Kingdom By the C-SPAN

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



What an
education. It’s only now that I discover why ex—Staten Island Rep.
Susan Molinari had the shortest career in the history of television punditry.
At one point last week she was apologizing for Gov. Bush’s cocaine history:
"Take all the reporters," she said snottily, "and all the pundits
and all the politicians and say, step forward if you haven’t, you know,
made those kinds of mistakes in your past and you’re disqualified from
anything further, and there wouldn’t be too many people around."


Well, that’s
right, Susan. But isn’t it funny how people have this double standard
that makes them more cautious about the unhinged ambitious types who aspire
to rule them?


At least
we weren’t missing anything back in the capital–or elsewhere. Imagine
being a reporter sent down to cover last Saturday’s Alabama straw poll.
Billing their event as "the bellwether of the South," the organizers
were hoping to draw… Alan Keyes and Orrin Hatch. Now there’s an
event worth spending a weekend milling around in the 112-degree heat for.


It was an
especial relief to see the political shows full of John McCain’s recent
attempts to finesse the abortion issue. Because that’s a "dead week"
story if ever I heard one. For those who missed it, McCain, while continuing
to call himself "pro-life," professed an indifference to whether Roe
v. Wade
gets overturned, in either the short or the long term. In other
words, he’s a pro-choice politician with a lot of pro-life donors to please.


No one seemed
to get that. Matt Cooper of Time was right to link McCain’s declaration
to similar ones by Elizabeth Dole and George W. Bush. But he got the implications
exactly backwards. "I think all of them," Cooper said, "are kind
of winking to Republican primary voters, saying, ‘Look, I’m basically
pro-life, but hey, we need to be more moderate on this if we’re going to
win the general election… I may sound moderate, but I’ll take you to
pro-life policies.’"


Cooper’s
wrong. These GOPers are doing exactly the opposite: they’re winking at
pro-choice voters. They’re saying, "Look–you know what
it takes to get nominated in my party. Give me a pass on the rhetoric, and I’ll
guarantee you, you’ll never have to worry about your abortion rights again."
Ronald Reagan was the master at this game. As governor, he signed the law making
abortion legal in California and, as president, he never once deigned to meet
with pro-lifers during their annual march on the Mall. But you can fool your
base for only so long. The danger to Bush is that cynical Republican presidential
candidates have gone to the well of duplicity one time too many, and that the
pro-life diehards who man the phone banks in the border and Great Lakes states
will see through him and simply not show up. That’s what crucified the
Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections.


Al Gore
and Bill Bradley face a similar predicament when deciding how sincere they have
to be in courting the black left. Most campaigns have to make a push-comes-to-shove
decision about whom to betray—-suburban America or the fetus-wavers/trashcan
bangers who make up their activist base. Those who decide to betray suburbia
get punished, and that’s why Bradley’s public embrace of Al Sharpton
last week was such a mistake. As soon as suburban America understands that Bradley
means what he says about "economic justice," it will drop Bradley
like a hot potato. In meeting with Sharpton, Bradley didn’t deny himself
the Democratic nomination. But he removed any chance that he can defeat George
W. Bush–even if W is shown to keep a Folgers can of Colombian rock in his
desk drawer in Austin.


Bradley’s
declaration of unelectability was the big story of last week. But in my week
of watching all the Inside Politics I’ll see all year, it was George
Skelton of the L.A. Times–replacing someone or other who’s
probably staying two doors down from me in Delaware–who enunciated the
greatest vapidity. Skelton went into a spiel about how–despite polls showing
Bush has an excellent chance of breaking the Democrats’ Clinton-era lock
on California–it’s John McCain who could be the strongest Republican
in the Golden State. Skelton, suspected of being a nonsmoker, may like McCain’s
sponsorship of the 1998 tobacco agreement. But he claimed to think campaign
finance reform was the key in California. Why? "The West is independent,
more so than the East," Skelton bragged. "Voters out here appreciate
independence… We’re a long way from Washington."


That’s
just wrong. If the brains of the federal government are in Washington, New York
and Boston, its two bountiful tits are located west of the Mississippi and in
the Deep South. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan chaired the Senate Finance Committee,
he published an annual document called the "Fisc," which showed the
relation between what individual states paid into the federal government and
what they got back. The Southern Republicans who’ve taken over the congressional
leadership are considerably less eager to publicize this document. Not surprising.
Because what it shows is that Southern and Western states (ironically, the hard-Republican,
"get Washington off our backs" states) basically live off of
money that Washington siphons out of the Northeastern states (ironically, the
hard-Democratic, Washington-knows-best states).


The four
states that traditionally compete for the honor of getting most shafted by the
federal government are New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
They all regularly pay about a buck-fifty in federal taxes for every dollar
in federal payouts they get back. And the most cosseted, Washington-dependent,
I’ll-do-what-you-say-as-long-as-you-keep-the-money-comin’ state in
the union is New Mexico, which receives well over two bucks in services for
every dollar it sends to DC. Which reminds me…



Spin Doctor
If
I may trash New Mexico one last time while the subject is still fresh in memory,
a mere drive-through of Albuquerque on I-25 gives ample evidence the Land of
Enchantment is also the Land of Cant. One exit sign is for a "Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. Avenue," and with the "Doctor" stuck in there,
it’s so crammed with letters that it’s nearly illegible at highway
speeds. Now, every major city in the United States has a Martin Luther King
something-or-other, but if I’m not mistaken, Albuquerque is the only one
to insist on the honorific, as if to congratulate itself on noticing that a
black man received a doctorate. Would a member of any other ethnic group receive
such condescension? Can you imagine the "Doctor" Albert Einstein Center
at Princeton?



There’s
also an avenue named after Cesar Chavez. Is it called Cesar Chavez Avenue? No!
It’s called Avenida Cesar Chavez, which (since precious few New Mexicans
actually speak Spanish) gets spelled "Avienda" on most local
maps. ¿Y por qué "Avenida"? Practically
every small town between Pennsylvania and Maine has a Lafayette St., to commemorate
the radical marquis who fought with Washington. But they’re not called
"rue Lafayette," for goodness’ sakes.


So the one
evidence of New Mexican humor in a week of road-tripping was particularly welcome.
It was a billboard you see driving north between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Put
up to advertise some leftist website, it’s a parody of Western Boosterism
that reads, "New Mexico: World Leader in Weapons of Mass Destruction."


Just as
I was about to head home, Pete Domenici–an Italian-American who’s
lived in DC since he began representing New Mexico as senator back in 1972–decided
that he can’t win in such a climate without the ever-more-preponderant
Hispanic vote. So he’s decided to become Hispanic himself, by the only
means people in his politically correct state understand—-by paying for the
privilege. He’s set up "Pete’s PAC," a "leadership
PAC" that hopes to shovel $300,000 to Hispanics willing to run on the GOP
ticket.


Domenici
seems to believe that George W. Bush’s experiments in Yo-Arblow-Expanyole-style
Spanish ought to be sufficient to drag Mexican-Americans to the polls in the
millions. "I think it’s a very good year," says Pete, "to
have Hispanics running in various places with [Gov. Bush] at the top of the
ticket." Back during the Goldwater campaign, there were many who complained,
"Wouldn’t you know the first Jew to run for president would be an
Episcopalian?" It looks like the first Hispanic to run for president will
be a seersucker preppie from the Houston suburbs.



Gimy a Break
Let
me weigh in on the spat between Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez and manager Jimy
Williams–since it could cost the Sox a trip to the World Series, a failure
that would have broad implications for the future happiness of humanity. (Or
at least the part of humanity that writes this column.)



On Aug.
14, Martinez, the best pitcher in baseball, showed up late for warmups (15 minutes
late by his account, half an hour by Williams’) on the day of a start.
Williams benched him and, worse, brought him in for late-inning mop-up relief.
I was in Boston at the time. Globe and Herald columnists, bar
patrons and members of my immediate family were about evenly split on whether
to back Williams or Martinez. This was no mere you-say-potahto type of disagreement.
Those who backed Martinez are lovers of freedom. Those who backed Williams are
mindless authoritarians.


Look–what
is a baseball manager nowadays? Before the advent of the designated hitter in
1973, a manager who knew how to handle pitchers and pinch hitters (Earl Weaver,
for instance) was an asset beyond measure, while a manager who didn’t (Eddie
Kasko, say) was a catastrophe. But managing today is literally managerial,
a matter of making up lineups and scheduling practices.


Williams
seems to have brought a bureaucratic pettiness to the latter duty. His supporters
explained the benching of Martinez as a need to keep up "clubhouse discipline."
Of course they did. Clubhouse discipline is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Granted, there are players who create such antic distraction–Joaquin Andujar,
Wade Boggs, Jack Clark, Rickey Henderson, Darryl Strawberry–that they must
be called to account. But Pedro Martinez is a 5-foot-11, non-steroid-enhanced
workaholic whose first baseball glove was more likely than not a crushed milk
carton donated by UNICEF. Since then he has built himself into a pitching genius
through sheer dedication. Greg Maddux is as good a pitcher, but other than that,
you’d have to go back to Sandy Koufax to find one similarly dominant. Some
"bad influence."


Wasting
Pedro’s turn in the starting rotation on non-save-situation relief is shortchanging
the team to serve the manager’s delusions of authoritarian grandeur. It’s
recreational humiliation–and that humiliation is not rightly Williams’
to dish out. Pedro doesn’t work for Jimy Williams any more than Stephen
King "works for" his copy editor. Back in the days of the reserve
clause (the monopolist Major League tradition under which teams owned
players and could give them a contract on a take-it-or-leave-it basis) you could
make a case for authoritarian managing. After all, no one ever saw much use
for a "sensitive" supervisor of a Soviet kolkhoz. But today?
No.


At a series
of impromptu press conferences called before his next few starts, Pedro damned
both Williams and Dan Duquette, the Red Sox general manager (who is acquiescing
in the planned closing of Fenway Park). As well he should have. Pedro is 17-4.
In today’s world of free agency, the market speaks. And what the market
says is that Pedro is 10 to 15 times more important to the Red Sox than either
Williams or Duquette.


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