakes, had bigger problems than finding a tony restaurant in Nashville. Last year, as the commissioner general for the United States pavilion at the World Exposition in Portugal, Gore's campaign chairman, according to Sunday's Washington Post, was on the take. "A report by the Office of Inspector General cites improper use of free airline tickets, luxury cars and apartments provided for the taxpayer-funded exposition; the hiring of Coelho's niece and of two stepsons of Ambassador to Portugal Gerald McGowan; and approval of excessive payments on contracts."
Like pollster Mark Penn, it's just a matter of days, possibly a week, before Coelho is shown the door. Naturally, Gore's first instinct was to defend his historically corrupt friend. On Face the Nation last Sunday, Gore, dismissing the charges as "inside baseball," said: "I haven't seen this report, but I know him, and he is going to continue doing the terrific job he's been doing as my campaign chair." As if Gore needs more trouble, a new poll in his quasi-native Tennessee shows him running behind Gov. Bush by 51-42 percent.
Reptilian James Carville, Clinton's attack dog in '92 and during the President's various scandals, said on the Sept. 29 Crossfire that he's in favor of the move to Nashville. Carville: "I'm telling you there's a change in attitude. And I think it's good that they're going down to Nashville. The people are nicer and the music is better... You know, the Vice President is the most qualified presidential candidate that we've had in a long, long time. He has more experience than everybody in this race put together... The Republican Party is dead. The Congressional Republican Party is dead. Now the presidential Republican Party is dead. These guys don't know whether to wind their ears or scratch their watches, okay?"
Okay. If Gore loses Carville, the only supporter he'll have left is Tipper, the stand-in drummer for the makeshift Grateful Dead.
Gore sucked in both Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and the Times' Bob Herbert during interviews last week. Displaying his new down-home makeover, he regaled both with a quote from Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee." Alter's version: "Gore: 'In the words of Janis Joplin, freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.'" Herbert wrote on Monday: "He quoted Janis Joplin: 'Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.'" Didn't either of these genius journalists, or their factcheckers, realize that Joplin didn't write the damn song?
Bill Clinton, who's sabotaged Gore's campaign at regular intervals?comparing him to Nixon, getting publicly steamed when Gore belatedly criticized his affair with Monica Lewinsky, calling a Times reporter to give tips on the campaign?was at it again last Friday in a speech before a Democratic National Committee meeting. "This is not an election yet," Clinton told his audience. "I mean, the election may be going on in the newspapers every day, but here, in the minds of the American people, they still think we should be drawing a paycheck to work for them." This, of course, is preposterous. The primaries will essentially be over in March; Gore has changed the direction of his campaign so many times, always for the worse, that he's beginning to look like a longshot for the Democratic nod. Yeah, he's locked up all those establishment "super-delegates," but they can change allegiance at any time.
And, if you believe The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, a stretch I know, Clinton is at it again. In the current edition of the weekly, Mayer writes: "In a recent conversation, President Clinton suggested to a confidant that the only reason Gore ever sought the Presidency was to please his father, Tennessee's Senator Al Gore, Sr., who died last year. 'The President,' this friend says, thinks that 'a lot of Gore's baggage is his father.'" Man, when the moxie genes were handed out, Clinton went back for fifth helpings. What nerve he has to talk about the late Senator's "baggage" when it's his own that's killing Gore.
Clinton is not a rational man and that may explain why he wants Gore to lose. He's so self-absorbed, he'd rather have a Republican in the White House than Gore be proven a better president. As for the Vice President, he stands for nothing and therefore only people who have patronage/transactional reasons to be for him are for him. Now, if Gore had a lick of moonshine sense, he'd have resigned his office on principle last year, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, setting him apart from all the rest of Clinton's entourage who disgracefully let their boss lie to them and still remained at the White House. Talk about integrity! He'd be at least even in the polls right now with Gov. Bush; Bradley wouldn't even matter. Instead, Gore, on the day of Clinton's deserved impeachment, said his boss would be remembered as one of the greatest American presidents. That's a sound bite we'll be seeing in GOP commercials from March of next year till Election Day.
Rudy's The Winner I don't have much to add regarding the Brooklyn Museum "Sensation" controversy, except to reiterate my view that Rudy Giuliani is correct in taking action against the taxpayer-subsidized institution. Despite a Daily News poll last week that showed a clear majority against Giuliani's vitriolic stand, two days later the News reported the Mayor's approval rating has shot up to 54 percent, his strongest showing in a year.
Meanwhile, he's been pilloried in the press. On Sunday, Newsday's Les Payne absurdly compared Giuliani to Khrushchev, Mao and the Ayatollah Khomeini. On Crossfire's Sept. 28 airing, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Bill Bradley supporter who admitted he hadn't been to the BMA in "decades," nonetheless condemned Giuliani. He said: "Well, the fact is that the city of New York is under no obligation to fund art. I think it should and it has chosen to do so. Having done that, it should not be in the position of choosing what the city thinks or even what the Mayor thinks?is offensive or wrong. If you fund the Brooklyn Museum, then it's up to their board of directors to decide what's appropriate to put there. And if you think that they have made a mistake, if you think that they're being offensive, picket them, argue with them, boycott them."
Conservative host Robert Novak then gets the better of Nadler. Novak: "You mean, they would have an anti-homosexual painting permitted in the Brooklyn Museum of Art? Give me a break." Nadler: "I don't think in the Brooklyn Museum of Art they would. Well, I don't know. I don't know. I haven't been there."
On Sunday's This Week, Giuliani crystallized his position: "Taxpayer dollars shouldn't be on either side of this dispute. We can't support religion. We shouldn't support vicious attacks on religion, either." On Thursday, the Times' William Safire was that paper's lone voice of reason, writing, "Freedom of expression is a right, but public payment for it is not an entitlement."
As I've said before, the $7 million the city kicks in to the BMA is pocket change for countless New Yorkers who are outraged over Giuliani's alleged insensitivity to the arts. Why doesn't one of those loudmouths kick in the dough, making the museum entirely private, get a wing named after him, and we wouldn't have a silly rhubarb like this again. I'd suggest Alec Baldwin, but the elephant dung element probably violates his PETA vows.