You'd thinkpolitics would be like, say, classical music-that the more you know about it,the less interested you would be in the obvious stuff. Just as no real classicalmusic maven ever seems to talk about Vivaldi or Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, itwould seem that no real Washington insider would want to talk about big nationalraces. But that's not the way it works. From about this point in the electioncycle, Washington becomes one interminable discussion of the presidential race.There are half a dozen newsletters and a dozen websites devoted to trackingevery nebbish and every minor endorsement and campaign proposal. There are peoplein town who can give you the names and addresses of everyone in New Hampshirewho's endorsed John Kasich, tell you the middle name of Lamar Alexander's SouthCarolina field director and fax you Bob Smith's schedule in Iowa for two weeksfrom now. The problemis that usually the candidates have something to talk about, and this year theydon't. Who is going to be able to stand 16 months of George Bush talking about"helping those left behind" and Al Gore talking about "buildinga more vital democracy" and "good strong, livable communities withgreen spaces." Or, for that matter, Bill Bradley. Bradley was on a 10-dayswing through California, a state that Gore has cultivated more assiduouslythan any other. Bradley 0sought to get to Gore's left by holding meetings withgay, feminist and union activists. No one was more puzzled at this than MargaretCarlson of Time magazine, who quipped that, to get to the left of AlGore on gays, Bradley would have to announce that he's gay himself. One thingBradley can do is garner basketball endorsements. The Lakers' new coachPhil Jackson, late of the Bulls, is on board. Bradley, in fact, could scorea major campaign coup if he could get Michael Jordan to do an ad alongside footageof Gore referring to the Bulls great as "Michael Jackson."
But thatwon't happen. About the only unpredictable candidate left in American politicsis Pat Buchanan, who, to his immense credit, has spent the last several weeksgiving interviews about how unlikely it is he'll beat George Bush. In the process,he has been getting off some tremendous one-liners, describing the not-terribly-brightGovernor as hopeless without his army of handlers and consultants. "This,"said Buchanan of Bush, "is one of those quarterbacks where they call theplays from the bench."
There isgrowing evidence of solidarity between interesting people of all persuasions,a closing of ranks against boring people. Last week, Buchanan visited MinnesotaGov. Jesse Ventura-with whom he has absolutely nothing in common-and praisedhim for attacking the "dismal duopoly" that Democrats and Republicansenjoy in national politics. Which he is. A stunning poll taken last week bythe office of California Gov. Gray Davis found that Ventura has 80 percent name-recognitionamong Californians. Davis himself has name recognition of only 54 percent. Humor Me There wereseveral incidents last week that make it plain that the bores who run the worldwill not give up without a fight. The first was New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman'sopening of an investigation of acting police superintendent Michael Fedorko'sremarks at a dinner in 1995. Looking for someone to throw to the wolves bayingabout racial profiling, Whitman is committing the kind of politically correctexcess we haven't seen since the darkest days of campus p.c. at the turn ofthe decade: She's busting someone for making bad jokes. Here's whatFedorko said at the police academy's pizza night four years ago: "I'veenrolled Sgt. Fogerty and Trooper Betten in one of the local community collegesin an anatomy class, so they can find out why women can't talk like they havea set of balls." Joke number two was this: Fedorko thanked an Hispanicpolice recruit for telling him about a salsa station. "Those people reallydon't play that music that fast, right?" Fedorko said. "That's somebodyspeeding up the record." You might need to be told that what was offensiveto Whitman about the second remark was the reference to "those people." "Itdoesn't sound like jokes that I would think are particularly funny," Whitmansays. She's certainly right about that. They're not funny. But if lack of asense of humor is a firing offense, Whitman should watch her back.
Bob Dole,meanwhile, did Whitman one better. He apparently wants to pass some sort oflegislation to block journalists from making fun of his penis. Since he startedappearing in Viagra ads, of course, Dole has been a hot topic for office imitationsand various gags. "I don't mind Jay Leno," Dole told the New YorkPost, "but serious journalists ought to know better."
NeitherWhitman nor Dole, however, is the most humorless politician in America. Thathonor goes to Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, one of the mostobstreperous right-wingers on the Hill, who last week pulled a stunt for whichhe deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award. Goodlatte had a summerintern in his office named Aaron Mann. On a slow news day, a reporter from RollCall decided to do a humorous survey of Hill interns and find out how theyspent their days. Mann replied, "Picking apart Oreos...watching soap operas...throwinga Frisbee in the office." That was a firing offense for Goodlatte, whoclaimed the statement "unfairly represented his staff," and told Mannhe was not to use the office as a reference.
Perhapsin despair over the march of grimness, David Sutch, the gold-lamé-cladchairman of England's Monster Raving Loony Party, hanged himself in his Londonapartment. Kosovo And Nam The moreone examines Kosovo, the more it begins to look like what would have happenedif we'd "won" in Vietnam: We get to marry a dictatorship of our ownmaking till death do us part. In fact, as Paul Warnke, the Pentagon's politicaldirector in the mid-60s put it, "We can keep on 'winning' the war forever.We always win and we always will, and it won't ever make any difference."In rushing to the altar, we're drawing all sorts of wrong lessons.
One is thatthe principle that you can't win a war from the air has been overturned. Ithasn't. Except in wars where you want to "win" by wiping the countryoff the face of the map, air campaigns make ground campaigns inevitable. Whenin mid-1965, with exquisite illogic, Lyndon Johnson launched Rolling Thunder-abombing campaign designed to make ground troops unnecessary-he dispatched afew ground troops to defend Da Nang and other air bases. Pretty soon they foundthey had to patrol up to 50 miles from base, and soon after that there were50,000 troops defending the troops protecting the bases we needed for our "airwar."
In the Kosovoepisode, ground troops were needed to bring the Yugoslavian army into the openwhere our cluster bombs could reach them. The KLA fought the ground war forus. In coming weeks and months, we will likely discover that the United States-notNATO but the United States-armed the KLA and coordinated their troop movements.That's what we did with the Croatian Army in the run-up to the Dayton Accordsin 1995. Now it's payback time. So here's the tally: In order to avenge thedeaths of 43 people in the guerrilla stronghold of Racak last January and (much,much more importantly) to act out our sense of moral superiority, we've murderedthousands of civilians and handed over a whole country to a bunch of subliterate fascists. As we went to press, reports were emerging that the KLA had been torturinggypsies to death in the Prizren police station. Ah, victory!