So when Bush emerged with a huge win?53-42 percent?the dynamics of the Republican campaign were instantly transformed. The burden of proof was on Bush; now it's McCain back as the underdog. Not only did more SC voters think that Bush was the "reformer," but he won in almost every category, even taking some 47 percent of the veterans' vote. And he did better than McCain with young voters. So much for the "I'm With Honest John" college brigade.
A loss would've resulted in a headline like "Bush in Meltdown" or "Boy George on Life Support"; instead it was "Hurricane George." McCain's domino strategy has been jolted, and it's likely his biggest ally, the media, will desert his bus like the rats they are if the "maverick" loses Michigan. There's only one thing a liberal reporter or pundit hates more than a conservative and that's a loser. Slate's Jacob Weisberg, a loyal servant, might stay on till the bitter end.
What came as a jolt was, one, the margin of Bush's win, and, two, McCain's reaction. During the afternoon, after learning that he'd lose decisively, he canceled a midnight rally in Detroit, which had been billed as a kickoff to the brief hands-on battle for the Michigan primary on Tuesday. Last week, the Detroit News showed McCain leading Bush by a comfortable margin; as of Monday, it was a statistical dead heat.
If Bush defeats his rival in Michigan on Feb. 22, then it's midnight for John McCain's Ross Perot/Cinderella dance at the media-sponsored ball. I'm writing 36 hours before a winner is declared and it appears that Bush will best the Arizona Senator by six or seven points. Even if McCain pulls out a squeaker?a New Hampshire-like landslide is unlikely, given the heavily Republican makeup of MI?his campaign is in trouble.
Watching McCain give his "concession" speech not long after the polls closed in South Carolina, it was striking how bitter his remarks were. In fact, tv pundits and Bush campaign officials were stunned by his harsh language, especially in light of his promise to run a positive campaign. His text was truly Nixonian: I thought the Senator, known for his unattractive temper, was going to pop a couple of blood vessels right there on the stage. With a wicked and demented grin, making hand-waving gestures reminiscent of Nixon's farewell to Washington after his resignation in '74, McCain said he congratulated Bush and wished him a good night's rest, "because he'll need it."
After some boilerplate words to his supporters about continuing the fight, the battle of ideas, McCain then went nutso, taking direct shots at Bush, even mocking him.
He said: "I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way... My friends, I say to you I am a uniter, not a divider. I don't just say it, I live it. I'm a real reformer. I don't just say it, I live it. And I'm a fighter for this country, and I don't just say it, I live it.
"As this campaign moves forward a clear choice will be offered, a choice between my optimistic and welcoming conservatism and the negative message of fear. Between Ronald Reagan's vision of exclusion and the defeatist tactics of exclusion so cherished by those who would shut the doors to our party and surrender America's future to Speaker Gephardt and President Al Gore. A choice between a record of reform and an empty slogan of reform. A choice between experience and pretense."
Reportedly, Laura Bush said to her husband: "What was he talking about?"
I've written for more than two years that McCain is not only hypocritical but also a borderline hysteric. What he said about being "a real reformer" is simply wrong: he hasn't reformed anything during 17 years in Congress, and he's just as bad as any pol in accepting "tainted" money from corporations and lobbyists. He tried to pass campaign finance legislation and an antitobacco bill, but failed. And if Bush wanted to "surrender America's future" to the Democrats, that certainly wasn't indicated by the record turnout of Republicans in the primary.
Bush all but ignored McCain in his victory speech an hour after the Arizona Senator's, thanking him and Alan Keyes for their efforts, a deft put-down of the media's pet. Bush has conquered the "smirk"; now he's got to lose the "shout." It's bad enough that he mixes metaphors and mangles the language, making him a target for lazy columnists. He also has to stress his record of accomplishment in Texas, his education and defense policies, and continue to hammer away on tax cuts: Bush was most effective in his remarks Saturday night when he said he wouldn't govern by polls and focus groups, a slap at Clinton and all the naysayers who minimize Americans' desire for tax cuts.
The pro-McCain press was quick to theorize?as if most of the journalists really cared?that Bush had veered so far to the right to win the SC primary that he'd be an easy target for Al Gore in the fall. And continuing the charade, McCain advocates like Bill Kristol pointed to week-old polls showing that the Senator would fare better against Gore. Two points here: First, Bush was on the ropes and had to wage the spirited, dynamic campaign that he did. Yes, he was negative; he should've been more negative in New Hampshire when McCain distorted his record, instead of flipping flapjacks and tossing snowballs a day before the primary. Second, those matchups against Gore were taken when McCain was the toast of the political world; I'll bet Bush now improves his numbers against Gore.
On Sunday, taking the "high road," McCain repeated at several rallies in Michigan, "If Gov. Bush is a reformer, I'm an astronaut."
Even New York Times staffers Alison Mitchell and Frank Bruni had to face reality, writing in Monday's paper that Bush was "positive" while his challenger "was ferociously trying to tar his opponent as a fraud, much as he did in his caustic concession speech." Reporters on the Straight Talk Express were treated to St. John's ramblings, such as: "We're not letting you get away with that, pal. You're not a reformer. Anybody who believes you're a reformer believes in the tooth fairy."
The Times' editorial on Feb. 21 was a vintage snatch of current elite left-wing philosophy, what used to be the lingo of limo liberals. While the paper chastised McCain for his temper, saying he gave "voters an unsettling glimpse of a heretofore veiled aspect of Mr. McCain's personality," most of the scolding was saved for Bush. The paper piously proclaimed: "Even in victory, Mr. Bush seemed fearful of voyaging into expansive discussions of education, health care, budget policy and foreign affairs." As The Weekly Standard wrote last fall, before its editor got caught in the McCain swirl, Bush is the only GOP candidate who's dwelled on these themes, as was demonstrated by his debate performance last week.
But I especially enjoyed this line in the Times edit: "Ronald Reagan managed to come across as someone who shared those voters' negative feelings about Washington but was still full of an optimism and hope for the future." What a joke. Back in 1980, Reagan was treated with almost the same derision by the Times as Pat Buchanan is blasted with today. Democrats drooled at the prospect of Reagan opposing Jimmy Carter, since they believed he'd be defeated in a landslide.
Trust me, I dislike having to criticize Newsweek's Jonathan Alter week after week, but his reporting and punditry is so wacky it calls for repetitive whacks on the butt. C'mon, Jon, can't you do better than the following intro to an article minimizing Bush's chances vs. Gore as opposed to McCain, who "has a life story that won't quit"? Tell me, besides the POW torture in Vietnam, what else is there in McCain's "life story" that's so admirable? Ditching a wife when he got back from the war? Being a member of the Keating Five? Having a personality so disagreeable that he's one of the most unpopular members of the Senate?
Alter starts his piece with a fifth-rate Teddy White imitation: "Until the 1960s, primaries were rare and largely irrelevant. Through a haze of cigar smoke and bourbon breath, a group of white men at summer political conventions war-gamed the fall campaign with only one question in mind: which candidate could win?" Alter continues with a pro-McCain premortem, granting that Bush is on surer footing with domestic issues, but then continues the mainstream media's line that the Governor, with his win in South Carolina, has somehow been transformed into David Duke's more polite cousin. He concludes: "Al Gore has his own set of vulnerabilities for the Republicans to exploit. But for now, anyway, the GOP's efforts to broaden the party and find the median strip of American politics have been pushed off the high road into the mud somewhere in South Carolina."
Somehow, Jon, I think the rudiments of fiction have escaped you.
Bush has now won in Iowa, Delaware and South Carolina; he's likely to take Michigan as well and then Virginia, Florida and of course Texas. New York and California will depend on the Michigan outcome, but he'll likely do well in those states too. He wasn't running for president of South Carolina; that's just a fiction of the media. Any candidate who can excite his own party to the extent Bush did there, as opposed to '96 when Bob Dole sleepwalked through the campaign, isn't going to roll over for the likes of Al Gore. It's true that Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University was a mistake, but I don't think it's of the magnitude of Gore's fascination with Buddhist nuns four years ago or his claim that Clinton will be remembered as one the greatest presidents in history.
The Morning Show My immediate family is split into two camps when it comes to sleeping habits. Mrs. M and Junior take forever to wake up and get the crust out of their eyes, while MUGGER III and I jump right out of bed, perform 30 situps and get on with the day. Usually, I'm up by 4 a.m. and my routine doesn't really vary: I turn on the kitchen lights, twist open a plastic bottle of Evian, flip on the computer to download the day's journalistic atrocities and then answer e-mail. I'm loath to admit that, after logging on to The Drudge Report, I click to The New York Times first. Reading Maureen Dowd or Gail Collins isn't a bad substitute for coffee.
About half an hour later, my younger son climbs down from his bunk bed and yells, "Dad, I'm awake now!" He then asks for juice and either gets on the iMac with a CD-ROM or watches a Scooby Doo or Rugrats video. I can't hook him on the Little Rascals or Popeye; by now I've given up. But he gets bored easily and so soon settles down in the easy chair in my office and starts to chat. He's a bit on the zany side, a double-whammy gene passed down from my mother and Mrs. M's grandmother, I'm sure. You see, he's obsessed right now with his half-birthday. That's right; I've never heard of such a holiday either. This is my tyke's logic: because his birthday falls in the summer, at the end of August, when most of his friends are away, he annually gets screwed on the party front. What's worse is that just two months later, Junior's birthday is celebrated, just days before Halloween, and naturally his schoolmates are all psyched for a bowling and video game bash.
MUGGER III, being a kid, loves toys. So he's figured out that he wants to have a huge event on his half-birthday, which is on Feb. 25. Every day for the past month he's sat in the easy chair and asked me how many days left until that magic day. I've told him already that a party's out: for starters, other parents would think we're nuts, not to mention resent having to shell out for yet another present. Second?and this he simply doesn't understand?half-birthdays are just not on my radar screen. Or anyone else's in the world. So we've compromised: later this year he'll have a full-fledged shindig the first week of school, and to make up for last summer, this Friday he can pick out a bunch of gadgets and action figures at the store of his choice in the East Village. He insists that George Tabb accompany him.
And of course we talk about what he wants to be when he grows up. It's always the same: "I want your job, Dad. I want to write stories and be a boss and chase all the mean people in the world. Just like you." Yup, just like me, Copper MUGGER. His brother, much to our surprise, wants to be an actor, in the James Bond mold, so he can "smooch all the babes." I can't stand it. Anyway, Junior wakes up about an hour later and then MUGGER III goes back to their room and watches his brother play Nintendo64 games. Sometimes he'll come running out to my office yelling, "Dad, Junior just beat the fifth level," whatever that is. Then they both want toast and cereal. Junior's a purist, no milk on his Lucky Charms, no butter on the bread. MUGGER III wants a load of milk and even more butter on his two slices. School preparations are next on the program?by this time I've barfed in my head reading Thomas Oliphant or David Nyhan in The Boston Globe?and that means vitamins and tooth-brushing.
They're both real sticklers on this front and I have no idea why. When I was a kid, I brushed with Colgate, no questions asked. With my boys, it's a real process: Junior has to put just a dab of Crest on his brush, is very theatrical, then runs to the fridge for a bottle of water or ginger ale. Taking the Flintstones vitamin is even more of a chore. While Mrs. M or I get his blue blazer and loafers ready, he gnaws on that stupid little pill, washes it down with whatever liquid suits him and finally finishes dressing for school.
Which reminds me of the Dr Pepper story. When I was a kid, growing up on Long Island, there were still regional soft drinks, beers, whole categories of food, stuff that you never heard of unless you traveled. Remember the Coors mystique of the late-60s and early 70s? This was before the liberals boycotted the brew, but it was only available out West, and even then mostly just in Colorado. Similarly, I didn't have my first can of Stroh's beer, from Michigan, until I was 20. The hardships of youth.
Anyway, when I was eight or nine, in the mid-60s, my mother wrote a jingle for Dr Pepper, another of some 1100 contests that she won during her oddball career, a talent she relinquished early in favor of sweepstakes, and one that I've mentioned in these pages before. One night reps from the soda company, including a photographer, barged into our split-level house at 123 LaRue Dr. and flashed bulbs in my mother's face while presenting her with 10 cases of Dr Pepper and 500 silver dollars. Now, these were the old bottles of the soda, the 12-ouncers with the 10-2-4 logo. I'd never had such a delicious beverage, never imagined you could mix a cherry flavor with cola. And the silver dollars! What a bonanza! Each of the five boys in the family was given seven right away, and the others were saved for Christmas and birthdays. As silver dollars didn't seem so rare in those days, we spent most of them, especially when we were broke. But I still have about three or four, in storage at Moishe's. The oldest is from 1879, the year my paternal grandfather was born, the old coot.
I mention the Dr Pepper tale because I've just started to drink the stuff again. I prefer Coke, but we don't like the kids to get into the stash, especially at nighttime, when they need to tune down. Junior is especially bad on this front; he can sniff a can of Coke no matter where I hide it and then drink it warm, which really baffles me. So I switched to Dr Pepper, even though it doesn't pack the same kick. Neither Junior nor MUGGER III can stand the stuff, even when I romanticize it with my mom's winning-jingle triumph; like any kids, they tire easily of stories from the olden days.
Down in Baltimore, where I'd visit my brother Doug at Johns Hopkins as a teenager, I could find Dr Pepper, Almond Smash and great burgers at Gino's, a long-vanished chain. One seafood shack that he introduced me to still stands, though, on the same street in white-trash Remington: Sterling's. I had my first coddie with a shitload of mustard, in between two saltines, at age 12. Never forgot that delicacy, and when I was a student at Hopkins myself, Sterling's was a regular pit stop, especially since it was relatively near the News-Letter office, where I toiled almost daily.
Call Room Service Junior and MUGGER III are hotel kids. They were both born in New York Hospital, and, in their minds, have had three residences since: our loft in Tribeca on Hudson St., the Church St. Millennium Hilton Hotel and our current nest, also in the neighborhood that Upper West Siders are still "discovering." It mystifies Mrs. M and me: we stayed at the Millennium for six weeks last year while an incredibly slow labor crew finished our apartment. Immediately after that stint, we went to London and Paris for two weeks, and took up quarters at Forty Seven Park Street and The Bristol, respectively. So the kids are fully acquainted with the ups and downs of hotel living.
Last weekend, shut out for a Presidents' Day holiday in the Caribbean (as luck would have it, we probably wouldn't have made it out of Newark International anyway, with that snow/rain combo), we decided to be tourists in New York and spent three days at the Peninsula Hotel at 5th and 55th. It took almost an hour to crawl uptown in a cab last Friday afternoon, since New Yorkers are freaked by even a flake of snow, and there was an extraordinary amount of double-parking on the side streets. (Uh, Rudy, weren't those delivery trucks going to be ticketed right on the spot?)
But once we arrived everything went smoothly. The Peninsula is without a doubt the finest hotel I've frequented in Manhattan. The amenities in our corner-view luxury suite were abundant: four daily newspapers in both rooms; a bottle of champagne in the living room and two bowls of fruit; the Saturday Times delivered in a burlap bag; designer chocolates in three different spots and a welcoming crew that comes close to that of Bangkok's Oriental Hotel, still the world's class of the field.
The Peninsula is ideally suited for a business traveler. There's a fine wooden desk with an overhead light, a jack for your laptop's modem and a phone and fax machine within reach?which was a huge plus for me, since I'm not that adept at setting up my computer in different hotels. Usually, I have to call someone up from downstairs, with varying degrees of luck. At the Bristol last year it took a full hour, and many francs, to straighten things out. At Necker Island a few months ago, a hurricane had just ravaged the area so I went cold turkey on communication.
At the Peninsula, there's a phone everywhere you look, televisions built into the wall by the bathtubs, two well-stocked minibars, quick and solicitous room service (and an excellent kids' menu), bowls of candy on various tables and art on the wall that isn't as offensive as most hotels. The boys were a little bummed that Cartoon Network wasn't included in the large number of tv channels, but they saw Pokemon: The First Movie for the fifth time and were able to hook up their Nintendo64 system. On Saturday morning, while Mrs. M slumbered peacefully and I read the newspapers online, the kids had room service, saw Popular Mechanics for Kids, Bill Nye, the Science Guy and plotted out a snowball fight in Central Park.
I'm not a breakfast guy normally, but on vacation routines go out the window. So after a meal Mrs. M and I split, an order of eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and bagels, cappuccino and Pellegrino, I settled on the couch with The New York Times. Yes, this odious newspaper is the object of regular rants in my column, but I was in a good mood and relaxed. Big mistake. After Al Gore's press secretary-in-waiting Richard Berke's by-the-numbers front-page story on the South Carolina primary, which I whipped through, there were the editorials and op-ed columns to contend with. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain's voice was in the background on the tube, yelling to prospective voters that he was looking to expand the GOP, so he wanted "Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and vegetarians to join this crusade of ridding Washington, DC, of special interests."
At a pit stop early Saturday morning in a South Carolina town, Gov. George W. Bush's volunteer team was waylaid by the protests of a PETA outfit. Asked for his opinion upon coming out the diner, Bush deadpanned, "Well, I'm glad I already had my bacon."
Typically, the Times lead editorial, headlined "South Carolina's Showdown," distorted the facts in favor of McCain. After describing Bush's "disastrous defeat in New Hampshire," it read: "But Mr. McCain's Granite State triumph fired up his campaign, and for a time he surged ahead of the Texas governor in South Carolina opinion polls. Now the polls are extremely close, with some showing Mr. Bush ahead again. At the least, the governor's barrage of negative attacks appears to have stopped the stampede to Mr. McCain."
Whenever you attempt to translate a Times editorial?the elite liberal dialect takes a trained linguist such as your correspondent, after years of training, to decipher?basic facts are a good starting point. On Friday night there wasn't a single poll that showed McCain in the lead: in fact, at least one, the CNN/USA Today poll, showed a 12-point Bush lead. It's true the Bush campaign did barrage the state with negative ads, but nowhere in the editorial is it mentioned that McCain put up negative ads for 18 straight days, distorting Bush's platform and likening him to Bill Clinton.
On the opposite page was a self-serving piece by Donald Trump, the vile New York developer who pretended for several months that he was contemplating a presidential run with the Reform Party. He (or his ghostwriter) opens this 1000-word sludge on a familiar note: "Don King, the boxing promoter, has stated that my recent presidential exploratory campaign was one of the greatest promotions of all time." Come again? No one took Trump seriously. The only purpose of his oily publicity effort was to satisfy his insatiable need for attention. And the press bit: rube reporters called New York City's number-two embarrassment (after Al Sharpton) "The Donald" as much as they wanted; his orange bird's-nest hairdo was on the tube every other night; and Chris Matthews even hosted an hourlong interview with the huckster on his Hardball show.
I can't imagine why Trump wants to prove he's an asshole over and over, but I guess it's a vice he indulges in instead of drinking coffee or vodka. How else to figure the conclusion of the article, in which he insults every single politician in the country?pols, by and large, aren't a sympathetic lot, but Trump makes them look heroic. Try not to puke: "In the days before I decided to end my presidential exploratory effort, I was watching CNN and saw Vice President Gore trudging through the snow in subzero temperatures in New Hampshire?an obvious look of drudgery on his face. My experience was quite different. I had enormous fun thinking about a presidential candidacy and count it as one of my great life experiences. Although I must admit that it still doesn't compare with completing one of the great skyscrapers of Manhattan, I cannot rule out another bid for the presidency in 2004."
Fabulous! Maybe before then, Trump will release a pamphlet of his Top 500 life experiences. My only question is where his first wet dream would rate, or maybe his most satisfying bowel movement. And I'm sure the Times would put news of its publication on its front page. Perhaps by 2003 the newspaper will have a reader-friendly policy, which will cross-reference the subjects of articles with the advertisements their companies have placed in the real estate section.
It was a lazy weekend for the family on Saturday, with a trip to FAO Schwarz for the boys, some browsing at the 5th Ave. shops, and the search for a camera battery. Junior and MUGGER III had street dogs at 56th St., a whopping $2 per, but that's what you expect uptown, I guess. The kids had a wonderful time in the swimming pool, Mrs. M and I relaxed and took naps, and we all followed Junior's lead and sang Eiffel 65's "Blue."
Send comments to MUG1988@aol.com or fax to 244-9864.