Bush Weathers his First Stumble


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Bush Weathers his First Stumble
As I've written for the past year, unless Gov. George W. Bush is eaten by a bear in the next 15 months?polar, black or brown, Mr. Mfume?he will be the next president of the United States.

There will be no coronation, most likely no electoral landslide, as the most naive of Bush's supporters believed until last week. In fact, the convergence of multiple elements?the rapid expansion of mass media, Bill Clinton's sordid legacy of lies, corruption and dirty tricks, and the emergence of a prohibitive Republican frontrunner?is certain to the make the 2000 presidential campaign the ugliest in modern times.


First, let's backtrack to how Bush attained his dominant position. Influential Republicans, humiliated and grossly outmaneuvered by Clinton in the '92 and '96 contests, alienating much of the country with a hard-line, anachronistic, socially conservative platform, decided to tap a candidate who could win, despite the economic prosperity of the 90s. Bush was ideal: an extremely popular two-term governor from Texas, brother of the newly elected governor of Florida, son of a former president whose integrity, in the wake of the ongoing Clinton scandals, evoked instant nostalgia among voters. In contrast to previous GOP nominees, Bush is young, charismatic and superb at retail politicking, shaking hands with locals long after the reporters and tv crews have called it a night.


The Bush organization's decision to postpone a formal announcement of his candidacy until the Texas legislature adjourned last May was brilliant: While the prospective candidate accepted visits from GOP officials, congressmen, policy advisers and reporters in Austin, the other contenders struggled to raise cash and media attention. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive heir to Clinton, was flailing in his own campaign, committing a Quayle-like gaffe a week and facing a surprisingly strong challenge from former Sen. Bill Bradley, the only Democrat smart enough to recognize Gore's vulnerability. In addition, Clinton, vexed that he couldn't run for a third term, publicly denigrated Gore in the guise of "offering advice," while his wife went off to New York to assuage her own damaged ego, teasing Democrats with a possible run for the Senate.


When Bush finally made his campaign appearances throughout the country, the fears that he'd be wooden on the stump, diffident like Dole or his father, were allayed. Campaign contributions, from more than 74,000 individuals, couldn't be counted fast enough; when Bush announced on June 30 that he'd raised more than $36 million in the first half of '99 the political world was stunned. His poll numbers were, and still are, astounding, leaving his GOP challengers in single and low double digits, and showing that he'd defeat Gore handily. Perhaps more important than the overall lead, the data said that Bush was leading the Vice President among women, thus reversing the gender-gap advantage that elected Clinton two times.


The Ames, IA, straw poll proved the end of Bush's "honeymoon" with the press. (Let's remember the double standard the Beltway media practices in regard to the two main political parties. For example, when Bush's finance report was revealed, the typical cries of "Campaign finance reform!" were heard from left-leaning pundits and The New York Times. No one bothered to mention that Gore had raised more than $18 million in the same time period, which would've been a record haul if not for Bush's total. When the Democratic National Committee announced its intention to raise $200 million in "soft" money donations, the Times didn't even bother to print an editorial about it.) Most of the media mocked the straw poll, claiming it was a meaningless "sham." Yet every major news organization was in Iowa that Saturday: If it was a "sham," then why were the results on the front pages of newspapers and why did CNN provide continuous coverage of the event?


Bush won 31 percent of the vote, which was viewed as a respectable showing but not a knockout punch. Elizabeth Dole took 14 percent, finishing behind the increasingly grotesque Steve Forbes, and was declared the "real winner" of the night. Why, I haven't a clue. Lamar Alexander, who'd whined for the past six months about the corruption of money in this campaign, dropped out of contention and was immediately praised for his "classy exit." What stupidity. He told Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood last week that the "rules have changed," and quipped that in 2004 the dominance of money might result in a race "between Donald Trump and the latest Powerball winner, with Cher as the independent candidate." The Boston Globe bemoaned Alexander's withdrawal in an editorial that lamented a man of Alexander's experience in government being shut out because of the "massive spending" by Bush and Forbes. "The Republican campaign is diminished," the Globe pronounced.


Funny, if Colin Powell were running for president, I don't think there would be one single editorialist who'd complain that the retired general has never been elected to a single office.


Then last week the Bush-bashing began in earnest when the candidate foolishly reneged on his pledge not to answer questions about his personal life. The single most important statement Bush has made this year, considering the filth in the current administration, was delivered again at a press conference in Austin last Wednesday: "Somebody floats a rumor and it causes you to ask a question, and that's the game in American politics, and I refuse to play it. That is a game. You just fell for the trap... [T]he people of America are sick and tired of this kind of politics. And I'm not participating."


Democrats and Republicans alike claim that Bush is "fuzzy" on the issues, disregarding his very clear record in Texas and policy statements on the military, taxes, immigration, abortion, Supreme Court nominations and government regulation. Yes, his "compassionate conservatism" is a slogan, just as "The New Frontier" and "The Great Society" were; simply words to convey an idea. Bush needs to flesh out his platform in the next several months, and I suspect he will: Before the Iowa caucuses next year, it'll be very clear where the candidate stands on the issues.


But first he had to establish that he'd bring integrity and character back to the White House, and refusing to acquiesce to a hostile press was a good way to start. Unfortunately, he got tripped up by a clever question from a Dallas Morning News reporter and then the cocaine "question" snowballed for a couple of days. Now it's over, as far as the public's concerned. In fact, according to a Time/CNN poll, 84 percent of the respondents said that if Bush used cocaine in his 20s it should not disqualify him from being president. In the same poll, 58 percent said that reporters shouldn't even be asking him the question.


Any observer close to the Bush campaign knew that a rough patch would occur; it did, and better sooner than later. Now he should just shut his trap or talk about his vision for the country.


Not that the press will let up. Politics isn't fair, and Bush knows that as a front-running Republican candidate he'll be the recipient of more media inquisition than a Democrat. After all, not a single person has even alleged that they've seen Bush snort cocaine; whether or not he did a generation ago certainly isn't relevant to the person he is today. Contrast the media's handling of the coke rumors to the actual allegations made, on national television, by Juanita Broaddrick that she was raped by Bill Clinton. Barely caused a ripple in the media; The New York Times didn't even report the story for days after The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post had covered it, and that was weeks after Broaddrick had told her story to NBC's Lisa Myers. Clinton simply referred questions to his lawyers, they had no comment and the story disappeared.


Alan Dershowitz, friend and defender of President Clinton, had harsh words for Bush in a Times op-ed piece last Saturday. Writing that Bush, "[M]ore than any other Presidential candidate?is running a law-and-order campaign" (I think that would be news to Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes or Gary Bauer), Dershowitz says Bush's tough stand on drugs in Texas demands that he answer unsubstantiated questions about his own drug use. "Unlike adultery," he writes, "cocaine use is a serious crime." Dershowitz makes no mention of Gennifer Flowers' allegation last week on Fox News Network's Hannity & Colmes that Clinton boasted to her that he could procure cocaine any time he wanted. Flowers, as has been borne out by Clinton's own testimony, is hardly a stranger to the President.


Other reporters have echoed Dershowitz's partisanship: If Bush used coke, how can he call for the incarceration of Texans who violate that law? Fine. Both Clinton and Gore have admitted to using marijuana (Clinton even said on MTV in '96 that he wished he had "inhaled"); do Dershowitz and others believe that the Clinton administration should pardon all people convicted of marijuana use now in prison?


Newsweek's Aug. 30 "Conventional Wisdom" summed up the silliness of the past week. The item read: "Furious George snorts at press?and offers Clintonian snow jobs. Fess up." This barrage of questioning must be a little odd for the media, the pack journalism that was admirably criticized by The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz on Crossfire last week, considering that a sizable percentage of the inquisitors has more than dabbled with illegal substances. As I've said, I don't care if Bush did or didn't smoke pot or snort a line in his 20s. Despite many critics who've called him "stupid" (Crossfire's Bill Press and Newsday's Robert Reno, brother of the Democratic Attorney General) and a "frat boy" who needs to grow up (George Will and, talk about ingrates, Marilyn Quayle), and an "empty head" (Martin Peretz in the Sept. 6 New Republic, mourning Gore's difficulties, and wondering, "When will the rest of the press pay heed" to his former pupil's virtues?), Bush is clearly a man who's matured and left youthful excesses behind. He couldn't have defeated the popular Gov. Ann Richards in '94 if he had a scurrilous personal life; he couldn't have withstood exhaustive examinations by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, which came up with nothing on cocaine, if he had something to hide.


Bush and his organization, I assume, will learn their lessons from this past week. More ugliness is on the way and they had better be prepared. Steve Forbes, who's suddenly not as financially liquid as everyone thought, is a master of the attack ad, and he'll spend freely in the primaries. Sen. Orrin Hatch, in a self-aggrandizing appearance on last Sunday's Meet the Press, urged Bush to answer the coke question. "We're making some headway in the battle against drugs," Hatch said. "We've passed a number of Hatch bills that are literally starting to make a dent in it, but if we don't have the top leaders living right and doing right and setting an example, then the kids say 'Well they did it, why shouldn't we?'"


Even more ominous is the certainty of the Clinton White House's gutter strategy in the general election. (However, if Bradley defeats Gore for the nomination, who knows what disarray it'll cause in their "War Room" slimefest plans? Not to mention who ends up as the Reform Party's nominee.) Last Wednesday night, on MSNBC's Internight, New York Observer columnist Joe Conason, a Clinton loyalist, engaged in a lively discussion with Bay Buchanan, Pat's sister.


Conason: Bay, how many people are in prison for cocaine possession in Texas?


Buchanan: You know, Joe...let's not pound our chest about this kind of stuff.


Conason: No, I'm not pounding my chest. I just wonder where the justice in that would be.


Buchanan: How many people are in prison for perjury, and we have the president of the United States that you defended...


Conason: Now you want to change the subject.


[Then Conason gets to the red meat.]


Conason: For example, if George W. Bush starts to be attacked on the abortion issue by candidates to his right, which is actually starting to happen already, I think it's a legitimate question to ask him and all the other Republican candidates who are so anti-abortion, have you ever caused an abortion to be had by a girlfriend, you know, when you were young and irresponsible? And if so, how can you say that that should be illegal now, and people should potentially go to prison for that?"


Buchanan: You know, Joe, what a ridiculous argument you're making.


Ridiculous, yes. But it's just the start of a brutal 15 months in the democratic process. In the end, I believe Bush will persevere, emerge stronger for the experience and finally rid the White House of its current stench.


Myths & Superstars
I've had better summer jobs, but working in The Baltimore Sun's library in 1976 was instructive for one reason: It convinced me that I never wanted to work for a daily newspaper. I held down the 4 p.m.-midnight shift, ghettoized into a nondescript office about a minute away from the antiseptic newsroom, where young reporters, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, grudgingly shared space with older hacks who had job security because of The Newspaper Guild. (In my view, there's just one word that's more heinous than taxes: unions.)

The chores weren't difficult and gave me plenty of time to snoop around the paper's archives. At the start of the day, I was to clip each story in the current edition, write a category and stamp a date on it, and deposit each piece in a bin for a superior to file. I also ran photos into the editorial department; the sports editors were the nicest guys by far. Often they'd tell me, after a liquid dinner, "Oh, just pick a standard Brooks Robinson from the late 60s. Choose one you like, but make sure he's not scratching his nuts." I had several coworkers, all middle-aged women, who were sweethearts to me, especially since they intensely disliked the snooty young professionals who expected them to drop what they were doing at a moment's notice and go fetch this or that newspaper clip from the morgue.


I'd just finished my junior year at Johns Hopkins and was in a manic stage: that time of life, say 15-25, when you do all sorts of things that are now beyond comprehension. In my case, that meant staying up for three days straight, amped on crystal meth, putting out the News-Letter, drinking gallons of beer and joyously experimenting with LSD, driving 90 mph on backstreets during road trips down South and faking my way through college classes. I had several part-time jobs as well, and often had to make deals with professors. There were only so many hours in a day. One was in a film course: I told the young prof, "Look, I don't really have time to write a term paper and you probably don't want to read it. Just give me a C and we'll call it quits." To his credit, he enthusiastically said yes.


One of my weekly seminars was on French Structuralism; I attended exactly one two-hour class, split halfway through and amazingly got a B as a final grade, writing some gibberish on a writer whose name I can't remember now. That same year, the novelist John Barth, who was a stickler for punctuality, gave me a D for the semester: "Russ," he wrote cordially, "it's quite obvious the rudiments of fiction have escaped you. However, you've convinced me that a glorious career in journalism awaits you. By the way, take care of your health." I'd been in and out of the infirmary with bronchitis that fall, and sometimes coughed so loudly in class that I had to excuse myself.


Anyway, I was immersed in self-mythology at the time, and so at the Sun job I told the ladies there that my nickname was Jesse. They didn't get it, so I explained that the reason I wore a string bracelet on my right arm was because Jesse James did back in the 1870s, when he was on the lam, as a good-luck charm. I was riffing, of course, but the women bought it?why wouldn't they??and so I was simply Jesse, the barefoot college student who wore a bandanna and was a whole lot nicer than the pencil-dicks who made them search high and low for a 2-inch story about a deceased Baltimore County chief executive. Often, after work, five of us would retire to Burke's, a nearby burger joint, for beers and chow, to unwind and gossip. Sometimes we'd go to Little Italy and eat at Sabatino's, a popular restaurant that stayed open late: Liz, my favorite coworker, would always instruct me to get the gnocchi, because, "Here, it's even better than my own recipe." We all had a lot of fun. They told me about growing up in Highlandtown, Pigtown and Catonsville, areas of the city I was then unfamiliar with; I entertained them with stories that I'd make up or were true, whatever popped into my stoned brain.


One night I'll never forget was when a hotshot reporter reamed one of my fellow librarians for not fetching a clip quickly enough. Five minutes later, he was back again, this time screaming. At this point, the woman was in tears. He looked at me, shrugged and said, "Can you just get this done for me!" I found what he was looking for, went into the newsroom, tossed it on his desk and told him he was an asshole. "Here. Like all of Baltimore is waiting for your penny-ante story on a minor political ward leader."


Often, while combing through the photo files for the sports guys, I'd come across some real stunners. Like H.L. Mencken quaffing a pint the day Prohibition was lifted in 1933, or candid shots of Govs. Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel, both of whom lived up to Maryland's reputation for crooked politicians by being forced from office. (In Spiggy's case, as the early National Lampoons called Agnew, it wasn't until he was Nixon's veep that the feds got his number.) My favorite, however, is the shot reproduced on this page: on the back, with no date noted, it simply says in handwritten, pencil script, "Jesse James." Now, I knew this couldn't be the real deal: James was famously shot down in 1882 by Bob Ford, "the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard [James' assumed name], and laid poor Jesse in his grave," at the age of 34. But maybe it was a picture of his son, Jesse Jr. Still, I kept the photo tacked on my wall at various residences, imagining that whoever the subject was, it was a damn cool image of what Jesse James?Robin Hood or O.J. Simpson, depending upon your perspective?might've looked like in his 70s.


They Call Me Mellow MUGGER
Perhaps you know by now my opinion of birthdays. Not much, just another year closer to eternity, as my liberal brother Doug says. My eldest sibling, who's felt as though he's Methuselah's twin since he was about 29, pretends not to even notice when Nov. 21 rolls around. "Oh, it's my birthday? Forgot all about it. How're ya doin', pal?" Yet one more brother is the extreme opposite: I know that he goes underground each Aug. 1, preferring to hide out from the world, maybe talk quietly with his wife. He recovers in about a week.

MUGGER III, however, takes after his mother, and so for the past 10 days topic number one in our household has been his fifth birthday on Aug. 25. (The same date as my mother, I might add, which gives me strange comfort as she's resided "in heaven" for 16 years; I'm not getting religious on you, it's just a soothing coincidence.) Last Sunday, for example, he came into our bedroom and said, "Dad, it's time to wake up." I didn't have my glasses on, couldn't read the clock, so I assumed it was about 5 and started to get dressed. Mrs. M bolted upright and whispered, "Are you guys nuts! It's 3:30 in the morning!" But the damage was done and so we repaired to the living room; my son had some white grape juice, I opened a bottle of Evian.


I keep farmer's hours by nature, but this was too much, too early to start working. So we talked about all the toys he wanted, played a Thinkin' Things 2 CD-ROM, lined up his Spawn models on the kitchen table and then got a comforter and watched Scooby-Doo! in the classic That's Snow Ghost. That segued into a short conversation about our new loft. "Why did we have to move, I liked our old apartment better!" This is a daily exchange, so I tried to be patient: "We have better views of the city, a rooftop, Daddy and Mommy both have studios and you and Junior have a really cool bunkbed." It never works. "Last night," he replied conspiratorially, "there was a rattlesnake in my bed, and Irving the Wolf had to eat it up!"


We both drifted off into semi-sleep, our toes touching, and I re-wound the tapes of the week. There was the delivery man last Thursday with me on the elevator at 333, expressing amazement that the building actually had a 13th floor. "I don't like that one bit," he said, and when he got out with his handtruck of packages, he was further spooked. "It's dark out here, too." I figured it wasn't the right time to fill him on the lore of our almost-Chelsea lair: the time a mouse fell on a salesman's head in the elevator, the foul lavatories, hallways jam-packed with trash, all the inconveniences I try to keep readers abreast of.


Mrs. M and I, along with Mike Gentile, Tara Morris and Andrey Slivka, had another fine meal at northern Tribeca's Sosa Borella, the Italian/Argentine restaurant I praised not long ago for its pizzas, pastas and mixed grill of sausages and short ribs. Our art director was a little steamed that I even mentioned the out-of-the-way kitchen, since he'd claimed it as his own anti-Bubby's for Sunday brunch; I was pleasantly gratified that the restaurant had more customers than during our previous visit. And it was a winning meal again: anchovy pizzas with Havarti cheese and plum tomatoes, parmesan crusted chicken, Caesar salads and this time a mixed seafood grill.


There was an unusually interesting story in The New York Times last week about how city residents are routinely ignoring Rudy Giuliani's warning to practice voluntary water conservation. Yeah, it's been dry, I guess, but in the Northeast it's only when the cow jumps over the moon that we face a drought severe enough to worry about it. Metro reporter Monte Williams did his best Gersh ("I Am The New York Post! Hear Me Roar!") Kuntzman impersonation and interviewed several people on the Upper East Side. He persuaded one handyman to talk, anonymously: "We have to water the flowers," he told young Williams (Monte could be 92 for all I know, I'm just assuming any writer assigned to such a mundane story, by the standards of Timesmen, has to be a cub). "There's no restrictions on us. When they start issuing tickets, that's when I'll stop."


Me, too. Actually, I'm from the old school, as I like to tell my boys, about saving water. Growing up, we had two showers for seven people, which was reasonable enough, but the pressure sucked, so as a result my dad limited bathing time to about a minute and 50 seconds, just enough time to sing "She's Not There" by the Zombies. Baths? Not in the picture: The water would be cold after the tub wasn't even 3 inches filled.


The kinfolk might've told Jed and Granny that Californy is the place to be, but not if you're adverse to weird weather patterns, like earthquakes, mudslides, flash fires and severe droughts. One time, out in Berkeley for a couple of weeks in the mid-70s, the reservoir level was dangerously low, and my friend had a strict dictum for visitors at his apartment off Telegraph Ave. "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."


So it's about 6 a.m. now, MUGGER III and I are up for the duration, and he asks me to accompany him to the bathroom while he moves his bowels. (Rather delicate, I know; if it was Jeff Koyen, NYPress' production manager, who's annoyed me recently by dubbing me "Howard Hughes," I'd just say, "Take a shit," but I am writing about my son.) What was the topic? Birthday presents, of course, all sorts of Pokemon paraphernalia, Star Wars action figures, keychains for his collection and on and on. I tried to explain that birthdays aren't just about toys, but he wouldn't accept that rational line of reasoning. He booted me out of the bathroom, pissed, mimicking Mrs. M with a curt, "Talk to the hand, Daddy, I'm not listening."


By this time, Junior was up and at 'em, and moved straight to our immense black table to finish his Sith Infiltrator model, a Lego spectacular that he'd been working on since the night before. Junior takes his Star Wars lore seriously, more so than anyone I know besides maybe George Tabb, or a few of the clerks at the Virgin MegaStore at Union Square. He's six, so he proudly pointed to the words on the package that said "For kids from 8-12," a deserved sense of accomplishment in my book. He was so excited by the project's completion that he woke up Mrs. M for a moment, until I shooed him out of our bedroom and told him to get moving on a nutritious breakfast. Oh, say a slice of melon, maybe a bran muffin or bagel and some grapes. He looked at me like I was from another planet, went straight for the cereal and crackers and started jabbering about SpongeBob SquarePants, the Nickelodeon show that's currently outpacing Pokemon in Saturday morning ratings. This is an equal-opportunity household, it goes without saying, so both the kids are mesmerized by each cartoon, although when I heard them singing the lyrics last weekend, word for word, to SpongeBob, a character who lives under the Pacific in Bikini Bottom, I knew the fortune I'd invested in Japanese Pokemon cards ("The entirely rare ones," MUGGER III insists) might be dust in the wind.


The September issue of Brill's Content was consistent in its tedium?the lead story was about "Scream TV," an original topic?but Abigail Pogrebin's article "Can Hillary Win Them Over" did pique my interest. Pogrebin wrote about who she, and presumably editor-in-chief Steve Brill, perceive to be the powerbrokers in New York's media market, and offered advice to the candidate who probably won't even run. Obviously, the Times' Howell Raines was on the list, and that makes sense, if only for this completely on-the-mark sentence: "The Times's endorsement is a no-win situation for Clinton: if she gets the nod, it's a big ho-hum?just what everyone expects. But if Giuliani, the most likely Republican candidate, gets the endorsement, says Fredric Dicker, who covers politics for the New York Post, 'it signals to me that she's probably going to lose. It would suggest that she had so abysmally failed in making her case that even the Times couldn't bring itself to endorse her.'"


Howard Stern was ignored in favor of Don Imus, every media and political fool's idea of a bad boy who's a "guilty pleasure," which was a mistake. Stern reaches far more listeners in the New York market and he won't be shy about making his views known, as was demonstrated by his constant drumbeat for Christie Whitman in '93 and George Pataki in '94. The most curious item in the entire piece was Jack Newfield's slap at New York's political columnist Michael Tomasky. Maybe it goes back to them both working for the Voice, but the aging Newfield was harsh: "[Tomasky] doesn't hurt anybody... He doesn't punch hard."


Alan Dershowitz, the celebrity lawyer who's a namedropping friend of Bill Clinton, is a vile pest who debases any newspaper he's printed in or tv program on which he's allowed to express his views. But more power to the First Amendment. In an outrageous piece in last Sunday's Daily News, Dershowitz attempts to settle a score with Sean Hannity, the right-wing WABC talk radio host, who also has a nightly Fox-TV program with liberal Alan Colmes. Dershowitz's vehicle for his tirade against Hannity (and fellow ABC jock Steve Malzberg), was the case of Tom McGowan, a listener who sent insulting faxes to his show and was subsequently charged with harassment. Andrey Slivka wrote about the contretemps in NYPress two weeks ago ("Media Roundup," 8/11).


One of McGowan's faxes read: "You low-down hypocrite, back-stabbing punk, pussy bitch dog." Nasty and moronic, yes, but certainly not cause for judicial action. Yet Dershowitz doesn't give a shit about McGowan?where was he when obnoxo Chris Brodeur was persecuted for hectoring Mayor Giuliani??he simply wants to vent about conservative radio hosts, whether it's Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or Bob Grant. He writes: "Once, when I was in a shouting match with Hannity, he said worse things about me?particularly after I was off the air and unable to defend myself?than anything I saw in the faxes." I was listening to that argument between Dershowitz and Hannity, and as the lawyer is, as I wrote above, extremely repellent, the radioman didn't mince words about him after the shouting fest was over. But I'd like Dershowitz to produce the tape where Hannity calls him something worse than a "pussy bitch dog."


Dershowitz concludes his puerile attack by writing: "Right-wing talk radio is the conservative version of pornography. It debases dialogue. It legitimates racism and other forms of bigotry. And it contributes to an atmosphere of violence." This is nonsense. Dershowitz simply doesn't agree with the views expressed by Limbaugh, Hannity, Grant, etc. And that's fine: Don't listen, Alan, just as I ignore the equally partisan National Public Radio, another broadcast medium that, if you want to get in the gutter with this shill for liberalism, legitimates bigotry of another kind altogether and presents only one point of view. That's called diversity. Freedom of choice.


Meanwhile, a friend of mine called last week and said, "Your friends at The Weekly Standard have lost their minds. Check out the latest issue." The cover story is loony, "The Case for Censorship," by David Lowenthal, professor emeritus of political science at Boston College, but so what? What is wrong with a provocative debate? Unlike 95 percent of the other periodicals on the newsstands, the Standard's cover grabs you by the throat and, if you have any interest in government, forces you to read the article. I happen to think Lowenthal is a crackpot who espouses views in his piece that are antithetical to my understanding of conservatism, but I did read every word of it.


There are numerous examples of Lowenthal's dementia, but the following paragraph is my favorite: "The mass media?the movies, television, and recordings?need to be regulated, and not only because of appeals to irresponsible lust. They have immersed us in violence as well, habituated us to the most extreme brutality, held it up as a model and surrounded us by images of hateful human types so memorable as to cause a psychological insecurity that is dangerous. The only answer is governmental regulation, if necessary prior to publication?that is, censorship."


More government regulation? This isn't my idea of sound conservative principle. The country is shackled by enough interference with the private sector, usually by the hand of Democrats, and doesn't need more. As I understand it, recent news stories have reported that crime is down across the country, and drug use has dropped among the youth. I don't care for a lot of today's music or films, and garbage like Rosie O'Donnell's tv show makes me retch, but I don't have to listen or watch.


But haven't we had this debate before? It was ridiculous when the Rolling Stones were forced to alter their lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together" in order to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show; it was silly that Elvis was shown on tv from only the waist up; and today it's almost unimaginable to think that D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was once banned by the government. Even Tipper Gore, who enraged liberals all over the country back in the 80s with her campaign for ratings attached to records, is now a Deadhead.


So, on the one hand we have a liberal imbecile like Dershowitz, who, if he were honest, would propose censoring a talk radio personality like Rush Limbaugh, thus depriving him of his rightful livelihood; and on the other, a doddering professor who thinks that Pulp Fiction is at the root of what he perceives as 1990s moral depravity.


And these whack jobs are professors?


In Sunday's News Mike Barnicle wasn't at all more coherent, despairing about his advancing age and not being familiar with any of today's pop music. After discovering that he couldn't identify 81 of Spin's "90 Greatest Albums of the 90s," he listened to a few and was, of course, appalled. All the violent lyrics, blah blah blah. But he's living in an Everly Brothers Dream World when he writes the following: "It used to be that songs were about a single, marvelous topic: Love." Uh, Mike, no, you're wrong. As a boomer who probably smoked dope in the 60s, surely you're familiar with songs like Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore" and Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." You're just out of touch. To top it off, you prove it with this idiotic statement: "Then there are individual performers like Courtney Love. She is the deeply untalented widow of Kurt Cobain, the pop rocker who had the good sense to commit suicide a few years ago." I thought Cobain, an imaginative and immensely influential man, was a little off the deep end too, but "the good sense to commit suicide"?


Why don't you go jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and see if anyone, aside from your family, gives a hoot?


Anyway, I'm against censorship of any kind, but Bill Clinton's comments on almost any subject seem a lot more dangerous than any lousy Hole lyrics. At a Massachusetts $100,000 fundraiser for his wife's presumptive New York Senate bid, Clinton told the assembled of the pair's courtship. According to various news reports, he recounted how he met Hillary at Yale Law School and thought she was "the most gifted person" he had ever met, and, "Well, over 25 years later, I still haven't met anybody I thought was as gifted." This is my favorite part of the Reuters dispatch: "The two finally got together when Hillary Rodham slammed down her book in the Yale Law School library and walked over to introduce herself to Clinton, who by his own admission had been staring at her and had 'kind of stalked her around' the campus for weeks."


Once a stalker...


AUGUST 23


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