The Media Flips


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I was ridingdown the elevator in our apartment building last Friday morning with two constructionworkers who were off on a coffee break. One of the guys was wearing a tie-dyedshirt and had long, black hair down to his butt: a 60s throwback performingan honest day's work?that is, if you consider unions honest. Anyway,I asked him about BillClinton's scorecard so far on Kosovo:"He's chickenshit. I say parking lot in Yugoslavia, baby."His older companion, a black man, just nodded: "I have a son in the military,and that draft-dodger scares me." Mind you, upon further questioning, boththese men thought the impeachment proceedings against the President were muchado about nothing; it was simply Ken Starr digging for sex stories. Nothingwrong with B.C. gettin' a little on the side.
So endedClinton's worst week in his roller-coaster presidency. Pundits are curiousas to why his polling numbers are in free fall now?contradicting the usualrallying round the flag and commander-in-chief?especially when he becamemore popular with each criminal, and immoral, revelation that was publicizedlast year. My guess is that Americans now realize how hapless their "leader"is: They could dismiss the Monica unpleasantness as "just sex,"especially as the economy soared, but now that Clinton is stumbling so disastrouslyin the war against Slobodan Milosevic, it's apparent to all thatthis hack has no business occupying the White House.

ConsiderClinton's actions in the past two weeks: He's admitted that he hadto "read up" on the Balkans before making a speech to the nation; he invoked Hitler, "genocide" and 'never again,'playing-to-the-crowd rhetoric that's typical of an official who'snever transcended pure politics; he allowed, inexplicably, cameras to film himgolfing last Monday while bombs were falling in Serbia; and had the gallto tell CBS' Dan Rather that he didn't see his impeachment"as some great badge of shame," that in fact he was "honored"for the opportunity to defend the Constitution in the face of a partisan inquisitionby Ken Starr and the GOP.


After threeAmerican soldiers were captured by the Serbs, Clinton told the nation, "TheUnited States takes care of its own. President Milosevic should make no mistake.We will hold him and his government responsible for their safety and for theirwell-being." What's Clinton going to do at this point, fly to Belgradeand challenge Milosevic to a thumb-wrestling match? No, this was a hollowthreat, since he's resolutely against sending ground forces into the region.What is he thinking? That a smart bomb will rescue those POWs? That the yellowribbons sympathetic Americans are tying around trees in solidarity with theprisoners are going to sway Milosevic one iota? Doesn't Clinton realizethat when the country is at war there will be casualties, not only innocentEuropean civilians, but U.S. soldiers as well? On Friday, NATO dumpedbombs for the first time on Belgrade, apparently inflicting huge damage on theYugoslav capital, although in the confusing trade of propaganda between bothsides it was hard to determine how effective the barrage was. Maybe some militarystorehouses were taken out; maybe more pharmaceutical plants. It was decisive,necessary action, even though one wonders how Clinton squares this strike duringthe Easter weekend when, in December, on the eve of his impeachment,he said he'd cease the bombing of Iraq when their holy days, Ramadan,began. That was then; now he's still in office, I guess.


Pardon theobvious, but while Clinton was plotting against his domestic enemies in thepast two years, he's been an ostrich on the international front. Milosevichas been able to play his hand because Clinton?and his double-A team ofMadeleine Albright, Sandy Berger and William Cohen?hasducked the difficult task of developing a cogent, working post-Cold Warpolicy. Where do we want to be on the spectrum defined by total isolationism, at the one extreme, and total global involvement and enforcement, at the other?What price will we be willing to pay to attain our goals and ensure our policies?Presumably, Americans would sacrifice willingly, with blood and material resources,if Canada were uprooting our citizens from Maine, Vermontand New Hampshire and pushing them south. We know that. But thegovernment doesn't have much of a working strategy beyond that, one thatthe public understands and embraces. One of the abilities of a great leaderis to sort through profound, complex issues, digest them for the people anddevelop a consensus through a process of debate and education.


Clinton'sapproach has been: 1) avoidance, hoping he doesn't have too many internationalincidents on his watch for which he'll have to actually design a decisiveand morally sound U.S. position; and 2) to read the polls and assimilate hispolicies to the public's sentiments, just as he does with domestic issues.The problem here is that Americans are generally uninformed on matters thatstretch beyond U.S. borders, and consequently need a strong president to leadthem, not vice versa. Clinton's "policies" are transparent toworld leaders. It's not hard to imagine Saddam Hussein on the horn with Milosevic, telling him how to outfox the U.S.' indecisive leader.If Clinton had been prepared, he'd have delivered a massive punch to Milosevic immediately, and telegraphed to other rogue leaders around the world that brutalacts of aggression will be repaid swiftly, with resolution and tenfold.


Last Friday,The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial headlined "Does CharacterMatter Yet?" rightfully ridiculed the Beltway establishment fordefending Clinton's inept presidency for so long. "Less than a weekinto the bombing in Kosovo," the writer begins, "the political establishmentin Washington is beginning to criticize President Clinton severely for ignoringthe advice of the military and CIA that ground troops would be necessary, thatair power alone would not deter Milosevic and the Serbs. There is now talk ofa military disaster... We would like to know where this establishment?thepoliticians, pundits and Beltway press?has been the past six years, whensome of us were pressing the argument that Bill Clinton's handling of Whitewater,Gennifer Flowers, the draft, Filegate and all the rest were relevant to thecharacter and conduct of his Presidency. We were told, long before Monica and even before the Lincoln Bedroom rentals, that it didn't matter."



True, there'sa measure of we-told-you-so self-aggrandizement in the Journal'swords, but who can blame the editorial board when it's been casually dismissedas part of the mythical "vast right-wing conspiracy"? The Journalis correct when it calls Clinton's foreign policy "narcissistic,"and claims that the country "and especially those three captured GIs, arepaying the price."


The NewYork Times, not surprisingly, has been patient with Clinton, despite clearevidence that he's in a fog. The paper editorialized last Friday: "In warfare, disappointment and frustration can produce impulsive, defective decisions.Mr. Clinton seemed to recognize the danger yesterday when he told a Navy audiencein Virginia that 'We must be determined and patient.' He and his aidesshould be guided by that view as they manage what promises to be a long anddifficult conflict with Serbia."


Again, Iask: Just when does happy hour start in Howell Raines' offices?Clinton has been "patient"?that is, not paying attention?foryears now. Why he didn't "read up" on the Balkans months agois a question no one has the answer to. Had he prepared ground troops?evenif he wasn't going to deploy them?he wouldn't find himself rightnow in the bind that will certainly cap off his failed presidency.


I was talkingwith Al From Baltimore on Friday, suggesting that Clinton is certainlythe worst president we've had since World War II. Al didn'tcompletely disagree, but countered that Clinton has signed some significantbills, e.g., welfare reform and the balanced budget. I argued that those successesweren't his idea: that the first two years of his administration were highlightedby an onerous, class-warfare tax hike and by his wife's socialist health-careplan. It wasn't until the GOP took control of Congress that Clinton shiftedright, to the horror of his liberal base?and not because he really believedthat "the era of big government" should be over, but because he wantedto be reelected in '96. Enacting that legislation, along with some financialhanky-panky with the Chinese, let him achieve that goal.


Just lastmonth, he backed away from his plan to "save Medicare." Realizinghe was in political trouble, he retreated to the David Bonior/Maxine Waters camp and broke his word. As the Journal wrote on Friday, "Mr.Clinton's double-cross of the [Sen. John] Breaux Medicare Commission just last month didn't cost him a political dime. Commentary after commentarytold the President his skill at avoiding getting tagged with responsibility for anything was political genius. Now some half-million refugees are streamingout of Kosovo, three beaten-up U.S. soldiers are in Serbian captivity and PresidentClinton was on primetime television Wednesday night telling his interviewerthat he isn't sending ground troops into Kosovo and he doesn't thinkimpeachment is a badge of shame. Some genius."


In any case,it's not just the Journal that's lacerated Clinton since thebombing began. The media world has turned upside down, with broadcast and printpundits usually in the tank with the President severely critical of his disorganizedwartime strategy. Appearing on Chris Matthews' Hardballlast Monday, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell ridiculed the Presidentwith a vehemence I've never seen before from an "objective" networkjournalist. Speaking about the now-infamous golfing photo-op she said: "Imean, it's quite extraordinary. I've got to wonder who was directingthe politics in the White House. It's clear that Ed Rollins, when he waspolitical director in the Reagan White House, would not have directed this picture.This would not have been the picture you would've seen in the middle ofan air war when we've got refugees streaming across the border, a tragedyof epic proportions on the ground, and here's the President of the UnitedStates taking time out to play golf."


I thinkMitchell was excessively harsh: Obviously, Clinton has been working around theclock, albeit ineffectively, on this catastrophe, but like any person he needssome time to relax. I don't begrudge him a round of golf, a hand of cards,a blowjob in the Oval Office, whatever. But I agree with Mitchell thatthe President's staff is in terrible disarray, allowing such an image tobe broadcast around the world.


On Thursday'sHardball, Matthews had a disparate group of historians and academics?RobertDallek, Douglas Brinkley and Ken Jowitt?and they wereunanimous in their scorn not only for Clinton's handling of the Serbiancrisis but for his remarks to Rather as well. Dallek, who wrote Flawed Giant about LBJ, was pointed in his criticism: "The problem is not justthat the bombing doesn't work, but that it divides the American public.And a president, to be effective in conducting a foreign policy like this, hasgot to have the public behind him, he's got to have the Congress behindhim." As far as goes Clinton's impeachment, this liberal historiansaid: "Of course this is going to blight his presidential reputation forever.Clinton is never going to escape this impeachment proceeding. And remember,he's the only elected president in the country's history to have beenimpeached."


Brinkley,who wrote The Unfinished Presidency about Jimmy Carter, thinksit was a mistake to get involved in the Balkans, but blames Clinton for not following through with his threats now that NATO has committed to the action."Now that we're in," Brinkley said, "we have to go forward.And there's more than just bombing?
strategic bombing is important, but also an economic embargo. We're gonnahave to freeze Yugoslav assets and then move troops into the region... BillClinton made a major mistake in telling Milosevic that we're not gonnabe using ground troops."
Brinkley,hardly a fan of Ken Starr, Henry Hyde or any of the House managers whowere demonized by the Democrats and mainstream press, was harshly critical ofClinton's self-serving remarks to Rather. "It's obviously quiteridiculous," he said. "But we're kind of used to that thing inBill Clinton. What's more frightening, if you think about it, is the wholeStarr inquiry cost about $50 million. It's costing $50 million a day inbombing... And as low as his presidency sunk due to the Lewinsky affair, I thinkhe's in grave danger of turning this into a major foreign policy disasterif he doesn't have some quick turn of fate coming up very soon?andI don't like the fact that he's trying to treat things in a trivialfashion both on impeachment and the golfing scenario."

My favoriteguest on Thursday's show, a real pistol, was Jowitt, incongruously a politicalscience professor at the University of California at Berkeley. When Matthews asked him about Clinton's handling of the Balkans crisis,the academic unleashed a vicious, but articulate, tirade. "Well, I thinkit's a bit surreal and it's also irresponsible. I mean look at whathe's done. Basically, you've got a Mother Teresa foreign policy, whichis fine, you know? I liked Mother Teresa. He's trying to do something ethical.But if you're going to be Mother Teresa, you better back it up with MotherSuperior force.


"Andbasically what we've done is exacerbate the very situation that we'retrying to ameliorate. Every single outcome goes against what we wanted. We'veallowed him to escalate the war in Albania, to go through ethnic cleansing,through ethnic expelling, traumatize his population, destabilize Albania, destabilizeMacedonia?and we're supposed to be for nascent, fragile democracies?unsettleGreece and unsettle Italy, which doesn't want a new province populatedby Albanians, at the same time consolidating support for Milosevic and doingaway with the opposition. This is one hell of an effective strategy."


Then Jowittgoes on the offensive, articulating what many Americans feel: "I thinkright now we should do something. And this is radical. I think we should takePrimakov's argument. We should say to Milosevic, 'We'll meetyou in Moscow?' and basically argue, 'We'll stop the bombingand we're going to partition Kosovo with you. And if you don't takeit, we're going to invade you.' That's what a great power does.Invasion is a very serious thing. Invasion means we're going to have tooccupy the equivalent of Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and we haven't done verywell in either Haiti or in Bosnia. We have not thought out the consequencesof this bombing, and no decision is mature unless the consequences are understoodand accepted. This is an irresponsible policy. And the shrill hyperbole thatMilosevic is a combination of Pol Pot, Stalin during the Great Terror and Hitler,there's only two things wrong with that. Serbia isn't Germany andMilosevic isn't Hitler."


About theRather comments, Jowitt was equally acerbic: "Well, I think basically whatyou could say is this man's disconnected from reality. He's supposedto be a political figure, which means you're in touch with the people.I don't know that he's in touch with, but it certainly isn'tpolitical reality."


Last Friday,The Washington Post, which was very squishy on the impeachment issue,siding with Democrats in calling for censure rather than the Senate convictionthat Clinton deserved, ran a bitter editorial about Clinton's self-defensein his interview with Rather. (To digress briefly, I wonder how all the senatorsand pundits who argued strenuously for Clinton's acquittal on charges ofperjury and obstruction of justice feel now. I'll bet more than a few wouldagree that we'd be better off with Al Gore as president right now.He may not have invented the Internet, and perhaps he rents hogs in Iowa to prove his farming roots, but I'd have a lot more faith in Gore'sleadership during this crisis than I do in Mr. I'm Burnishing My Legacy.)


The Postwrote: "The unseemliness of Mr. Clinton's self-pitying musings, especiallyat a moment like this, is stunning. On the historical interpretation, we certainlypart company with the president. We believe that lying under oath was a seriousoffense, and we don't ascribe base political motives to all of those whofelt such conduct warranted his removal from office. In fact, we can recallMr. Clinton himself, at moments when he evidently felt in more political jeopardythan he does now, acknowledging the seriousness of his offenses and expressinga willingness to accept a fairly severe censure from people whom he did notattack, at that time, as political malcontents... Mr. Clinton had the audacityto compare himself to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to a question abouthis reputation for 'parsing words too closely'?for toying withthe truth, that is. 'That's what they said about President Roosevelt,too,' Mr. Clinton said. 'He made a pretty good president.' Mr.Roosevelt did make a pretty good president. One reason may be that he spent more time earning his place in history and less time decorating it in advance."



Let'stake a look at what the pundits wrote last week, most of them pro-Clinton inthe past. Maureen Dowd, whose columns about Clinton in the past yearhad a yo-yo quality, depending on her mood and social contacts?one weekthe President is a philandering snake, 10 days later Ken Starr is a prurientChristian who jerks off while reading the details of Clinton's trysts withMonica?exhibited a reassuring return to reality last Sunday. True, the headline of her New York Times column, "Yuppie Foxhole," wasstupid, and her line "Yuppies are going to war. The most self-indulgentgeneration in history is being asked to sacrifice by the most self-indulgentCommander in Chief in history," isn't true. "Yuppies" aren'tgoing to war, and it's doubtful that many of their children are. There'sno draft anymore, Mo; those are professional soldiers in the Balkans, and Idon't really know that "yuppies" are being asked to sacrificeanything.


But shemakes up for this silliness by writing the two best paragraphs about Clintonand the Yugoslav dilemma that I've read so far: "Instead of tipping off the villains in Belgrade that he was only willing to fight an air war, thePresident should have approached the conflict with the same bravado he showedwhen Dick Morris told him that polling indicated he should not go public witha confession about Monica. According to Mr. Morris, Mr. Clinton replied, 'Well,we just have to win, then.'


"Ifthe President had thought of Kosovo as a primary state, he might have musteredthe burning determination needed to scare Slobodan Milosevic."


The DailyNews' Lars-Erik Nelson, one of the President's staunchestsupporters, to the point of nausea, now sounds like Pat Buchanan in hisopposition to the NATO bombing. Although in a column last week he didn'tmention the President by name, his indictment of Clinton's muddled policy was clear. On March 31, he wrote: "But under NATO bombing, Serbs support[Milosevic] now. Milosevic has a knack for dividing his political opponents and stirring the historic patriotic passions of the Serb people. Bombing mayweaken his military power, but not his political strength... More bombing won'toust him. We bombed Germany to smithereens, but it took the Red Army'scapture of Berlin to get rid of Hitler."


Last Friday,in The Baltimore Sun, Jack Germond and Jules Witcover,two old-line journalists who are about as centrist (and usually Democratic-leaning)as you can get, were exceptionally skeptical of Clinton's actions. "Thesituation in Kosovo is rapidly taking on the dimensions of a disaster?militarilyand politically... [O]ne tangential added casualty of the disaster in Kosovomay be President Clinton's last shred of credibility as a national leader.It is clear that the president failed to understand the basic rules of politicalconduct of foreign policy written by the American experience in Vietnam a generationago... Already the president is trying to counter the accusations that the bombingof the Serbs caused Slobodan Milosevic to send more forces to conduct genocidein Kosovo. But when Mr. Clinton says that is 'absolutely not' thecase, will the public believe him?... There is a restiveness about Kosovo amongsome of our allies and many of our citizens. If he can still lead the country,the president needs to do it by laying out?better late than never?aconvincing rationale for the policies he is following."


The WashingtonPost's Mary McGrory, who's allergic to almost any conservative?withthe possible exception of John McCain, every pundit's favorite Republican?wassimilarly scathing about the President's behavior during the crisis, zeroingin on his golfing expedition. Yes, she did take a cheap shot at President Bushfor boating in Maine before the Gulf War (unfair, since when the conflictactually began months later, a prepared Bush, in suit and tie, worked tirelesslyto monitor and direct the invasion), but her words about Clinton were nasty.


On April1, she wrote: "Since Clinton does everything for a reason?or a poll?wehave to wonder if he was signaling his wife and daughter, who are gadding aboutthe Middle East, that they drove him to this public relations blunder by leavinghim alone in the White House while the greatest upheaval since World War IIwas under way?and he was being blamed for it... Clinton could not havebeen thinking of the wretched refugees. He was thinking of himself. He was doingwhat he has done before, yielding to an adolescent impulse to demonstrate nonchalanceduring a calamity... We were told that, from the clubhouse, Clinton called theprime ministers of Great Britain and Germany. Do you suppose he told them wherehe was?"


Ed Koch,writing last Friday in the Daily News, was soft on the President, inexplicablygiving him credit for "marshaling NATO's air war over Serbia and Kosovo,"without pointing out that Clinton has no game plan beyond that. He knows thatClinton has ruled out ground forces, but writes nonetheless, as if he'snot listening: "We, along with every other NATO nation, must be part ofthe rescue effort, even if that requires sending in U.S. ground troops."As is the former mayor's style, he then plays to the crowd, Clinton-style:"As a Jew who remembers how the world stood by and allowed my people tobe rounded up, brutalized and, ultimately, gassed to death, I can only hearin my head the promise made by decent people around the globe following WorldWar II: Never again."


Politiciansand world leaders pick their battles; media commentators similarly choose theforeign flare-ups and slaughters that touch them either personally or emotionally.So it would be unlikely that Colbert I. King, who wrote in last Saturday'sWashington Post, should have the same opinion of Clinton's fortitudeas Koch. After expressing amazement at Clinton's blithe dismissal of hisimpeachment debacle, King turns to another question Rather asked. He writes:"Next comes Rwanda... Rather asked Clinton about the allied bombing campaign.'Why now and why [Yugoslavia]? We've had Rwanda, Sudan?you didn'tgo into those places?' Here's what Clinton said: 'Let'sremember what happened... I think the rest of the world was caught flat-footedand did not have the mechanism to deal with it. We did do some good and I thinklimited some killing there.' I'll bet that's not how those who watched the dead pile up in Rwanda remember it."


King thengoes on to catalog the carnage that began in Rwanda five years ago: "That'sthe date?April 6?when the Hutu government's killing machine gotrolling in Rwanda. Three months later, after the soldiers, militiamen and deathsquads silenced their rifles, grenades, machine guns and mortars and put downtheir machetes, hammers, spears and clubs, at least a half-million men, womenand children?three quarters of Rwanda's Tutsi population?had been slaughtered. It was genocide. The world was not caught flat-footed as thepresident told Dan Rather. It looked squarely in the face of evil and avertedits gaze... No, Mr. President, say what you wish to the cameras, but your administrationwas not caught flat-footed in Rwanda. Your State Department and United Nationsambassador?then Madeleine Albright?heard the terrifying words of warning.Your White House just didn't want to get involved... 'We did somegood,' Clinton told CBS. Amazing. Simply amazing."


On April2, The New York Times' Thomas Friedman was doubtfulthat the administration will come up with any coherent strategy, writing, "Weare losing now, folks." He then sums up NATO's options: "Beatthe Serbs until they learn to love the Kosovars. Invade Kosovo and own it forever.Cut and run and bear the stain forever. Or bomb and talk and hope to build amessy diplomatic solution from the ashes of Kosovo. Oh, there's a fifthoption: Put your hands together and pray that the Clinton team knows somethingthat you don't."


EvenThe New York Observer's Joe Conason, who's defendedClinton far more strenuously than a man of his intelligence should, joined thenaysayers, although softly, about the President's lack of a clearly thought-outmilitary plan. In his April 5 column, Conason concluded: "Whether Mr. Clintononce believed that Mr. Milosevic could be curbed by air strikes alone no longermatters much. It still is conceivable that sustained bombing will force theSerbian tyrant to seek a deal. But sometime during the next several weeks Mr.Clinton may have to decide whether to commit ground forces. In the debate overthat issue, everyone should understand that the price of backing down from thistest and undermining NATO may not come due until years after Mr. Clinton leavesoffice." Of course, that wouldn't bother Clinton at all: leaving hismiserable droppings for a predecessor.


Which remindsme: where's Sidney Blumenthal? Ever since his dust-up with ChristopherHitchens, the White House scoundrel hasn't been heard from. Has Hillaryput him under house arrest for insubordination? Or did that duty fall toAl Gore, the loyal vice president who, probably against his better instincts,has toed the Clinton line so assiduously since their bus tour in '92 thathe'll now get creamed in his own race for the Oval Office?


Last Saturday,The Boston Globe's John Ellis declared that the warwas already over; Milosevic has achieved his "ethnic cleansing" andwill initiate "peace" talks with the NATO powers. "And,"Ellis writes, "President Clinton will take whatever he can get and getout... At the peace conference, Milosevic will be happy to spit back territoryin southern Kosovo that he neither cares about nor needs. He'll call ita concession and perhaps throw in the kidnapped U.S. infantrymen as a gestureof 'good will.' Clinton will take that, too. He cut and ran in Somalia.He'll cut and run in Yugoslavia...


"Thewatching world will learn a new lesson, which is that the iron fist of the UnitedStates doesn't pack much punch. Homicidal gangsters have hamstrung themost powerful military force in human history. This is Clinton's nationalsecurity legacy. This is his bridge to the 21st century. This is the cost offeckless leadership."


I'velaid out this sampling of leading newspaper pundits?omitting The WashingtonPost's Charles Krauthammer and Michael Kelly andThe New York Times' William Safire, all three of whomhave been historically more fierce in their criticism of Clinton?to demonstratehow far the President has fallen from the heady days of Whitewater andOralgate, when his approval ratings were stratospheric and his friendsin the press numerous enough to fill Yankee Stadium. That isn'tthe case anymore. With this most public and embarrassing debacle, this stunningexample of his inability to lead the country either morally or strategically,it's finally clear that William Jefferson Clinton will slink back to LittleRock or Hollywood a diminished man who, even by the most liberalhistorian's reckoning, will be judged as a politician who excelled at littlemore than getting elected to the presidency twice.
John McCain's Moment Don'tbelieve for a minute that presidential politics hasn't played a major secondaryrole in the Balkans crisis. I don't care for Arizona'sSen. John McCain?he's a weasel who'll get torn to shredsby the liberal press once they get over his POW status in Vietnam?buthe was magnificent both politically and militarily as he appeared on almostevery talk show in the past two weeks. McCain wasn't in favor of the NATOaction, but he reluctantly voted for Clinton's war in Congress,and then proceeded, without directly criticizing the President, to pulverizethe administration's aimless strategy. Whether it was on Meet the Press,The Today Show or Crossfire, McCain reiterated what's justcommon sense: that, with bombing commenced, there had better be a clear goal,even if achieving it means committing ground troops. A few planes dropping bombsfrom Concorde level wouldn't deterMilosevic, McCain said,and in war, despite the Lip-Biter's aversion to blood, Americans had betterexpect some body bags to return home.
Politicallyhe was brilliant, postponing the official announcement of his candidacy becauseof the war while his challengers either vaguely supported the President, likeGeorge W. Bush, or thundered that we should never have begun the conflagration,like Pat Buchanan. McCain was resolute and clearheaded about the impactthe NATO invasion would have on the nation.

Lars-ErikNelson, in the Daily News last Sunday, seemed like a speechwriterfor McCain's longshot campaign. Extolling the Senator's advantages in a military crisis, Nelson even took a rare (for him) shot at Clinton: "[McCain]does his homework: when McCain speaks, he is not regurgitating a briefing paperhe read the night before or mouthing a poll-tested sound bite written for himby a team of off-stage ventriloquists. He speaks with an almost brutal clarity,tempered by a sense of humor. Arguing for ground troops on CNN's 'Crossfire,'he said, 'The last time, I think, that air power won was when Zeus usedto have an unlimited supply of thunderbolts.'"


After takinga shot at Bush for a "bland statement of support for the troops,"Nelson ended his virtual endorsement (at least in the GOP primaries; come nextspring, expect him to rally behind Bill Bradley) by saying, "IfBush should falter, McCain has clearly established himself as the top alternativein the GOP. When the guns went off, he was out front, explaining what had tobe done to secure U.S. interests. There was nobody else in sight."


Answeringquestions from Newsweek reporters in their April 12 issue, McCain said:"Our credibility is on the line here?credibility purchased with Americanblood. Yugoslavia is a country the size of Ohio: the Croatian Army beat theseguys. Defeat is just not an option, and Milosevic needs to understand that evenif every Kosovar moved out, and every village is burned to the ground, we canget them back in and we will rebuild their homes. There is no alternative tovictory here, and the consequences of failure are profound."


I'ma George W. Bush supporter?largely because I think he can win andbecause he's proved to be an excellent governor of Texas, reachingout to minorities and supporting immigration while remaining fiscally conservative?andit comes as no surprise that he had a rough week in the press. There were storiesabout his long-ago engagement to a woman in Texas and about a drunken episodeof nude dancing on a bar while in college. But Clinton has lowered the bar sodramatically for presidential candidates that this behavior?especiallyfor a man who's been faithful to his wife and stopped drinking 12 yearsago?is small change.


Al Hunt,The Wall Street Journal's liberal cross-to-bear (sort oflike NYPress' David Corn, but at least Corn is a stand-upguy with great taste in music), let Bush have it last Thursday. Noting thatBush had nothing specific to say about the Balkans war, Hunt took this as asign that he's an empty suit, ignoring his accomplishments in Texas. Butwhat really got my goat was the following paragraph: "And, it is a reminderthat Mr. Bush's greatest strength?his name?also can be an Achilles'heel. When it comes down to the hot foreign policy issues of the day?theBalkans and China?the Clinton policies, whatever their shortcomings, aresuperior to the policies of President Bush."


What nonsense.For starters, Gov. Bush is far more conservative than his father and is leadingin the polls not just because of his name, but because of the "compassionateconservatism" policies that he espouses. That slogan causes liberal has-beenslike Hunt to snicker, but it resonates with GOP voters and with ReaganDemocrats, who are tired of Republican presidential candidates who have platformsthat are so narrow?especially on social issues?that they turn offa majority of American citizens. Additionally, how can Hunt claim that Clinton'sforeign policy is superior to President Bush's? It was Bush whodoggedly built a coalition for the Gulf War, over a period of severalmonths, not days, thus building respect internationally for the United Statesas well as himself. And in the wake of Clinton's Chinese campaign cashscandals, Hunt should be banished from the Journal's Washingtonbureau for making such an absurd and politically charged statement. It mustmake Robert Bartley, Paul Gigot and John Fund cringe to have to read Hunt's mushy, and nakedly incorrect, essays every Thursday.
Al From Baltimore Reports Receivedyour e-mail about the unanimity on the Capital Gang about what a badjob Clinton is doing in the Balkans. Watched the Sunday shows,and that was pretty much the consensus. Even people on Clinton's side likeSen. Chuck Robb, while not criticizing the Prez, concede that havingground troops ruled out is stupid. Robb noted that Clinton has not used theword "never." Well, here we go again, trying the parse, as we usedto say in the good old days of impeachment, the words of that man, Bill Clinton. No one seemsto think what we're doing is right. There's the neo-isolationistslike Sen. Jim Inhofe, who think we should have never gotten involvedin the first place, and then there's everybody else who thinks that, regardlessof whether or not we should be there, we need to finish the job quickly so asto minimize the human suffering of those getting screwed by Milosevic,and to maintain our credibility as a superpower.
If we, inan alliance with 18 other countries, can't finish off these guys prettyquickly, what are we spending $270 billion on each year? I think it would beirresponsible for the generals in the field to underestimate the enemy, butdo we really have to listen to the politicians and pundits who oppose troop deployments scare us with how tough the Serbs are going to be? Shadesof the Gulf War. Remember the "elite Republican Guard"? Andthe dug-in, battle-hardened Iraqi troops? Now we have to hear about how toughthe Serbs are, how Tito evaded Hitler in the mountains for years,how they've been fighting for 600 years, how they're united againstus, how they'll be dug in, blah blah blah. George Will has pointedout that the Germans got to Belgrade from Hungary, our new NATOally, in days.

The consensusthat I think is building quickly is that it was irresponsible to start bombingif there was no contingency for ground troops. The Serbs can choose to let uskeep bombing them as long as they want and yield nothing. I'm sure Clintonwill try to avoid soldiers on the ground at any cost, but at a certain point,he won't have any other option.


The problemRepublicans have had with Clinton is that he's co-opted many of their issuesand they don't know how to respond. Clinton's sexual adventures andhis lying and smearing to cover it up turned conservative Republicans into thebiggest boosters of our current sexual harassment laws. They missed the perfectopportunity to say, "Yeah, these laws really are excessive."Similarly, when Clinton does finally decide to project U.S. power to maintainEurope's stability, Republicans should support him?it'sbeen their policy for over 50 years.


Clinton,too, doesn't know how to handle being on what for him has always been thewrong side of this issue. His passions are clearly against the projection ofU.S. power. I don't think he can conceive of Americans occupying a foreigncountry while he's president. That's something he would be protestingagainst?or at a minimum, equivocating about.


Maybe it'stime for the U.S. to be less involved in Europe, but we just don't leavewithout making sure the Europeans are prepared to fill the vacuum. To the extentthat Europe can't handle this on its own, or provide the necessary leadership,it's because our country has been doing that for them for half a century.We can't abdicate our responsibility overnight.


WatchingClinton squirm, lie and otherwise screw up during his impeachment ordeal waskind of fun. This is serious business. The day of the genial feel-good presidentmay be ending presently. Even I will take no pleasure in seeing Clinton'spopularity drop if it's at the expense of many Yugoslavian lives and ourdetermination to project American power abroad.
No Hornets In Tribeca Itwas a quiet Easter weekend for the MUGGER family, with hefty baskets?butwith a minimum of candy?presented to the boys on Sunday morning. Mostlywe've been getting used to our new apartment. My wife's and designerMichael Formica's work has almost come to fruition, witha spare decor that combines elements of the 50s and 90s, along with a sop tothe 70s in the form of the Mongolian lamb pillows on the couches that face our59-inch television. My favorite touch is the Venetian blinds that adorn ourfive giant windows facing north and east. They're perforated, so at night,looking out at a few grand municipal buildings (not to mention George Tabb'sdwelling, as Junior is quick to point out), it's like a light show; farfancier than the clunkers I remember growing up in our modest house in Huntington.
With Passoverseders sending people out of town, the traffic was horrendous at the end ofthe week: One night it took me 50 minutes to get home from work, a cab ridethat's usually completed in a third of that time. On Thursday, I girdedmyself for the elements and took the human sewer from 28th St. to Chambers St.Much quicker, and I picked up a takeout menu from a stellar pizza joint, Victor'sof Little Italy. The kids thought the pie wasn't cheesy enough?they'reused to Ray's?but I thought the mixture of tomato sauce andmozzarella, accented by well-done pepperoni slices and artichokes, made forthe best traditional Neapolitan pie I've had since my last visit to theincomparable Stromboli's on University Pl. Looking out one of thewindows on Thursday night, while a demonstration in front of David Bouley'sBakery was taking place?seems he employs non-union workers and theprotesters were equipped with that gargantuan inflatable rat they haul aroundin their effort to save the world?I could see Holland Tunnel traffic backed up all the way to Harrison St.
I find itcurious how people suddenly rediscover their religious heritage when holidayspop up on the calendar. I've no objections to the Orthodox Jews?likemy friend Binyamin Jolkovsky, who took a break from slaving on his websiteJewish World Review from Thursday to Sunday?since they practicetheir beliefs and pray every day. In fact, Bin gave me a hard time recentlyabout a column I wrote that described a meal of fried clams; he was afraid thathis Jewish readers would be offended by the mere citation of shellfish. Butcome Passover, Purim, Rosh Hashanah and all the other importantdates I can't remember, it seems so many of my employees get back to theirroots and have to take an inordinate amount of time off from work.
Same thingwith Good Friday: Why in the world is the stock market closed on thatday? It's amazing to me that the U.S. Postal Service, which closes with alarming regularity?I swear that Arbor Day will be the nextbennie tossed those lazy layabouts?had full service on the holy day. I'mwith Chris Caldwell, who writes in his column this week that the onlynational holiday that should be celebrated is baseball's Opening Day. Okay,that's a stretch: Let's throw in Thanksgiving and Christmas,too. But this country has too many holidays that in the past generation havemorphed into three-day weekends: President's Day, Martin LutherKing Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Veteran'sDay, all bogus work-stoppage excuses. I'm all for remembering and honoring(it's a shame that Bill Clinton and his new-age disciples have ruineda perfectly fine word like "honor") the men and women who fought inwar and battled against unconscionable factory conditions, but does the countryhave to come to a standstill?

But I'mgetting sidetracked. On Friday night, Mrs. M and I were joined by Mike Gentile,Tara Morris and Andrey Slivka for a meal at El Teddy's, and if the food and drink were predictably fine, the conversation, when it turnsto water-cooler headlines, can be pretty entertaining, and there's always a bunch of new stories that I've never heard, since I'm locked inmy sweatbox for most of the day. Needless to say, I can't divulge the exactinfo, but 1999 has brought an even more diverse crew to 333; we'vehired a slew of new people, and they all have their own past lives that trickleout over drinks at the Triple Crown. I have to repeat once more my favoriteline from our comptroller Paul Abrams: NYPress is a "circusof humanity." And we wouldn't have it any other way.



I'mnot much for eyebrow rings, goth tattoos, hair extensions, strong cologne (althoughthat's a relief in our increasingly crowded men's room), Elvis shrines, ponytails on men, blaring electronica, tofu burgers or 6 o'clockbrews on the sales floor, but if others can put up with my idiosyncrasies?like keeping my office at 90 degrees and the plethora of stray Power Rangersand family photos that decorate my lair?I've got no room to complain.


Andrey toldus about his recent trip down South, the mammoth oysters along the Gulf Coastthat took three bites to slurp down and the Twilight Zone culture inMississippi and Louisiana that still makes this country multidimensional,despite all the chain food outlets and bookstores that you can't escape,whether you're in New York, Akron or San Antonio.Unfortunately, you won't be reading about his journey in this issue: Mr.Slivka, the Angry Young Ukrainian, decided to put off writing about hisroad trip until further notice. When I questioned the wisdom of this decision?Ibelieve travelogues should be produced when they're still fresh in thejournalist's mind?Andrey dissembled like Bill Clinton and claimedhe was suffering from writer's block. Which is a bunch of hogwash consideringthe number of words he spits out in these pages every week.


On Saturday,while Junior and Mrs. M went off to see Doug's 1st Movie,I took MUGGER III to 333 and he was in rare form, racing around the office and"firing" the five or six people who were trying to get their weekendwork completed. Later, he presented each of them with a jar of jelly that Iswiped from the Bristol Hotel in Paris and said he was only kidding.While I futzed on the computer, my four-year-old took over John Strausbaugh'soffice (he's on yet another jaunt to Italy) and contentedlyspent an hour with the CD-ROM "Let's Start Learning." He didn'twant to leave, but we had chores to do, like going to the new St. Marks Comicsoutlet on Chambers St., where he picked out a Spider-Man action figurefor himself and some '99 baseball cards for Junior. All of which remindedme that another season has started and I'll have to make my traditional$100 bet on the Red Sox with my friend Jim Larkin, knowing thatit's money down the toilet. (By the way, to all you "Mail" scribblerswho claim I'm welshing on my Clinton bet with Alex Cockburn: Fuckoff. The terms of the wager were that the $1000 wasn't due until Clintoncompleted his second term in office. The way things are going, I'd saymy chances of taking the dough from the penurious Cockburn aren't deadyet.)


In the middleof the night, MUGGER III fell from the top of his bunkbed for the first time.He was a brave little guy, only crying for a few minutes, even though his back,although buffeted by a thick rug, was a little worse for wear. After a shotglassof Motrin he fell asleep in his mother's arms and didn't wakeup until Junior goaded him; after all, there were the Easter baskets to open.First, we made sure the little guy was okay, and then I told him about fallingfrom the ladder on my bunkbed as a seven-year-old. My screaming woke up twoof my brothers; they told me to shake it off and get back to sleep and stopcausing such a ruckus. Well, it was the fall of '62 and the Cuban MissileCrisis was in full gear, so a scrape on the arm didn't seem so importantwhen it could be it just days before the Russkies blew us all up.


The boysgot a packet of plastic WWII soldiers, so we set up a battle scene, withthe green American tanks and planes decimating the gray Serbs and beigeRussians until just one general, with a private by his side, was left standing.There were a few chocolate eggs in each basket, but Mrs. M went easy on thecandy this year. I've told my sons?not that they think it'llhappen to them?about my own Easter nightmare from 39 years ago. I'ddevoured some chocolate bunnies and those great yellow marshmallow chicks fora few days and then went for my check-up at the dentist. Dr. Ellis found28 cavities in my baby teeth, put on the brakes and called in a specialist.I had to go for an overnight?I still remember the doctor putting me under?and when I awoke the next morning my mouth was filled with black fillings and onesilver cap. Those were the days when cosmetics weren't considered too important?orI suppose clear fillings just hadn't been invented yet?but man, didI have an ugly set of choppers. And when food got stuck in that cap! Grossedme out. It taught me a lesson, though: When my adult teeth grew in, I took careof them, and haven't had a cavity since Nixon was in office.


MUGGER IIIalso paid attention to another Huntington story of mine. While we were playingwith the soldiers, Pokemon trading cards and Rugrats stickers,he said, "I'm not setting up near the fireplace, no way, dude!"When I asked why, he reminded me of the hornet sting I got as a youngster, whena nest built up in our chimney and an insect came flying into the playroom,zeroing in on Boy MUGGER. My dad was quick with the baking soda as a salve,but I cried for at least an hour, and this has stuck in both of my sons'minds. I reassured MUGGER III that bees don't like New York City, and thata hornet paying a visit was about as likely as Al Gore becoming the nextpresident.


Later inthe afternoon we paid an Easter visit to Mike Gentile's new midtown pad,stocked with a cool combination of his paintings and glorious kitsch that remindsme of a townhouse in Baltimore's Bolton Hill. Mike and TaraMorris, filling the apartment with gorgeous arrangements of flowers?so fragrant that even my impaired sniffer could enjoy them?were kind enoughto give Junior and MUGGER III baskets of candy. A second visit from the Easterbunny! And the boys thought that benevolent creature's work had been done.


We drankCokes and ginger ale, chatting while the kids watched Shelby Wooon Nickelodeon, and Tara told us about a terrific brunch they had had earlier at Moran's, the Irish chop joint that takes up half a blockon 10th Ave. Mike's working on a new series of paintings?in additionto holding down the job of NYPress art director, he's one of thecity's so-far unheralded fine artists?and promises he'll be showinghis work at a gallery in the upcoming months. Mrs. M and I have filled our loftwith Mike's canvases?some dating back 10 years?and I have no doubt that in the next five years late-to-the-game collectors will be callingto make bids on our collection. Three words: Not For Sale.


APRIL 5


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