There are two myths taken as gospel by an alarming chunk of the mainstream Beltway media: one, the 2000 presidential race is a rerun of 1988's; and the Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani undercard is strikingly similar to the New York 1964 Senate campaign.
These comparisons, made every week by this CNN guest pundit or that Hardball foil for Chris Matthews, are examples of very lazy thinking. Yes, it's true that in 1988 an incumbent vice president competed for the White House against the governor of a populous state; and it's also accurate that the governor, before the national conventions, held a lead against the Bush who was sitting veep.
But that's where it ends. In 1988, Vice President George Bush was running, in absentia, for the third term of Ronald Reagan, one of the 20th century's most popular presidents. Bush wasn't a showboat as Reagan's second in command, but he slashed Sen. Bob Dole in the primaries, stared down Dan Rather in a memorable CBS interview and erased his media-driven image as a "wimp." (That Bush, simply because he was a patrician, was ever labeled a wimp is laughable; he was a star athlete and a World War II hero.)
Unlike Bush, who at least was acknowledged as a dignified and loyal family man, Al Gore is the foremost example today of an oily politician whom historians will study 100 years from now and ask, "Why was this person so reckless and willing to trade his principles for votes?" But far more significantly, he's sprinting across the mine-strewn path Bill Clinton has left across the country, and can't escape the Arkansan's shadow. Not only has Gore engaged in illegal fundraising practices, and exploited his family for sympathetic hugs at both the '92 and '96 conventions, as if they were Baptist revivals, but he was understudy to a president who might be indicted the day he leaves office. And Gore, until this year, was exuberant in his support of Clinton, even when he himself was lied to. Talk about wimps.
In 1988, you never heard the phrase "Reagan Fatigue."
Nevertheless, in the April 24 Time, reporters James Carney and John F. Dickerson wrote the same paint-by-numbers "George W. Bush Is Running for the Center" story that you've seen about 50 times in the past two weeks, adding nothing to the mix. Yes, the post-primary Bush, shed of his McCain albatross, is tilting leftward on issues like the environment and health care, just like a smart Republican should if he doesn't want to end up like Bob Dole. That's why the Texas Governor was anointed in the first place: he had a brand name, access to money and the ability to pull off his "compassionate conservatism" shtick.
Carney and Dickerson must've been late for happy hour as deadline approached, since their concluding paragraph is one long cliche. They write: "Gore has another campaign he plans to copy. His strategists like to cite the last time an incumbent Vice President ran against a Governor who touted his record as a new kind of moderate from a party with an extreme past. That Vice President came from behind, ran a cynical, negative campaign and crushed his opponent. It was 1988. The defeated Governor was Michael Dukakis. The victorious Vice President? George Bush."
And that's the rest of the story! Who knew Paul Harvey was so popular among the word-processing Young Turks at Time.
By the way, don't believe all the recent malarkey about Bush leaning toward McCain as a runningmate. It's a smart move to feed that fantasy to gullible?and still pining?media "Straight Talkers," but there's nothing to it. McCain does little for the ticket. Bush has Arizona in the bag; McCain's an egomaniac who'd try to hog the spotlight; a loose cannon who might tell a joke about spics while the Governor is tilling for the Hispanic vote; and he's got a walk-in closet full of skeletons.
I don't mean to pile on Honest John, but let's be realistic: he doesn't want a second-banana role, and would be much happier as secretary of defense. And what was his trip to South Carolina last Wednesday all about? He couldn't have apologized for his stance on the Confederate flag from Washington? Of course not; it wouldn't attract the attention he desired. I'm wondering if the next stop on his Humility Tour will be Michigan, where he approved (but denied until after the primary was over) a smear phone campaign against Bush that claimed his rival was anti-Catholic.
The New York analogy to 1964, promoted by Hillary Clinton supporters and media enablers, doesn't hold up either. If you try to justify this theory, the cupboard is almost bare. In both 2000 and 1964, an out-of-state, nationally prominent Democrat swooped into New York to claim a Senate seat. That's it. Here are the crucial differences: Bobby Kennedy had at least a passing knowledge of New York since he spent time here as a child; he was running against an incumbent Republican, Kenneth Keating, rather than for an open Democratic seat; and, most significantly, JFK had been assassinated not even a year before Election Day. Maybe Hillary picks up a few votes because of the "victim factor," but a scoundrel and crook for a husband doesn't compare to a martyred president as a brother. And unlike Hillary, Kennedy actually had intense government experience, as attorney general and de facto vice president.
Still, Kennedy didn't win easily and had to humble himself to ask for Lyndon Johnson's help in the campaign. In the end, it was LBJ's landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater that contributed heavily to Kennedy's slender 6-5 margin of victory over Keating.
Believe any poll you want, but this contest is Rudy Giuliani's to lose. Odd as it seems, and as ubiquitous as she'll be until November, soiling the ground of far too many New York towns and cities, Hillary isn't the main player in this election. I exaggerate only slightly, for while the "right-wing venom" machine will be geared up against her, as Bill Clinton says, she has so little experience as an actual candidate, speaking only in broad platitudes, that ultimately it'll come down to whether or not voters can stand to vote for Giuliani. The Mayor's a creep, no argument there, but when people pull the lever in November they'll weigh his record (brought New York City back to civilization) against hers (an unindicted coconspirator in the most unethical administration since Nixon's) and the GOP gains a seat in the Senate.
And Giuliani has nerves of steel. Who else would blow off a major fundraiser upstate for a Yankees game? On April 11 he told the press at City Hall: "What can I tell you? This is me. I'm a Yankee fan. I love the Yankees. I haven't missed an opening day since I've been the mayor." Political calculations aside?sports fans must've loved those remarks?Giuliani's conducting a weird campaign that will most likely work. After all, he's a weird guy and New Yorkers know that.
What startled me this week was a look at New York's "Letters" section in which five of six readers were highly critical of Hillary and the softball interview Michael Tomasky conducted with her in the April 3 issue. New York isn't what you'd call a right-wing organ. While it's not a socialist publication like The Nation, politically it more than leans to the left, and has a demographic that wants liberal politicians and Zabar's too. So it was surprising that just a single positive letter appeared; if there had been more, the magazine would've published them just for the sake of balance. Perhaps Hillary's supporters are so inarticulate that just one of them met New York's letter-writing standards.
Susan Silver, of Manhattan, was brutal: "As a lifelong Democrat and former Bill Clinton supporter, I am disgusted and appalled, yet again, by Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks... It insults my intelligence that someone who has never lived in New York has the sense of entitlement to seek to represent the state as well as the arrogance and chutzpa to suck money and people power from a vice-president who served her husband and our country well."
That could be the story of this fall's election in New York: ticket-splitters rule!
On the character question, the comments of Scarsdale's Dale Young were particularly apt: "During her tenure as First Lady, Mrs. Clinton donated a million dollars to charities that benefit children. That's very kind of her. However, she did it while she and her husband were in debt to their lawyers. Not only didn't she use the fees from her book to pay her own bills, she endorsed solicitations to get others to pay her bills for her. I would much rather donate money to worthy charities than pay my accountant, lawyers, or credit cards. However, I have always believed that money I owe others isn't mine to spend."
Excellent point. I'm dreaming now, but wouldn't it be refreshing if the next time Al Gore opens his yap about campaign finance reform he'd also address all the legal bills that will never be paid by the Clintons because of cozy arrangements with lawyers? And, for that matter, I wonder if the cavalcade of loyal aides to the President and First Lady, who foolishly believed every word they said and subsequently had to suffer depositions and court testimony, racking up Washington-size legal fees, have made good on their debts?
George Stephanopoulos, who must've been nicked for a tab close to six figures, probably did, given the success of his badly written but dirt-strewn tell-all book, and instant journalist certification by the objective ABC News division. But what about the people whose salaries were in the $75,000 range? How in the world could they afford to defend themselves? You know there were a lot of "in-kind" services being rendered; otherwise these poor saps would have the equivalent of college loans hanging over their heads until retirement.
Because that's the Clintons' way: use and abuse anybody who comes in contact with them. Think Al Gore's getting the message?