responded all last week to their daughters’ boozing scandals through Laura
Bush’s press secretary Noelia Rodriguez, who said, "It is unfortunate
that these young women are being denied a private life." Well, yes, it
sure is. So since presidential brother Jeb Bush announced last week that he’ll
run again for governor of Florida in 2002, let’s discuss his private
life–at least as it appears in David Margolick’s new Vanity Fair
profile. The undercurrent of the piece is: Womanizing. Margolick damns Jeb’s
fidelity with faint praise, telling us, "People who know Jeb well say he
is actually a devoted family man–pathologically faithful to his wife."
(Note to Margolick: "pathologically" is not a synonym for "very.")
There’s no smoking gun, but the picture here is the familiar Big Swinging
Diptych. On the one hand are the doth-protest-too-much disclaimers from political
acquaintances: "I’d be as shocked to hear that Jeb Bush was fooling
around," says one, "as I’d be if someone told me Bill Clinton
wasn’t." Yeah, and he should know, because he shook Bush’s
hand once at a fundraiser!
The other part
of the diptych is a portrait of an odd-sounding marriage. Columba Bush, the
"fiery Mexican beauty" and mother of those whom Bush père
called the "little brown ones," is high-maintenance: "She is
abusive both to him and to his aides," Margolick writes, "especially
if they happen to be pretty women." When rumors of an affair between Katherine
Harris and Jeb began to circulate last fall during the Florida recount controversy,
Columba was about the only person not to dismiss them. Worse, she confronted
Harris about them. If we’re to trust Margolick, then maybe Jeb is an upstanding
monogamist. But if he is, then his wife is insane.
The other part
Meanwhile, As in Massachusetts, The reason There is some
Jeb’s classmate from Andover, Lincoln Chafee, has been in the news constantly
since Jim Jeffords defected to the Democratic party. Chafee, the most liberal
Republican left in the caucus, has decided to vent his ideological anguish daily–and
see if he can milk concessions out of both parties with implicit threats to
switch. Chafee is not in as strong a position as he thinks he is. He may well
switch, but he would be stupid if he did. Rhode Island is not Vermont. It is
the single most Democratic state in the union. It has an active urban ethnic
(in this case, Italian) political machine, with an intricately elaborated set
of rules and mutual obligations.
these obligations are the only reason Republicans ever get elected. Democratic
political machines produce votes by doing lots of (mostly good) things for lots
of people–and they inevitably get trapped in conflicting commitments, tangled
up in their own graft. Voters who need a holiday from that kind of government
turn to prissy Protestant Republicans, who differ temperamentally from the Irish
and Italian Democrats who run things–but seldom politically. In fact, as
politics gets to be more cultural and less economic, New England’s liberal
Republicans are arguably more liberal than its ethnic Democrats. You’ll
find a lot more people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade in South Boston
than you will in the Commonwealth Club, and gay marriage is a lot less popular
in Pawtucket than it is at Brown.
Chafee would be a fool to switch is that it would deprive him of his whole raison
d’être. Becoming a Democrat would lock him into the same rigid
system that he’s supposed to provide an escape from. Liberal Republicans
in Democratic states are in the traditional position of Americans in class-ridden
England. Democrats, like the English, are not under any illusion that you’re
one of them, but they’re immensely grateful to be able to complain to you
about the daily compromises they make and the abuses to which they’re subject.
Joining them in their misfortune would not make them grateful; it would lead
them to mistrust your motives and your sanity.
evidence that Chafee does not understand this at all. He spent last week ruminating
over the ironies that he and George W. Bush are so similar, and yet so different.
"I went to school with his brother Jeb," Chafee told the Providence
Journal. "Our fathers were friends at Yale and served together, and
yet here I am voting against him fairly consistently. I wanted to make a human
connection there." Unless I read him wrong, Chafee is making an argument
that no one outside of Saturday Night Live would ever be moved to make:
It’s that a lot of political misunderstanding could be avoided if preppies
would just stick together. The Congressional Prepster Caucus is something I
hope I live to see.
As in Massachusetts,
There is some
The L.A. mayor’s So it’s
race that concluded last week must be the most curious election of recent years.
Let me stipulate that although I’ve covered L.A. mayoral politics before,
I did not follow the race between Antonio Villaraigosa and James Hahn, and know
nothing about it, except that Hahn in the closing weeks of the campaign ran
an ad that had a crack pipe in it and implied that Villaraigosa would be soft
on purely journalistic terms that I was delighted to see Hahn win solidly. All
my colleagues who were covering the campaign thought Villaraigosa had the election
in the bag, and they had probably filed weeks ago their "news analysis"
pieces about how the torch had been passed to L.A.’s growing Mexican plurality.
Now they’ll have to do some thinking to figure out exactly what happened,
and that won’t be easy. First and foremost, Hahn was the black candidate.
His father Kenny was for decades a champion of fair housing, non-discrimination
and public-works projects all over L.A., and black voters repaid his son with
80 percent of the vote. The other group that put Hahn over the top was Republicans,
who gave him 79 percent. So it took a liberal Democrat to put together a coalition
that has never existed–except in the silly dreams of Republicans like Jack
Kemp–since the New Deal: the black candidate was the conservative candidate.
Similarly bizarre is that women were more inclined than men to vote for Hahn–so
the conservative candidate was the women’s candidate.
The L.A. mayor’s
biennial Almanac of American Politics has over the years become a hobby-book
for Washingtonians–it’s the Wisden, the Bill James,
the Almanach de Gotha of political personalities–and the nine-month
gap between election day and the appearance of the new edition, before the new
electees have been assimilated, always sees a sharp drop-off in political insight.
This year, Barone’s meant-to-be-tendentious introduction was posted online
by National Journal. While we’re on the subject, he had a lot of
interesting things to say about white Protestants, who make up 56 percent of
the electorate, and are beginning to vote as a kind of bloc. They chose Bush
over Gore by 63-34 last fall. And when you break out the religious right, Barone
says, you find a group that differs from non-Christian voters even more widely
than white voters deviate from blacks.
But Barone’s Oh, I see.
single most interesting insight is that the turn of the millennium has seen
a dramatic drop in split-ticket voting. After a period in the 1980s and 1990s
when party affiliation was weakening, Americans are now voting the straight
party line in higher numbers than at any time since the 1940s. There’s
obviously a growing perception (beats me where it comes from) that there are
big differences between the parties. The actor John Cusack gave an interview
in Details magazine this month (to New York Press’ Andrey
Slivka, incidentally) in which he described George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and
practically everyone else in the cabinet as "crypto-fascists." The
interview was so intemperate that one wanted to ask, "Why ‘crypto’?"
Its high point came when Cusack said of Bush, "He’s sort of like this
great symbol of inversion to me." What’s "inversion"? You
mean the 19th-century euphemism for homosexuality? Slivka must have given a
puzzled look, because Cusack quickly explained, "…the inverse of the
Cusack doesn’t dislike Bush because he thinks he’s gay–he dislikes
him because he thinks he’s the Antichrist.
Oh, I see.