Sorry, I tend to lose myself in reverie when thinking about subcommittee matters. Last week, in the first days of March, it was 84 degrees in Washington two days in a row. That's surprising. The Washington Senators?until they left town in 1971 to start, as the Texas Rangers, their long odyssey into George W. Bush's investment portfolio?used to routinely have late April games snowed and sleeted out. So this is progress of a sort, but it can't be progress George Bush is terribly thrilled about.
The fact that March 8 broke the heat record for the date by 7 degrees?a Bob Beamon-esque blowing away of the old limits?should have led the Bushies to reconsider their general election strategy, which seems to consist of pulling paragraphs out of Earth in the Balance to show that Al Gore is a nut for thinking there's any such thing as global warming. n Last week, as Gore began his attempts to link Bush to "the extreme right, the National Rifle Association," Republicans countered by saying that Gore himself practices an environmentalism that "borders on the extreme." The problem with this is that environmentalism is one of those rare issues on which extremism doesn't particularly bother Americans, any more than extremism on crime or drugs has since the Reagan administration, or extremism about the menace of Communism did during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.
I remember sitting in the office of minority whip David Bonior and thinking I'd asked him a real poser when I challenged him to explain how he explained his record of job-killing environmentalist votes to his constituents in Michigan's 10th congressional district, which is by some accounts the most heavily unionized CD per capita in the United States. He answered me with a question that at first sounded like a nonsequitur. "Before I explain," he said, "would you like to know what congressional district has the highest per-capita boat ownership in the United States?"
Other than barking up the wrong environmental tree, Bush contented himself with calling Gore "the candidate of the status quo in Washington." What he overlooked was that there's only one kind of candidate the candidate of the status quo can defeat, and that's the candidate of the status quo ante, which is what Bush is running as. In our first all-spondee presidential contest, Gore is getting some surprising breaks. Last week's NBC-Wall Street Journal poll?the same one that showed John McCain would take 23 percent of the vote as a third-party candidate?found that Americans believe, by a margin of 37-35, that Gore has "better character" and is more "trustworthy" than Bush.
How Gore could win any character competition is a tricky question. An even trickier one, though, is why in God's name anybody thought Americans would be so nostalgic about the elder George Bush's presidency that they'd beg his even less intelligent (which is really saying something) offspring to occupy the Oval Office. It's as if the Democrats had nominated Amy Carter.
If you read David Frum's recent history of the 1970s, you can understand why Carter was defeated: the America of gas lines, hostage crises, forced busing, disco and street crime left Americans feeling disgusted with their country in a way that they weren't used to. The last couple of years of the Bush administration was the only period of Carteresque nationwide self-disgust we've undergone since. It was preceded by seven years of rising living standards under Ronald Reagan and followed by the Clinton boom that broke even Reagan's records. What George Senior had to offer us for an interregnum was the L.A. riots, the Hill-Thomas hysteria, the peak of the crack epidemic, the S&L crisis, the House Post Office scandal, New York's second near-bankruptcy, the recession of 1991-'92, and political correctness and its attendant speech codes. The Bush administration was a second-time-as-farce Carter administration. And Bush was clueless throughout: he couldn't stand Reagan any more than he could understand Clinton.
Golf Cut Granted, I can't understand the Clintons, either. I regret having taken such an interest in the presidential primaries, because while nobody was looking, the New York Senate race took some bizarre turns. The first great mystery was why Rudolph Giuliani endorsed Bush. And don't tell me: because he likes Bush.
Giuliani has always treated endorsements purely as means of political positioning. You can say? MUGGER, in fact, does?that Rudy's endorsement of Dubya came last summer, when endorsing McCain would have been as lunatic as endorsing Lamar Alexander of Liddy Dole. But Rudy didn't have to endorse Bush at that ridiculously early date. Nor did he have to honor that endorsement with the atypical steadfastness he's heretofore shown. At the very least, he's now in a world of psephological pain. Cozying up to McCain, by contrast, would have allowed Rudy to (a) bang Pataki over the head and (b) extricate himself from the Running-Dog-of-the-Pat-Robertson-Party campaign that Hillary's advisers have planned to throw at him all along.
Hillary, meanwhile, has been even more mystifying. What was that haircut about last week? An attempt to lock down her West Village base? Sorry, you couldn't come up with a more Sapphic look than that one if you enlisted the official hair stylist of the LPGA. Hillary even felt she needed to make excuses for marching in the traditional St. Patrick's Day Parade, which gay groups are protesting. She was holding her nose and doing it, she told the Associated Press, only "because of her interest in supporting the Irish peace process." This is surely the first time since the Draft Riots of 1863 that any New York politician has felt the need to apologize for consorting with Irish-Americans.
Rutabaga-Bound It's dead down here in Washington, and with the weather, it takes on some of the atmosphere of August. For one thing, all the McCainiac firebrands have fallen into a disillusioned and anomic funk. This must be what it felt like to be a McCarthy Democrat saddled with Hubert Humphrey as a nominee in 1968. What's more, everyone is exhausted after these primaries. You can tell by the quick recourse to cliches on the part of journalists and politicians. If I read another journalist saying, with reference to Gore's and Bush's allegedly dirty campaigning styles, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a hell of a ride," I think I'll leap off the recently unscaffolded Washington Monument. If I hear another journalist or politician, following the lead of John McCain, invoke the name of that racist psychopath Teddy Roosevelt as some kind of national hero (Al Gore for instance: "To the Republicans and independents out there whose heroes are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln,?I say, 'Join with us.'"), I think I'll move to Iowa and raise rutabagas.
At least Bill "Touch the Hem of His Garment" Bradley has been silenced forever. Those Bradley followers who were drawn to him by his smug sanctimony (and since that's the whole of his personality, it's hard to see what else they would have been drawn to) must have been satisfied by the way he said his goodbyes. In his concession speech, Bradley said: "I think that the people who were involved in this campaign feel that they were involved in something a little bigger than themselves..." Yep. Something bigger than themselves?me.
Bradley's wife Ernestine Schlant had made the same case even before the concession speech. "I think he is so convinced of what he wanted to do," she said. "If that doesn't bring us enough votes, well then, at least we did it the right way." That's right. Bill Bradley?too good for the American people.
The Hartford Courant had the most mournful valedictory. "His failings, not as a human being but as a candidate, were reflected in the scorecard." Nope. I'm afraid they were his failings as a human being.