Half a dozen people have left Bauer's campaign in the last month. Ever since Bauer's close adviser Charles Jarvis (a devout Christian) jumped ship to join the Forbes campaign, there have been rumors that what upset Jarvis was that Bauer, who runs the Christian Right Family Research Council, was having an affair with a comely 27-year-old staffer. If I've heard these rumors?and I've heard them for weeks?then everyone has heard them. The fact that Bauer's longtime personal secretary left at the same time didn't strengthen his credibility. And when Bauer opined that "you'd have to be a complete idiot to do something like this in the glare of a presidential campaign," it had the ring of exactly the kind of non-denial denial the President would deploy.
Bauer decided to (1) identify himself as the source of these rumors, (2) deny them and (3) blame the Forbes campaign for spreading them. Last Tuesday, he sent a letter to his supporters that ran, in part,
It is hardly a coincidence that this mudslinging started just days after I delivered a major speech outlining my plan for a family-friendly flat tax of 16 percent that treats everyone?average working Americans and Big Business?fairly and equally. We expected these attacks. We expected that, as our campaign picked up momentum and became a threat to the other better-financed candidates, an effort to smear me and harm my family was a real possibility.
And with that, Bauer transformed himself from a respectable splinter candidate into a laughingstock.
There are two things to notice about this tirade. First is the note of Clintonesque, me-as-a-symbol-of-everything self-aggrandizement that it sounds. They're only bringing up the Chinese money because I'm trying to keep small children from starving! They're only bringing up Travelgate because I want to stop gun violence! They're only bringing up the blowjob to divert attention from health care! But the second is the total illogic of it. If, as Bauer says, these rumors were started to derail his campaign at its moment of glory, why were they started by people within his campaign who'd devoted years of sweat and loyalty to putting Bauer in office?
At his Wednesday press conference, with his wife and children in the audience as the political equivalent of human shields, Bauer at first claimed to be taking the high road, saying he wouldn't engage in the "trashcan politics" his opponents practiced. But under the gentlest of followup questions, he began to drop hints of the I'm-not-tellin'-but-his-name-begins-with-F-and-he's-got-a-horrible-complexion variety. Finally he couldn't hold it in any longer:
Bauer: "My staff has been told repeatedly that this report has been spun to them over and over and over again by the operatives of one particular campaign."
Reporter: "Forbes' campaign?"
Bauer: "Yes ..."
Within hours he was shouting it from the rooftops. On Fox News Channel that day he said, "This is trashcan politics, and it's why so many Americans are fed up with the political process, and it's why good and decent people hesitate to run for office." But by the time he appeared on Hannity & Colmes, it was Trashcans R Us. "Mr. Forbes claims to be a pro-family candidate," Bauer sputtered. "Is he going to be held to this standard? He had Robert Mapplethorpe art on his yacht!"
My personal estimate of the case is that Bauer is both guilty and not guilty, that he did not have an affair but that his conduct with the young woman did gravely violate the sexual ethics of his staff. To understand how that's possible, you have to understand that those ethics are more stringent than yours. All of Bauer's staff are serious Christian conservatives. Among serious Christian conservatives, men are often advised that, while they can pray not to be led into temptation, it's also wise to try to avoid temptation yourself. You don't want to be isolated with a woman. You don't want to be in any one-on-one situation where intimacies, even of a verbal kind, can be exchanged. (It's funny how "rustic" Bible-thumpers have a considerably more sophisticated view of what goes on between men and women than "savvy" cosmopolitans like Paul Begala or Joe Lockhart or Ann Lewis.) This is the code of conduct advised by Gordon MacDonald, the evangelical Christian who was President Clinton's spiritual adviser throughout the Lewinsky affair. For a certain type of person it's probably good advice?and a politician is definitely that type of person.
In holding a ton of closed-door meetings with the young woman, Bauer violated this code. And that's all that Jarvis ever claimed. "People have confronted Gary about the appearance of impropriety," Jarvis later said. "I did it a number of times. Personally, I warned him in the clearest of terms." Not that Jarvis is a likely source of these rumors. Since this sexual code is one that most Bauer staffers adhere to, grumbling about Bauer's closed-door conduct could have begun to circulate from any of his staffers, not just Jarvis and not just the half-dozen who resigned.
Yes, Bauer is being held to a higher standard because of his religious faith. Yes, it's possible that the Forbes campaign had something to do with spreading the rumors. But Bauer has responded gracelessly to his difficulty, a difficulty he got himself into by offending the norms of the culture he claims to represent.
Gore Through The Floor It's now clear that Sen. Moynihan wasn't merely being glib or épatant when he endorsed Bill Bradley. If anything, his remarks about the unelectability of Al Gore erred on the charitable side. Inside Democrats?like Moynihan, than whom few are more inside?have long looked at the Gore organization as so weak that it couldn't survive a single piece of bad news. And this week it got half a dozen. Gore aims to salvage his hopes by moving his campaign to Nashville?a city in which he's never lived. The metaphor on everyone's lips in Washington last week was: Dog Crawling into the Woods to Die.
Gore is sliding in the polls as if he's slathered with grease. From the very beginning, Bill Bradley has had a couple of states?Michigan, New York?where he was a sentimental favorite, and was staying close to Gore. Bradley has caught Gore in all those states, and he has eaten up Gore's lead in most of the crucial early primary states as well. He is running better against Bush in Iowa and Rhode Island, and he is beating Gore outright in New Hampshire. In Delaware, according to Mason-Dixon, Bradley beats Bush 42-40, while Gore gets clobbered 45-34.
FEC figures out last Thursday show that Bradley outraised Gore last quarter $6.7 to $6.5 million. This despite the fact that Gore controls the whole hack-and-bully apparatus of the DNC. What's more, Gore spent every penny he raised in the last three months. Gore's profligacy should trouble his supporters. It's evidence that he's cannibalizing his payroll to provide make-work to Democratic hacks.
Washingtonians have known this for months, and you wouldn't expect otherwise from a campaign run by Tony Coelho. This is an aspect of presidential campaigns that's imperfectly understood. The second biggest expense you incur in the course of a campaign (besides tv advertising) is paying for hundreds of partisan parasites to do nothing. That's so they can save face by telling their other clients and the journalists they lunch with at the Palm that they're "advising" the big campaign. Bob Dole had this problem in spades. He was paying consultants he hated for advice they never provided, and admen he'd never met for ads they never made. Just to keep them on board, you see. Once you get stuck carrying these guys, you can no longer say, Well, time to tighten our belts. No?you're basically renting these people's support. No rent-ee, no support-ee.
The problem comes when word filters out to Democratic activists in the hinterlands that the Gore campaign is basically being run as a milk cow for ATLA and AFSCME lobbyists in Washington. Then they are going to resent Gore even more than they do already. Especially since Bradley is, for the first time, showing real rank-and-file muscle. In the closing days of summer he sent 400 young people to New Hampshire to knock on 35,000 doors for a week. It was all very reminiscent of the undergraduate supporters of Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy who in 1968 took off their love beads and cut their ponytails and went to New Hampshire?Clean for Gene?to bamboozle the Yankee working class into thinking McCarthy was some kind of middle-of-the-roader.
Granted, Not-So-Shrill-for-Bill has an element of the same bamboozlement that Clean for Gene had. Bradley is not going to feed the working-class Irish and Italian Democrats of New Hampshire the same encomia to unions, gay rights and racial harmony that he feeds Californians. But anyone who thinks Gore will be able to run as a centrist alternative to Bradley's left-wing one is wrong. Bradley's health plan, announced last week, inflicted grave damage on Gore. Yes, it is over-optimistic and relies on budget surpluses. But it is not a left-wing health plan. Based on giving uninsured people the chance to buy into the cut-rate health plan that gets offered to federal employees, it resembles nothing so much as the "conservative" program that analyst Stuart Butler was promoting for the right-wing Heritage Foundation in 1993 as an alternative to Hillary's version. Now that Bradley has seized it, any Gore plan can't help but smack of Hillaryism.
But there's nothing Bradley can do to Gore that Gore can't do more brutally to himself. Few politicians this decade?maybe not even Newt Gingrich?have risen so high with such bad, bad political instincts. This is actually the third time he has reinvented his organization. Now he says, as if he hadn't said it before, "I want to take this campaign for the presidency directly to the grassroots." In this he's behaving like those socialites who think their black cleaning lady doesn't know what "shvartzer" means. "Grassroots" is useful to political scientists and journalists, but politicians should never use it in front of the grassroots themselves. What Gore is actually saying is: "This campaign needs to devote more time to bullshitting the bohunks." Grassroots means "little people." It is not a word that was in Ronald Reagan's vocabulary, or JFK's, or FDR's.
Then, at the same desperation speech, he sighed, "Gandhi once said, 'You must become the change you wish to see in the world.' I want this campaign to become the change that we are fighting for in the country." Come again? Someone ought to tell the Vice President that when "grassroots" Americans think of Gandhi, they think: Guy Who Drank His Own Urine.
Gore's hope of winning back ground by debating Bradley is delusional. I was disappointed last week to hear my two friends Margaret Carlson and Tucker Carlson call Gore "a good debater" and "quite a good debater," respectively. Gore is not a good debater. His reputation as such comes from two debates with crazy people. First, in the 1993 NAFTA debates, the administration designated Ross Perot as chief protectionist. How convenient for them. Perot spent the debate showing grainy photos of Central American shantytowns and cawing at Gore, See 'at pitcher of this li'l Mexican feller? He'd chop off his arm to drink the water outta yer toilet! Then there was the 1996 vice-presidential debate in which Jack Kemp bent over backwards to play the establishmentarian sycophant. (Gore: I congratulate my opponent for being the only member of his party who does not want to re-impose the Jim Crow laws, ban women from the workplace and put guns in the hands of repeat-offending felons. Kemp: Thank you.) If Bradley debates as well as Dan Quayle?who absolutely clocked Gore in the 1992 vice-presidential debates?the challenge is not only pointless but politically dangerous.
The ne plus ultra of moron behavior came when Gore tried to make a virtue of his abysmal campaign thus far: "I am now, in effect, the underdog. And I'm campaigning like the underdog," he told NBC. "You ought to count me the underdog in this race now," he told Larry King. Oh, yes! Give 'em hell, Albert! Gore obviously doesn't understand what an underdog is. An underdog is the unranked college football team that goes up against Nebraska. It's nice to be an underdog in a way, because if you're trailing 28-24 in the fourth quarter, everyone talks about how well you're doing. That's not Gore. Gore is in the position of the team that went in favored by three touchdowns, and is now getting blown off the field in the fourth quarter. That's not an "underdog"?that's a "loser."