Al Gore's Wacky Week; A White Knight Battles the Right-Wing Venom Machine
Just between us: The entire notion of campaign finance reform is a charade. Most American citizens don't care how politicians are elected. Those who are interested-and remember that only half of those eligible to vote in a presidential election actually do so-simply desire men and women who'll perform an honest job and not embarrass them. If the call for fundraising reform were as urgent as professional pols and the Beltway media claim, the number of people who check off the minimal contribution on their income tax forms wouldn't be so low. The campaign-finance-reform issue rated near the bottom in the exit polls of almost every primary held this year, far behind education, Social Security and crime.
It's pure self-interest on the part of Washington's professional elite. A candidate like Sen. John McCain needed a platform to propel his presidential run; when Al Gore saw how successful the Senator was, he made "reform" a top issue for his race against George W. Bush, shamelessly ignoring his questionable past on the topic by insisting he's been Born Again. This guy has been born so many times it's no wonder Bush will have his hands full: he's running against eight Al Gores.
As for the media, the federal control of campaign money is beneficial because of the increase in power they'll get. The Wall Street Journal, which regularly ridicules the fraud of campaign finance reform, is an honorable exception to the rule, preferring the sanctity of the First Amendment over craven demagoguery. The New York Times, on the other hand, in addition to The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, snootily takes the moral high ground, issuing rote civics lessons to the readers they condescend to. So it wasn't surprising to see the following headline in Monday's Post: "Survey Finds Support for Campaign Reform."
Of course, the poll was conducted by Public Campaign, a group that advocates an overhaul of finance laws, so who knows how the questions were phrased. But Post reporter Ceci Connolly writes that these results give "ammunition to Vice President Gore" and "hints that his Republican opponent" might be in trouble because of the vast amount of money he raised last year. Never mind Gore's own fundraising efforts, which continue to this day. He masquerades as McCain while his staff takes in soft money, hard money, cash and, for all I know, wooden nickels. It's not until the bottom of the article that Connolly reports, "However, the poll offers little concrete data that campaign finance reform will be the determinative factor in most voter choices next fall."
Ultimately it's an arcane and trivial matter to most of the country. Here's an analogy: When a daily newspaper folds, the news receives inordinate attention in other papers, focusing often on the 800 jobs that were lost. Front-page news. On the same day, McDonald's or General Motors might've laid off 10,000 people and that story will be buried in the business pages.
It was a busy week for Gore. He started out with his goofy fundraising plan that will begin in 2008; the crux of the risky scheme is that individuals and corporations will contribute blindly to a giant slush fund that will finance elections. So, on the off-chance that I'd fork over $1000 to the pot, it might benefit Hillary Clinton. I'd have no controlling authority over my contribution. It was met with a lukewarm reception, perhaps resonating with Gore's base but certainly not with the McCain voters he seeks. In fact, McCain himself said on the March 27 Hardball, "[H]e has a credibility problem. And in order for him to have that credibility, we need to know exactly what happened in 1996. One of the most outrageous debasements of the institutions of government in American political history took place in 1996. Bob Dole may not have won that election, but Bob Dole never had a chance."
McCain also said, when host Chris Matthews asked what would convince him that Gore is sincere, "Janet Reno, in my view, will go down as one of the worst attorney generals in history... The Vice President can tell her to appoint an independent counsel and have this investigation go on."
Gore, who banked on McCain as at least a tacit ally, hoping the Arizona Senator would be so bitter over his loss to Bush that he'd sit on his hands during the election, now knows this won't happen. McCain's a hothead but he's not stupid: if he campaigns actively for Bush and GOP congressional candidates and the party sweeps the election, he's a hero who can demand any cabinet post except secretary of state, which is reserved for Colin Powell. And if Bush loses, McCain's the loyal soldier who put principle before his own ambition and would emerge as the titular head of the Republican Party.
The upside for American voters is that we're spared Gore's every paragraph starting with the words, "As John McCain proved in the primaries..."
George Will, writing in last Sunday's Washington Post, summed up the absurdity, and phoniness, of Gore's plan: "Last week's campaign reform follies included a proposal so bizarre it could have come only from a normal person in jest, or from Al Gore in earnest. He proposes to finance all congressional and Senate races from an 'endowment' funded with $7.1 billion (the .1 is an exquisite Gore flourish) in tax-deductible contributions from individuals and corporations... Still, Gore has dreamt up a new entitlement (for politicians) to be administered by a new bureaucracy-a good day's work for Gore."
But the sharpest lampoon of Gore's proposed boondoggle came from conservative pundit Tony Blankley on the April 2 McLaughlin Group: "The only way Gore has credibility on [campaign finance reform] is to turn himself in."
On the flipside, the Daily News' Lars-Erik Nelson gives Gore the benefit of the doubt on his plan, even though the Vice President's history of hypocrisy rivals that of Bill Clinton's. Gore told Nelson that "I have the opportunity to make this happen," and the columnist assures his readers that "Gore sounds sincere." How comforting. But the zinger is the last line of his piece, which may come back to haunt Nelson: "[Gore] is on the side of the angels, in favor of reform. Win or lose, he comes out ahead."
Read that again, and then once more, and you'll feel as if you've just downed about a dozen chocolate eclairs.
And finally, The Wall Street Journal, in a March 31 editorial, had a jolly time with Gore's folly: "We come here today not to bury Al Gore's new campaign-finance proposal, but to praise it. More even than John McCain, the veep has shown the guts to admit that the soul of modern campaign 'reform'-the very truth of the matter-is the desire to limit political competition."
By the end of the week, Gore, campaigning like it's October, had chucked the "reform" issue and faked to his right, breaking with Bill and Hillary Clinton on Elian Gonzalez's fate. Gore, in his electoral wisdom, has now decided the six-year-old refugee deserves permanent resident status. I agree, as did Bush and McCain months ago when the boy first came to Miami after seeing his mother drown on their escape from Cuba.
As a "Sister Souljah" moment it wasn't bad: Gore grabbed the headlines, broke ranks with Clinton and pissed off the left wing of his party. Democratic members of Congress like Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel squawked loudly, protesting that such reckless behavior from the Vice President, who now advocates breaking the bond between father, son and Fidel Castro, makes them wonder about their nominee. As if they'd support Bush in the general election.
But Gore's naked political grandstanding-seeking the votes of Miami's Cuban-Americans and forcing Bush to spend money in a state that should be automatically his, given that his brother Jeb is governor-wasn't quite as shrewd as Clinton's slap at Jesse Jackson back in '92. Clinton knew black voters would never desert a Democratic presidential candidate, especially a Southerner who felt their pain: it was a win-win calculation. It was also a rather unique ploy in much different circumstances, for at the time, a month before his convention, Clinton was trailing both President Bush and Ross Perot. He was looking for any free media. Gore, who's in a dead heat with Gov. Bush, comes off as a pander bear, in the words of the late Paul Tsongas, who was screwed by Clinton eight years ago. While it puts him, as Lars-Erik Nelson would say, on the side of the angels with this particular issue, I don't think it'll garner many votes outside of Miami. And it reinforces Bush's mantra that Gore will do or say anything to get elected; the last thing he needs to do is highlight his character defects.
If Bush or Gore wanted to show real leadership-which neither will do-they'd advocate the immediate end to the trade embargo with Cuba and normalize diplomatic relations with the tiny country. In a flash, Castro would be neutralized-maybe even deposed-as American commerce would flood the island and a reinvigorated Cuban populace would bring forth a new leader.
Meanwhile, while not nearly as frenetic as Gore, Bush has kept up a steady pace of campaigning as well, mostly concentrating last week on his education proposals. I have to disagree with my friend Chris Caldwell who writes this week that the Texas Governor is wasting his time on the issue. Caldwell asks: "Does Bush think he's going to win the endorsement of the National Education Association?" Well, of course not. But talking about an overhaul of the school system-education's an area in which he's had success in Texas-is smart politics if he wants to grab undecided women voters. He doesn't have to harp on it-it is only April, after all-but his education stand is so unexpected from a Republican that it can only help him. Which also points out why it's essential for Bush to choose a pro-choice runningmate. Old conservatives like pundit Robert Novak think this will kill Bush in the fall, but the opposite is true: a pro-choice veep would largely defuse the abortion issue and inoculate the candidate from being labeled a right-wing extremist.
Several of my friends who support Bush over Gore are pessimistic about his prospects in the fall, mostly because he hasn't gone into full attack mode against the Veep. One even predicted that Bush, if he continues his current strategy, will lose by perhaps nine points. I think this is nonsense: even Bob Dole, who was broke for months before the GOP convention and was a sitting duck for Clinton's issue ads, only lost by eight points. And that was pre-Monica. Bush is in a much stronger position and is raising the money to make sure he's not similarly victimized by the Democrats.
Bush also has an unwitting ally in Bill Clinton, who delivered a stinging rebuke of the Texan at a Manhattan fundraiser last Thursday. Clinton told the audience, "Yes, I want Al Gore to be president, because he's been the best vice president in history, and because I love him." That's sweet, but it reminds me, and other voters I'm sure, of Gore's incredibly stupid demonstration of loyalty on the day Clinton was impeached in December of '98. Despite what the biased media proclaims, over and over, there is Clinton fatigue, and the more the President-and his wife, for that matter-bonds with Gore the better it is for Bush.
Clinton, with a completely straight face, attacked Bush for his advertising in the primary campaign against John McCain, saying it was "completely unfair," and also took the Governor to task for not insisting that Texas enact hate crime legislation. Clinton said: "All [Bush] had to do was to lift his hand and they would have had a hate-crime bill. And it did not pass because [Republicans]...do not believe that gays and lesbians should be protected by hate-crimes legislation."
Hate crime legislation is one of the stupidest fads of the 90s, a completely meaningless Clinton-like Big Brother abuse of government. If Bush had rammed through a phony-baloney bill like that in Texas, he wouldn't have won the GOP nomination. He certainly wouldn't have had my support.
In response, Bush delivered one of his best lines of the campaign: "[T]his is about the fifth or sixth time that the President of the United States...has taken time out of his busy schedule to serve as campaign manager for Al Gore... Bill Clinton promised the most ethical administration in history. He's fallen about 41 presidents short. America wants better."
It's Still Rudy's to Lose
I put on an Al Gore mask last week and flipflopped my way through the Rudy-Hillary Senate race, wondering whether the Mayor had crossed the Rubicon with his incredibly stupid (even for him) reaction to the Patrick Dorismond killing. Last Wednesday I thought of a pretty decent scenario to defeat Hillary. Giuliani would make a Hitler-Stalin pact with Gov. Pataki and trade hats: the Mayor would bow out of the Senate campaign, letting Pataki face the First Lady. The Governor, who's veered left in the last couple of years, is bland enough to defeat a woman with such high negative polling numbers. Then, when Pataki wins the election, he appoints Giuliani to fill out his term as governor, setting him up as the prohibitive favorite for 2002. At the same time, while gritting his teeth as Mark Green takes over as mayor, Giuliani grooms Rep. Vito Fossella, an articulate Staten Islander, and one of the best, brightest young New York Republicans, to squash Green like the bug he is in the 2001 mayoral election.
By Friday, I'd decided that Rudy had raised so much money he might as well go through with the Senate exercise, even though his ambivalence gives him only a 50-50 shot at defeating Hillary. The Mayor's problem is obvious: although he's seemed to patch his latest breach of humanity, and his polling is going up again, you never know when he'll pull a Rudy. Which means he could be leading Hillary by five points just a week before Election Day and then do something stupid and blow it all.
Still, Giuliani's fundraising prowess caught most people by surprise-with his $19 million so far he's outpaced Hillary, when months ago most Democrats figured it would be the other way around-and provoked Bill Clinton to make a very dumb attack against the Mayor. Clinton, appearing at a fundraiser for his wife in Washington last Saturday (aside from mucking up foreign policy, what else does Clinton do but raise money, soft and hard, these days?), made the following incendiary remarks. "The only way they can win is to convince people that we're space aliens," Clinton told the assembled. I especially liked the emphasis on "we," as if Hillary needs people reminded that she's married to the president who'll go down in history somewhere between Warren G. Harding and Andrew Johnson.
He continued: "This is not a complicated deal, and that's why Hillary's opponent can raise a double-ton of money, besides being mayor and having special relations with a lot of those people who have it in New York." What does that mean? Perhaps a reference to the mob? Otherwise it makes no sense since New York has been a mother lode for both Clintons-in fact for Gore and Bush as well-for collecting money.
But the President's most impolitic comment was this: "And you have the right-wing venom machine all geared up against her again." Please. Right-wingers aren't exactly in tune with Giuliani's political stands: he's pro-choice, pro-gay rights, endorsed Mario Cuomo in '94 and, to get into Clinton's mindset, he's Eye-talian. Another strange remark by the Hillary Clinton campaign is that Giuliani won't release his fundraising letters. These solicitations aren't exactly a secret-I receive about one a week, just as I'm bombarded with missives from Hillary's campaign, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, the Republican National Committee and Amnesty International. It's called buying mailing lists and there's nothing suspicious about it.
Reporter Adam Nagourney's front-page editorial in The New York Times on Sunday suggested that Clinton is restless as a lame duck and might be doing his wife more harm than good with his hyperbolic comments. He wrote: "The remarks by Mr. Clinton, who has less than 10 months left in the White House, came at a time in which he has appeared increasingly tempted by the campaigning going on at the periphery of his presidency... Mr. Clinton is extraordinarily popular in New York, one of the first lady's aides noted last night, and thus may be in a particularly good position to take on Mr. Giuliani, who is far less popular than Mr. Clinton. That said, Mr. Clinton appeared with his remarks to risk diminishing Mrs. Clinton at a time when she has been trying to establish her own identity. She offered only perfunctory remarks at yesterday's fund-raiser. One of Mrs. Clinton's allies said yesterday that the episode might be portrayed as evidence that Mrs. Clinton, in making her first run for office, could not stand up for herself."
While that may be true, Hillary can count on the Times and other liberal vehicles to do her dirty work. In the April 3 issue of New York, columnist Michael Tomasky published a soft interview with Hillary in which he asked some pointed questions but let her promote her agenda without a challenge. Hillary said at one point: "I mean, if Rudy Giuliani won't represent all New Yorkers as mayor, then how is he going to represent the whole state in the Senate?" That's a specious argument that preaches to the converted: Is Hillary "going to represent the whole state" if she wins? Don't be silly. She won't represent all the people who vote against her brand of Big Government, entitlements, profligate spending and tax increases.
She also was beyond the pale in giving Giuliani a grudging pat on the back for making New York a safer place to live. She told Tomasky: "Well, the first thing I would say is that I don't deny that some good things have happened in the city. I love New York, you know, and the fact that many people who live here and work here are feeling better about this city I think is great. And I'm glad that he was mayor during a great economic boom that was contributed to in some great measure by the president's economic policies, and was given additional tools to fight crime. So he used the time well. And I applaud him for that."
Maybe Hillary's confused: I thought her husband was president the last seven years, not Alan Greenspan. And I'll bet that even in a less robust economy, Giuliani would've turned the city around and reduced crime.
While it's true that the Mayor could use a cram course at Charm School, his detractors have blown the city's racial divide way out of proportion. A couple of weeks ago, in Manhattan, there was Clinton's wassup prayer buddy Jesse Jackson laying on the hyperbole, saying, "People are being killed in New York today just like they were in the South in the 60s." Please.
And in a letter to the editor in the April 10 New York, Duane Rochester writes: "As a young African-American man, I now have a better understanding of the fear Jews must have experienced in Nazi Germany while watching members of their community taken away, abused, and eventually murdered by the police."
It's the Time of the Season
So, why not? I'll make my usual prediction that the Boston Red Sox will finally win a World Series, this year in seven games over the New York Mets. Seeing Pedro Martinez on the cover of the March 27 Sports Illustrated, with the headline "Why the Red Sox Will Win The World Series (Really!)" got fans in Boston all in a dither. "Just another jinx," was the common refrain. I don't buy that: after the '86 nightmare, nothing can add to the Curse.
Charles Krauthammer, an often astute political writer, published one of the most boneheaded baseball pieces I've seen in years in the April 3 edition of Time. Acting like he was present in the era of Ty Cobb, Krauthammer says baseball is dying, that there's no "buzz" about the game. He writes: "Even worse is the new caste system: half the teams are out of the running on opening day. They cannot compete financially. Minnesota and Montreal and Kansas City and Florida are minor league teams." Maybe that's so, but hasn't it always been that way? Didn't the Yankees dominate the game for decades on end, using other franchises as farm teams?
On another subject, PBS' The American President, a 10-hour series, begins this Sunday, and while it's fairly rudimentary, the documentary is perfect for teenagers who are curious about their country's history. It's not as if they learn it at school-miss one day, and a kid will never know about the War of 1812. I watched the entire program and found it most interesting when the lesser-known presidents were featured, such as Benjamin Harrison, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan. As for the famous chief executives-FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Lincoln, etc.-there's nothing new here, except the normal bias one would expect from PBS. So Calvin Coolidge is given short shrift and Richard Nixon is examined mostly in the context of Vietnam and Watergate.
The most profound message from the series is this: Who would ever want to be president? So many of the country's leaders left the White House as bitter, lonely and prematurely old men, glad to escape the Oval Office prison.