Human Cliche Gore Seeks an Issue; Lazin' in Austin; Frank Rich Still Blows

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    Let's see: How badly has Al Gore screwed up his presidential run in the past week? The Veep's campaign finance reform proposal, which a fortnight ago was slated as his number-one issue, was apparently ditched, since it not only met with Sen. John McCain's derision, but was ridiculed in the media as well. As Gore knows, a slush fund is a slush fund is a slush fund. Next came his break with Bill Clinton and Janet Reno on the question of whether to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuban hell: the former duo said kiss the little boy's ass goodbye, Gore loudly protested that Elian deserved permanent residency status. But that didn't last long.

    In the span of three days last week, Gore gave about 100 different versions of his position on Elian; none of them the truth, it almost goes without saying. He couldn't admit that he was attempting to force rival George W. Bush to spend money and time in Florida this fall, distracting him from the vital Rust Belt states that will decide the election. But on the day that Reno gave a press conference announcing the United States' doublecross of Elian, Gore was mum about the controversy, even though he was in Florida attending a $5000-per-person fundraiser at the home of Rep. Peter Deutsch. Gore's spokesman, Doug Hattaway, fully trained in Gore-speak, issued a statement on behalf of the mute Vice President: "He thinks it's important to let those talks happen and let the process play out, so he's not going to make any statement. He understands that people disagree with his position, but he thinks it's the right approach, and you have to let the chips fall where they may."

    Well, that was, uh, confusing.

    As a result of Gore's blundered fake to the right, it appears that Bush doesn't have to worry all that much about carrying the state that his brother Jeb governs. It may even force Gore to choose Florida Sen. Bob Graham as his runningmate, a second-string choice. As I've written before, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lieutenant governor of Maryland, is an ideal choice for Gore?a woman who can sprinkle Kennedy dust all over the nation. And, unlike most of her clan, Townsend has a clean record: there are no arrests or confessions of substance abuse; she's a loving mother and wife, and the one child of Robert F. Kennedy who's not only deeply religious but has taken her father's idea of public service to heart.

    Maureen Dowd, writing on April 2 in The New York Times, exposed Gore for his hypocrisy: "True, Al Gore looks craven for breaking with the president to lend his support to the efforts to keep the boy here. But why shouldn't he try to wrest Florida's Cuban-American vote out of the grip of the Bush brothers? This is Gore at his Goriest, standing firm on shifting principles. As a doting father, the vice president should put his own family's need to live in the White House ahead of Juan Gonzalez's need to live with his son in some shack in Cuba."

    It goes with saying, however, that Dowd can't write a column without trashing George W. Bush. (I'm not sure if that's part of her contract at the Times or simply pure principle. Probably the former, since Dowd isn't prone to Big Thoughts, unless they involve Ireland, her father or Hollywood.) So she continues: "Like all Republicans, the Bush boys believe in family values and the rule of law?as long as those beliefs don't get in the way of a good wedge issue. W. and Jeb pander most fluently in Spanish."

    A lame joke, but probably popular on the Upper West Side. It's also completely untrue. Jeb Bush, who disdains grandstanding, has largely kept out of the Gonzalez mess; his brother, who long ago stated his position that he'd back legislation to keep Elian in Miami, and not jettison the child back to Fidel Castro's brainwashing camp, hasn't, unlike his competitor, exploited the issue. Obviously, all politicians pander to potential voters, depending on what state they're speaking in?George Bush's sudden conversion as an environmentalist last week was particularly absurd?but in this case, Dowd's just taking a cheap shot.

    It's early in the presidential campaign, but the media has been rough on Gore, a surprising turn of events now that McCain is out of the running. Liberal pundits, one, two, three and more, are in a race to level Bill Clinton's Last Victim. Lars-Erik Nelson, who's aghast anyone would actually advocate that Elian Gonzalez remain in a democratic country, scorched Gore in his April 9 Daily News column. He writes: "What Gore is doing is neither politics nor principle. It is simply a botched attempt to play it cute, not the courage you expect to find in a national leader. Can anyone imagine Dwight Eisenhower or Harry Truman letting a mob in Miami dictate how we enforce our laws?"

    I support the Cuban-Americans of Miami, but if Nelson wants to help Gov. Bush, who am I to argue? Bush, at least currently, isn't running the aggressive campaign that one expects of a man who wants to cleanse the White House of Clintonism. He's timid about making gutsy policy speeches; dawdles on small-bore issues when he could be making headlines with a firm declaration of support for the people of Taiwan; and is reluctant to hire advisers who don't have an Austin pedigree. This smells of Dukakisism.

    Nonetheless, you can't blame the guy for staying on the sidelines while Gore makes a fool of himself at least twice a week. It's a weird strategy, but for the time being it seems to be working. How else to account for the fact that in recent polls, voters think Bush will manage the economy better than the Vice President?

    Maybe that's because Pinocchio Al just can't resist an old-fashioned Tennessee fib. For example, on March 11, in Houston, Gore came up with the whopper that the Bush-Quayle early 90s recession was "the worst depression since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s." First of all, now that we know Gore wasn't a straight-A Harvard student, maybe someone should explain to him the difference between a depression and a recession. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the Bush-Quayle economic dip rated eighth out of 10 since 1959. Jimmy Carter's team rated first, with a poor showing in the second quarter of 1980, when the gross domestic product fell 7.7 percent.

    Last Wednesday, in Washington for an AFL-CIO rally, Gore told an enthusiastic crowd: "We face an opportunity to build on today's prosperity, use it to make sure no one is left behind, or to choose the other direction, which would mean a right-wing U-turn back to the Bush-Quayle deficits, the Bush-Quayle recession, the Bush-Quayle assault on working families." Despite the gullible congregation, Gore's remarks were incredibly stupid. While the present administration has, to its credit, compiled a record of economic prosperity, most economists would agree that it had little to do with either Clinton or Gore. Second, ridiculing the Texas Governor's father is a sure way to rouse him from this April slumber: there's nothing more important to Bush than family, especially his old man, and his best instincts, such as unwavering loyalty, come out when relatives are attacked.

    And Gore, Man of the People, proved his commitment to the downtrodden at a fundraiser in Florida last week that was packed with lawyers, at $10,000 a clip. In one of the clearest contrasts between the two presidential candidates, Gore is in favor of increased litigation in the United States, putting him on the side of the wealthy legal lobby, as well as organs of democracy like The New York Times.

    The Times, in a March 31 editorial about the crazy monetary judgments rendered in favor of former smokers suing tobacco companies, said: "The anti-smoking campaign suffered a setback recently when the Supreme Court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration did not have authority to regulate tobacco. Congress ought to give the F.D.A. that power, but in the meantime lawsuits may prove the best weapon to drive the industry to more responsible behavior."

    I'm drifting a bit now, but here's a question I'd like answered: Why hasn't the Times, or the liberal Democrats in Congress, advocated prohibition of tobacco if they're so certain that people aren't smart enough to know that smoking causes health problems? I'm being a smart aleck because anyone with a lick of sense knows that the tobacco industry's bankruptcy would put a lot of lawyers out on the street, therefore unable to donate loads of cash to the Democratic Party; and that also the government takes in too much money from onerous taxes on tobacco products.

    According to Ceci Connolly's article in the April 9 Washington Post, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell said at a Houston gathering of lawyers: "Eighty to 90 percent of those [consumer] safety advances came from litigation, so I think we are proud as a party to have the support of the trial lawyers. It is nothing we apologize for." Gore, by Rendell's side, then threw in for good measure: "We fight for the working people, for those who don't have the resources." He added that Republicans "draw from the wealthiest, most powerful and well-heeled." It's true that the GOP lards its campaign coffers with contributions from rich men and women, but it's not as if the Democrats are piling up their millions from the likes of lawyers like Ron Kuby, who really does take the cases of people "who don't have the resources." No, it's the $500/hour litigators who keep the Democrats afloat, along with dumb and dumber movie stars and Hollywood executives.

    Imagine this: What if Bush, or some future Republican president, actually has the guts and brains to demolish the IRS? Think of all the lawyers and accountants who'd have to pursue another line of work. Somehow, I don't think most Americans would shed too many tears.

    I didn't see it at the time, but there was a benefit from all those reporters sucking up to John McCain on his "Straight Talk Express." McCain was so reckless in his campaign that he blew his chances for the presidency; had he not compared Bush to Clinton, one, and needlessly nuked Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (while sparing even more militant religious conservatives like James Dobson), the GOP nomination might still be in doubt. However, Slate reporter Jacob Weisberg went from eating donuts with McCain to glimpsing Gore from afar (the Veep refuses to hold press conferences), and his eyes were opened. I suppose that's optimistic, and Weisberg will undoubtedly continue to ridicule Bush, but he's been unexpectedly tough on the Vice President.

    In an April 7 dispatch, Weisberg wrote: "Equally fatuous is the way Gore takes credit for having a strong record on Hispanic issues by taking all of his claims about the administration's accomplishments and recasting them as accomplishments for the sake of Latinos. His release notes that Hispanic unemployment is down, Hispanic real wages are up, and so on. 'Hispanic Families Have Flourished Under the Clinton-Gore Administration,' the release declares. 'The Administration's economic policies have helped thousands of Hispanic families.' This may be a valid claim, but it's an absurd way to boast about an economy that has brought the same good things to all people without regard to size, shape, or color. You could change all 37 instances of the term 'Hispanic' in Gore's statement to 'Episcopalian' without making it any less accurate?or any more meaningful."

    And Albert Hunt, The Wall Street Journal's liberal albatross, also can't shake the McCain Kool-Aid. Granted, in his April 6 column he took the opportunity to impugn Bush's readiness for "prime time," still harping on the Governor's stupid fudge, during a debate, on a Dean Acheson biography. Still, the McCain-enhanced Hunt had this to say: "Democrats...believe the more important issue will be that the Texas governor isn't ready for prime time, that he lacks the heft to be president. That theory was advanced against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential race and against George W. Bush in Texas in 1994?spectacularly failing both times."

    Hunt gives Gore a backhanded compliment when he writes: "[W]hen it comes to truthfulness and morality the vice president is leagues ahead of the president." Since Gore is neither truthful nor moral, I imagine that Hunt was just making the best of a bad situation; after all, even Rep. David Bonior is more honest than Clinton. The quasi-liberated Journal pundit continues down the Gore Information Highway by recognizing, unlike some of his colleagues and Gore staff hacks?sometimes they're hard to tell apart?that the odor of Clinton's reign remains in Washington. He writes: "There is a public fatigue with the duplicities of this administration, and Republicans will benefit if it looks like this will persist in a Gore administration."

    Lazin' on an Austin Afternoon As usual, Bush's week wasn't as noisy as Gore's, and that won't always benefit his campaign. For example, he was almost silent on one of the most significant news stories of the past decade: the Dept. of Justice's (so far) successful, and grossly unfair, jihad against Bill Gates and Microsoft. Bush, who's on the record as being opposed to excessive litigation, and if elected president would certainly short-circuit the government's wasteful prosecution?and persecution?of MSFT, opted for safety over courage in the wake of last Monday's ruling. (Not that Gates helped himself along the way. Microsoft was far too arrogant years ago when they knew litigation was only a matter of time; instead of schmoozing legislators and lobbying the boobs in DC who make decisions, they pretended that Redmond, WA, was the capital of the country and the U.S. government could go fuck themselves.)

    Several conservative colleagues of mine were justifiably distressed, arguing that this was a perfect vehicle for Bush to starkly contrast his vision of government against that of Gore. And they're correct. The Clinton-Gore administration, while in favor of free trade, still believes that closely regulated commerce is preferable to market-driven economics. Had the GOP not captured Congress in '94, their natural inclination would be even more oppressive toward entrepreneurs and innovation.

    Bush could give a speech saying that standing up for MSFT is a vote of confidence in America's free enterprise system, and a raspberry to the government assaults on tobacco and guns. He might've spelled out why the Sherman Antitrust Act doesn't apply more than 100 years after it was enacted. The rapid technological expansion of the 90s, which has extended the long wave of prosperity (something Clinton and Gore take credit for, even though it was beyond their control), is something to be applauded, not punished. In addition, the number of Americans who've invested in NASDAQ, whether directly, or in the form of mutual funds or 401(k)s, is enormous, and in a just political world, Bush speaking the truth would blow Gore out of the water.

    However, in this instance I think Bush was wise to hold his tongue. It's true, an hourlong stem-winder the day after the ruling would've exhilarated conservative commentators and The Wall Street Journal. But the reality is that the media would distort the issue beyond recognition, choosing five-second soundbites for their tv newscasts and isolated quotes for the daily newspaper reports. One can imagine the headline in The New York Times: "Bush Sides with Gates; Vows to Fight the Justice Department." The liberal pundits would have a grand time describing how the patrician Bush protects one of his own, the billionaire Gates; never mind that MSFT has always tilted left in its limited political involvement. Dick Gephardt and David Bonior would ratchet up the class warfare machine, and God only knows what verse Jesse Jackson would compose to take advantage of the situation.

    I think the Microsoft case is one that Bush has to handle with kid gloves; he's too open to misrepresentation by a hostile media. Even those Americans who've dabbled in the markets can be persuaded that Gore's for the little guy and Bush for behemoth companies. Better that Bush get out in front on international issues, perhaps starting with the string of foreign policy failures Clinton and Gore have racked up. What about Saddam Hussein? There's enormous material here: from Clinton's toothless saber-rattling to his calculated bombing of Baghdad on the eve of his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

    What a Gutsy Call I enjoy the nuts-and-bolts political analysis of Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, but sometimes the professorial duo are a little too big for their britches. For example, on the April 5 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, Cook made a strong case for Bush tapping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his runningmate. Commenting that adding Ridge to the ticket puts Pennsylvania (as of now) solidly on the GOP side, Cook said, rather smugly: "If I were George Bush, I would put Tom Ridge on the ticket. Even though [Ridge] is nominally pro-choice?and a lot of pro-life activists would go absolutely crazy?I would do it. But the thing is I'm not sure that George Bush is the risk-taker to do that. I mean, that takes some real guts to do it... That is not the path of least resistance, even if it's the best path." Six months ago, when Ridge was already being vetted by the Bush campaign team, Cook barely acknowledged Ridge as a contender. Once again, read my lips: Ridge will be Bush's runningmate. His quiet pro-choice views are a plus with women; his decorated Vietnam service adds comfort to another constituency. As for the right-wing extremists like Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, they might hoot and holler, but the fact is, with a number of Supreme Court nominations likely to be decided by the next president, they'll put pragmatism before rhetoric and back Bush. And with the record turnout of Republicans in primaries this year, even after the contest was largely decided, I don't believe Dobson's prediction that pro-lifers will sit on their hands and allow Gore to choose three more Ruth Bader Ginsburgs to the Supreme Court.

    If anything, it's the Democrats who ought to be worried about turnout. Gore doesn't have the oily charisma of Clinton, yet he's bogged down by his boss' Warren G. Harding-like record. It'll take constant race-baiting and class warfare?all of which is possible?for a respectable Democratic showing this year.

    Oh, Let's Be Blunt: Frank Rich Blows The New York Times doesn't yet have an openly gay op-ed columnist?although Mike Signorile or Frank DeCaro would be excellent choices?so for the time being Frank Rich will have to do. Which means: a continued assault on the reader's eyes. In his April 8 essay, "La Cage au George W.," Rich amped up his assault on Gov. Bush, savaging the candidate for his tiff with the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group. Incredibly, Rich writes: "If the Al Gore campaign had a theme song for the past week it might well be 'I Made a Fool of Myself Over Elian Gonzalez.' But even Mr. Gore's craven act of political child abuse may not match the marathon foolishness of George W. Bush's self-immolating grudge match with the gay Log Cabin Republicans."As if the two issues are even close in comparison. So, I get it. Bush is supposed to devote half his time pitching to a constituency that will ultimately vote for Gore in the fall. That makes sense. Ignore Fidel Castro's victory over the corrupt team of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton; forget about making meaningful strides in education; and ditch any notions of tort reform or the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. If Bush supported legislation that would place the martyr Matthew Shepard on a new $200 bill I think old Frank might just vote Republican for the first time in his life.

    But he's too stupid to make even that baby step in self-improvement. Rich continues in his column: "Anyone who thinks the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming wasn't a contributing factor to the surprise downfall of religious-right Republicans in the '98 election is kidding himself." You see why I call this Timesman stupid? Al D'Amato wasn't defeated because of Shepard's death but instead by calling his opponent a "putzhead." Similarly, Republicans Lauch Faircloth, Dan Lungren, Matt Fong, Ellen Sauerbrey and a number of congressmen were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with Shepard: crummy campaign organizations, overconfidence, shameless race-baiting by the White House, and the shadow of Newt Gingrich.

    If Rich, lost in a fantasy world, believes otherwise, he's kidding himself.

    A Message to Rudy: Read I'm not sure what was more nauseating last week, the glee of The New York Times splashing the results of its poll showing Hillary Clinton leading Rudy Giuliani on the front page, or an increasingly confident First Lady on the stump. Since I'm inured to the Times' left-leaning polls?remember, the paper had Bill Clinton defeating Bob Dole by a grossly inflated 22 points just days before the election?I'll go with the latter. In Oswego on April 8, according to Times reporter Thomas J. Lueck, Hillary told a crowd of Democrats: "I've had more and more Republicans coming up to me. They came, both men and women, and said they would support my campaign both because they really want to continue the policies of the president, and because they want somebody in the Senate who will work with everyone in New York."

    Quick! Submit this wacko to a lie detector test.

    That's not to say that Giuliani won't blow this election. I suggest he take the advice of Mickey Kaus (one of the few journalists who's emerged from Charles Peters' Washington Monthly hothouse with the same number of brain cells as he went in with) and apologize for his disgraceful conduct after the death of Patrick Dorismond.

    First of all, it would be the right thing to do. More importantly (since I'm not sure Rudy cares about manners, tact or sensitivity), it would stun New Yorkers. Has Giuliani ever apologized to anyone in his life? His poll numbers would tick up 10 points in the course of three days. Talk about April surprises: Hillary would be flummoxed, take to her bed, channel Pat Nixon and maybe even call on Dick Morris. The Mayor would lock up his considerable base of voters and wrap up the election by winning the hearts of citizens who are looking for reasons not to vote for Clinton.

    April 10


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