McCain's Moment Fades? There's Always Late-Night TV
Tom Brokaw: You a rainmaker, baby! The following is an example of why most Americans despise and distrust the mainstream media and are increasingly ignoring the evening news as anchored by Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Brokaw had stern advice for Gov. George W. Bush. He said that whether or not Bush won the New Hampshire primary, it was incumbent upon him the next day to pronounce that he wants Sen. John McCain to be included on every New York ballot for its March 7 contest. As an elected official, Bush can't respond to this pompous jackass the way he'd prefer, but in a more honest world, he'd say: "Buzz off, Hoss. What the hell have you or any of your elite colleagues done for me? McCain knew the rules, he just didn't figure to be in the hunt so late in the game. He screwed up. That's my fault? Get back in your white stretch limo and try not to run over any squirrels on the streets of Manchester."
The Beltway Club isn't pleased, but McCain is fading fast, even as reporters openly hump his candidacy. Earlier last week, when it was decided that Bush's victory in Iowa wasn't particularly impressive (41 percent in a six-man field), the pundits figured that the Arizona Senator was wise to skip those caucuses and concentrate on New Hampshire, where his message of campaign finance reform would resonate. Especially with all those flinty, earnest, take-no-wooden-nickels New Englanders. What baloney.
The real story was this: Even though McCain didn't campaign in Iowa (he didn't have the money, for one thing), by now he's a national celebrity. He's the maverick, the war hero who's eager to clean up Washington and tell a few dirty jokes on the side. Iowa isn't blacked out from the media; I'm certain that Time, Newsweek and (shudder) the national edition of The New York Times are read in that state. So if the populist phenomenon for McCain the Clean was accurate, he'd have attracted more than five percent of the vote in that state. That poor showing wasn't reported, because reporters and pundits are jammed on McCain's "Straight Talk Express" bus, eatin' Dunkin' Donuts and holding makeshift seminars on how to close corporate tax loopholes. And maybe convincing McCain to jump over to the Reform Party so they can continue all this chatter until November. Gosh, Beav, that would be swell!
Slate's Jacob Weisberg, who's a Top Five McCain acolyte, is so in awe of the Senator's physical courage that you imagine, upon meeting the great man, Weisberg reran Wayne's World in his head, bowed down and whispered, "I'm not worthy!" In the conclusion of his dispatch on last Wednesday's GOP debate, Weisberg, who at least had the decency to admit that some of McCain's jokes are now stale, wrote: "I am increasingly getting the sense that McCain's various liberal positions represent a change of heart, or at least an ongoing evolution in his views." Does that mean, Jake, that McCain, who's at least 25 years your elder, is coming around to a proper political philosophy? Naaw!
Weisberg, running a vigorous campaign this year for the Sid Blumenthal Ass-Kissing Award, then outdid himself in McCain hagiography on Jan. 29, explaining how much fun it is to be present for the "bull sessions" on the Straight Talk Express that have become the "hottest ticket on the campaign trail this year." The following two sentences, I swear, are not madcap MUGGER parody; I should only be so clever. Weisberg, presumably after asking McCain to zip up, writes: "McCain talks until your notebook is full, your tape player is out of batteries and your pen is out of ink. After a couple of hours, every journalist in his entourage has the same, enviable problem: too much good material."
A colleague of mine recently wrote: "You should know by now that every sensible American avoids Slate like the plague. Writers like Weisberg only cause high blood pressure. Slate is so awful that I took it off my bookmarks about six months ago and make a point of never going there."
Bush, in the last 48 hours of the New Hampshire slugfest, has steadily regained support, as has Bill Bradley on the Democratic side. These are my predictions for the final tally: Bush takes McCain by two points, say 36 percent to 34 percent; Steve Forbes is effectively shut down with a disappointing 17 percent; Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and assorted nutcases take the rest of the vote. (For the record, I think all the flak Keyes took, for his mosh pit experience after a solid third-place finish in Iowa, was much ado about nothing. He probably hasn't had that much fun in 25 years. Give the guy a break?after all, he said his daughter thought it was cool, and that gave him a warm glow inside.)
What amazed me on Sunday, while watching The McLaughlin Group, was that the panel, which included McCain enthusiasts Eleanor Clift and Clarence Page, who believe the Senator will prevail in New Hampshire, unanimously predicted that Bush would win the South Carolina primary by double digits. Something doesn't add up here. A McCain victory on Tuesday is supposed to crack Bush's facade of Inevitability and make voters across the country realize what the smart folks in the media have known all along: "Dubya" isn't ready for prime time.
I think McCain is finished. But don't listen to me when The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt is available. He said on Capital Gang last Saturday night, in a show in which he and Time's Margaret Carlson dripped with condescension about those good civic voters in New Hampshire, that the primary is McCain's to lose. Hunt: "It's not unusual in New Hampshire to see things tighten in the final weekend. I went to that George Bush event with his mom and dad today, and it was a good event: it was a good crowd. I talked to a number of people there, and they said 'we think we're with a winner' and they felt good about that. An hour later...I went to a McCain town hall rally, and it was absolutely electric?an overflow crowd?the fire marshals were turning people away. I think in this state, intensity, commitment, enthusiasm counts for a lot. John McCain has tapped into something very special. I expect to see a huge Republican turnout on Tuesday, and he'll be the beneficiary."
Is it not kosher at this point to blast McCain? Perhaps it isn't, but I'm acting in the interests of Janet Reno, Chelsea Clinton, any person who suffers from Alzheimer's, the "gooks" in Vietnam and every Arizona reporter who's been given the finger by McCain. The National Review, in its Feb. 7 issue, crucified the Senator with a cover headline of "Wrong-Way McCain" accompanied by an unflattering illustration. I'm sure Hunt and Carlson have canceled their subscriptions. NR editor Rich Lowry, for example, ends his essay on McCain with this zinger: "McCain often says he wants to give our country back to us. What he doesn't understand is that it isn't his to give."
But the publication's star in this edition is clearly Mark Steyn, an outstanding journalist who appears in The Spectator, The Wall Street Journal and other magazines. One of Steyn's key points about the snowjob McCain's pulled on a gullible media is that the '96 GOP nominee, Bob Dole, was a war hero as well, as well as a one-liner master, yet he was shit on by the likes of Jonathan Alter, Richard Cohen and Weisberg.
Steyn's essay is a nonstop gut-buster, but I'll just excerpt my favorite section about the insurgent's sickening relationship with the press: "The bizarre love affair between McCain and the media is, to put it in terms an MTV Awards attendee would appreciate, a bit like the relationship between silicone pinup Pamela Anderson and bad-boy rocker Tommy Lee. We in the media are bland, plastic, airbrushed, and cosmetically enhanced, and John's our bit of rough...
"You can see what McCain gets out of the relationship from a glance at the papers. But what do his buddies get in return? Well, they get all that platoon camaraderie, but without having to be in an actual platoon! They get profanity, misogynist cracks, dirty jokes, crude racial stereotyping, the kind of man-to-man banter your average American journalist, in his antiseptic, sensitivity-trained, diversity-friendly, woman-friendly, minority-friendly, gay-friendly newsroom, hasn't seen in two decades, poor thing."
As for Al Gore and Bradley, I'll stick my neck out: if a sizable number of New Hampshire voters saw the Vice President's sickening performance in last Wednesday's debate, and then tuned in to Bill Clinton's self-serving and meaningless State of the Union speech the next night, a Bradley upset is in the works. I think he'll defeat Gore by one percentage point.
It's too bad Bradley didn't have the National Review's Kate O'Beirne on his payroll the last year. She said on the same Capital Gang in which Hunt rhapsodized about McCain: "I think Bill Bradley is finally expressing the rationale for his candidacy, essentially, can't we have the prosperity without the perjury? Can't we as Democrats take advantage of the record that we Democrats have built up over the past seven years without all the baggage? And he's arguing, Al Gore is Clinton without the charm. Whether or not Bill Bradley gets the nomination he will be a very familiar presence throughout the fall. Because Republicans are going to be running countless ads with Bill Bradley talking about the fact that Al Gore can't be trusted, Al Gore is the master of snare and spin. And surely, Democrats are going to begin thinking, wait a minute, don't tell me we're going to have to be defending Al Gore for the next four years, much as we had to for Bill Clinton."
Don't Be Suckered by the Times It makes sense that The New York Times is so energetic in promoting Al Gore's presidential campaign: the paper's editors and reporters are virtual clones of the Vice President. In its "news" columns and editorials, the Times treats its readers like Gore does the nation, like fifth-graders in the bottom third of the class. If a newspaper could talk, the Times would deafen ears from here to Berkeley, CA. Although the Democratic race is the only one of importance to publisher Artie Sulzberger, "maverick" John McCain, on the Republican side, has also been the recipient of obscene puff pieces in the New York propaganda sheet.
Examples abound of this arrogance, but let's examine one day's coverage (last Saturday) of the New Hampshire primary, in comparison to The Washington Post and The Boston Globe?also dailies with liberal slants?to see just how naked the Times' bias is. Reporters James Dao and Katharine Seelye, on the Gore-Bradley beat, wrote that the former New Jersey senator had amped up his rhetoric against the Vice President but "held back his toughest punches." The story was headlined "Bradley Attacks Gore, But Not on Campaign Finance Issue" and portrayed Bradley as indecisive in his strategy and described "disagreements" within the campaign.
Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen, in The Washington Post, saw Friday's events differently, with this lead sentence: "Bill Bradley, in his most direct attack on the ethics of Vice President Gore, said tonight the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising scandal was 'disgraceful' and if it was not dealt with now, Republicans would win back the White House in November." And in the Globe, Jill Zuckman and Bob Hohler described Bradley as "slashing and attacking" Gore as he campaigned on Friday. In fact, the Globe reporters gave the impression that Bradley, far from "holding his punches," was in full-battle mode, writing "Bradley all but called Gore a liar, and invited comparisons between the vice president and former president Richard M. Nixon."
Both the Globe and Post recorded this quote from Bradley on Friday, likening, at least to this reader, Gore to Clinton: "When you listen to Al Gore speak, you have to listen very carefully, because old politics uses words in a very tricky manner. You have to look at every word and every clause." The message is obvious: Gore is following the Clinton style of legalistic phrasing: it depends on what the meaning of invent is. And the Associated Press released an article quoting Bradley as follows: "I can tell you right now I am no longer going to accept misrepresentations of my positions by Al Gore... How you run a campaign is how you govern. That was the point I was making and I waited a long time to make it."
Also in the Post on Saturday was Thomas Edsall and Dan Morgan's piece about Gore's uneven record on abortion. While the Vice President has long been in favor of Roe v. Wade, as a congressman he voted pro-life on numerous occasions. The Times barely acknowledged this discrepancy, but the Post report is fairly damning to Gore. In Wednesday's very strange debate, Gore, looking and acting like an amphetamine-fueled Gordon Gekko sparring with the reincarnation of Adlai Stevenson, said: "I have always supported Roe v. Wade. I have always supported a woman's right to choose." That's an outright lie. As Edsall and Morgan write, "But as a congressman from Tennessee in the 1980s, Gore displayed a different attitude about abortion. He voted for a law that described a fetus as a person and wrote one Nashville voter in 1983, 'It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong.'"
In fact, during Gore's House tenure, he earned an 84 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Whether the Times is simply behind the curve on events up north, or withholding damaging information, is open to debate, I suppose, but there's no doubt the paper's agenda is to protect Gore. (The following day, the Times acknowledged that Gore hasn't been truthful on his statements about abortion.)
In that final New Hampshire debate Gore simply dismissed the facts, and repeatedly accused Bradley of running a negative race. It was a very strange and scary performance by Gore: what was going on with his face? Listening to him speak was insufferable; he was thoroughly evasive, dishonest and tedious beyond belief. Bradley clearly won the hourlong match, especially if you simply read the transcript. But as I've said before he's aged 15 years in the past six months. Even with Gore's rapid wardrobe changes, weight losses and hair gains, Bradley is s-l-o-w, even when on the attack. I think that Paul Wellstone, the ultraliberal senator from Minnesota who backs Bradley, would've creamed Gore in the debate. Wellstone had briefly considered entering the race, and at this point he would've fared better against Gore, but he never would've made it to that New Hampshire setting since he didn't have the money-raising prowess of Bradley.
Even The Washington Post, which no doubt favors Gore, was critical of the Vice President in a Jan. 28 editorial about the debate. It read: "Mr. Bradley's assault was prompted by his opponent's numerous attacks on him, which collectively do amount to dishonesty. Mr. Gore has decried the Bradley campaign's proposed extension of health coverage to uninsured Americans as overly ambitious, a charge that is at least plausible. But he also has attacked Mr. Bradley from the opposite direction, accusing him of indifference to the health care of precisely the lower-income families the Bradley program seeks to help, as well as minorities. While slurring Mr. Bradley's ideas and motives, Mr. Gore preaches that he has never attacked his opponent personally. Then, when Mr. Bradley hits back at him, Mr. Gore scolds his opponent for going negative."
The Times has no real interest in the Republican race?except to excoriate the eventual nominee?but for the sake of filling column inches the editors have anointed McCain as the candidate most worthy to oppose Gore in the fall. Reporter Richard Berke, in a Saturday story headlined "Bush Makes Effort Outside New Hampshire," gives the impression that the Texas Governor's campaign team has all but conceded the primary to McCain and has now been forced to redouble efforts in other states. In contrast, the Post's Terry M. Neal and David Von Drehle led their Bush story that day with the news that the candidate had been endorsed by former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (who'd been backing Dan Quayle), somewhat of a coup since the younger Bush had been instrumental in Sununu's firing during the elder Bush's administration. In addition, the reporters wrote: "The Bush campaign was ebullient today over polls showing him closing the gap with McCain, and he held four campaign events around the state, urging people to turn out at the polls."
The Post's story also included criticisms by Bush and McCain of Clinton's State of the Union address last Thursday, the Gore-for-President infomercial that lasted 89 minutes. Bush said, in noting that he didn't listen to the entire speech, "I was tired and he got a little long-winded there." But the Governor did use Clinton's feel-good remarks as a vehicle to take a dig at McCain: "The President has spent all of the money he can possibly spend, then he had a little bit left over for tax cuts... [Clinton] and John McCain agree on the size of the tax cut."
McCain traded barbs with Bush, after saying that he "fell asleep" during Clinton's speech. He added: "Nobody is more anti-Clinton than me. I think a lot of people wonder whether he [Bush] is ready for prime time when he says that." So much for the Bush-McCain nice-guy pact, which is all for the good. It was getting nauseating watching those two refer to each other as "my good friend" when obviously there's a lot of tension and hard feelings between them.
The Times also ran a stupid story by Peter Marks?leading with the following cliche: "These days, the candidates see nabobs of negativism everywhere"?which claimed that the contest in New Hampshire this year has been tame in comparison to past presidential battles. That's obviously not true, given Bradley's continued attacks on Gore and the back-and-forth of insults between Bush and McCain. (Steve Forbes is the paradigm of negative campaigning, but his vanity campaign is likely to stall here, so for now I'll ignore him.) Plus, in the same edition of the Times, there was an article headlined "Sununu Joins Bush Team" that quoted a testy McCain on his reaction to the endorsement. He said it was a sign of "a real kind of desperation in the establishment," because Republicans were afraid of his promise to overhaul campaign finance laws. Never mind that McCain is as guilty as any candidate in cozying up and granting favors to contributors. He continued, "I wouldn't be surprised if every lobbyist in Washington endorsed Bush." Except those who need McCain for their own concerns.
And contained in Saturday's Times was yet another editorial hammering New York's GOP establishment for its primary rules. I agree that the system is absurd: it is embarrassing that one of the most important states in the country has a contest that is highly exclusionary. The process, in the interest of fairness, must be corrected. But it's not coincidental that the Times, which could've begun its series of repetitive editorials on the subject last year, is now belittling Gov. George Pataki and his favored candidate, frontrunner Bush. After all, last summer, McCain wasn't considered a serious contender.
Now, in addition to ridiculing Bush for "ducking the issue" by saying it's up to each state to decide the rules, the Jan. 29 editorial indulged in hyperbole when it accused Pataki and Republican chairman William Powers of conducting "a shameful display of Soviet-style politics." Given the paper's animus toward former President George Bush and his sons, I wonder, if it'd been McCain who'd amassed a record-shattering amount in campaign contributions, and had been endorsed by an overwhelming number of elected officials, if the New York primary would smack of "Soviet" politics.
McCain can talk about the lobbyist establishment all he wants; it's arguable which is more powerful, that or the media, which is still squarely in his corner.
Finally, in Saturday's Times, Frank Rich, the paper's most repugnant op-ed columnist and its least-qualified political analyst, declares that Americans are "bored" with this presidential election. That's news. The United States, at least in the last generation, has never achieved the voter participation of other First-World countries. Rich is typically lazy in his piece, citing a Harvard study that the public is particularly disengaged from the political races this year, saying that it's because of the robust economy that citizens would rather watch Regis Philbin or some dopey entertainment awards show than the presidential debates. Obviously, that's been the case for years, and there's a reason, regardless of the economy, that the quadrennial Republican and Democratic conventions are allotted so little airtime on the major stations: they don't attract high ratings.
Rich attempts sarcasm in describing this year's election: "Boring... There were the sagas of George W. Bush's smirks (and alleged snorts), Al Gore's sighs (and alleged tokes), John McCain's tantrums, Bill Bradley's heart flips, Warren Beatty's mind games and, of course, Donald Trump's sex life." And no Rich column would be complete without an anti-Christian slur: "Not to mention the touching spiritual pageant of candidates publicly embracing Jesus."
But the former theater critic shows his profound lack of political smarts when he turns serious. In claiming that there's no difference between the four major candidates, Rich writes this preposterous sentence: "Given four contenders so eager to hug the center, conventional wisdom has it that this election is a battle over character?hence the endless dissection of smirks and sighs and the constant lookout for this year's magic balm, authenticity."
I fully believe that Rich has been holed up in his apartment listening to Cole Porter tunes for the past four months (perhaps with John Podhoretz), for he certainly hasn't been paying attention to politics. As any legitimate political observer could tell him?even the Times' Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd?there are profound differences between the Republicans and Democrats in this year's election. Tax cuts? Bush is in favor of a big one (although it's not large enough). Gore and Bradley, on the other hand, would raid the Treasury for entitlements and other handouts. Does Rich think Bush and Gore would have similar Supreme Court nominations? Do they agree on school vouchers? Or military expenditures?
Bush is "hugging the center." Odd coming from Rich, who's written about 218 columns about the desperate need for hate-crimes legislation, which Bush opposes. Gays in the military? Don't tell Rich the Texas Governor's position. Or McCain's. Bush and McCain are pro-life; Gore and Bradley, pro-choice. Do the statements that Bush and McCain have released on the Second Amendment square with Rich's idea of the political center?
It's almost certain that Bush will face Gore in the fall, but even if events take a weird turn and it winds up with McCain and Bradley as the candidates, the election won't be a battle for the "center." As a Wall Street Journal editorial put it on Jan. 10, summing up the Democratic primaries: "Dick Morris and Clintonian 'triangulation' are out; full-throated appeals to liberal interest groups are back. From health care to education to gay rights to taxes to foreign affairs, this year's two leading Democrats want to party like it's 1969."
Rich must have crafted a sordid sinecure at the Times. Maybe he possesses some kind of J. Edgar Hoover dirt on the Sulzberger family. There's no way even young Artie would countenance the theater critic's drivel otherwise.
Letting Bill Kristol off the Hook (This Week) Even if Bill Bradley is whomped by Al Gore in New Hampshire, don't expect him to take the advice of self-serving Democrats like Teddy Kennedy, Dick Gephardt and David Bonior to get out of the race for the sake of party unity. As Kennedy himself might remember, once it was clear he wouldn't knock off Jimmy Carter in the 1980 primary season, voters felt free to vote for him, beginning with the New York contest which he won. The results of Kennedy's persistence were disastrous for incumbent Carter: Teddy gave a rip-roaring speech at the Democratic convention, refused to shake hands with the President, and Ronald Reagan, thankfully, was the recipient of the bad blood.
One major difference this year, however, is that Bradley has a lot of money at his disposal; in fact, more than Gore. These two men, who were never friends in the Senate, don't like each other, especially after the past two months. When Gephardt lobbies Bradley to bow out, he's likely to be met with an elbow to the gut. (By the way, Gephardt, who's always appeared like an alien on tv, has apparently landed back on Earth. His face is all splotchy-red and I doubt it's from a lack of sleep.) All of which will benefit George W. Bush, who'll have the time to hone his general election message and prepare for the dishonest, race-baiting campaign Gore is certain to wage in the fall.
Maybe it's just me, but Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is really one obnoxious cat. A name-dropper, a tool for the political and media establishments, Alter can't resist invoking his Bigfoot status whenever possible. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation with Bill Clinton, a plane ride on Air Force One or a private meeting with a top elected official, Newsweek readers can count on reading about it.
In the magazine's Feb. 7 issue, Alter was at it again, even while proving what a hypocrite Al Gore is. He wrote: "An hour before heading to Capitol Hill for the State of the Union Message last week, the vice president, dining with Newsweek editors, previewed his line of attack on Republicans: 'You would think that after their policies failed so miserably, quadrupled the debt, produced the worst recession since the 1930s [in the early 1980s], after Democrats' policies enacted without a single Republican vote have produced the longest and strongest economic expansion in the 211-history of the American Republic?you would think they would be a little reluctant to suggest abandoning this policy and going back to their policy. But noooooo.'"
Gore is one piece of work. As I recall, Jimmy Carter was president until 1981; I think the early 80s recession?and it was a bad one?had something to do with his administration. It was one of the reasons Reagan defeated him. As far as the massive Clinton tax hike in '93 that Gore refers to, it's doubtful that dubious legislation had anything to do with the strong economy, which began, despite a short interruption, with President Reagan. Alan Greenspan can take part of the credit, as can the Republican-controlled Congress that forced Clinton to abandon his liberal agenda. Also, back in '93 few predicted the technological explosion that's certainly helped prop up the marketplace.