News & Politics



Norquist and Hatch Aid Bush

Shrub on the Stump

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — Not the least impressive aspect of George W. Bush’s campaign is his squad of Secret Service-look-alike Texas Rangers — replete with little silver stars on their coats and reminiscent of the Blues Brothers — jumping unexpectedly on chairs and whispering intently into intercoms and rushing around the room in manic style. They always precede and then surround the candidate, whose main struggle, as he goes around the state, is to keep his mouth from turning down into a smirk. This preppy Southern mannerism hits the spot in South Carolina, but is jarring in New Hampshire. The wily Yankees mistakenly think young Shrub is making fun of them.

The nonstop debates have become a principal feature of the primary campaign, and here Bush starts with two big pluses. The first is the specter of Grover Norquist, a genial conservative Washington lobbyist who glides in and out of the Republican leadership circles on Capitol Hill and whose major goal in life is to reform the hated income tax. In recent months, Norquist has been visible as a Microsoft lobbyist. In New Hampshire he is working to advance Bush’s interests by pushing attack ads (budgeted at $100,000 for the primary) against John McCain’s tax policies.

Presidential candidate and Utah senator Orrin Hatch functions as another Bush surrogate. Hatch, who is registering around 1 percent in the polls, is the ghost of Senates past. He’s there to represent the conservative Republican Senate leadership, and remind viewers, lest they get carried away with McCain’s crazy carryings-on, that Hatch, not the Arizona senator, represents the best of the sensible Senate. He’s also conveniently placed so that if need be, Bush in debate can lateral a friendly question to the Utah conservative, who can then engage in a not-so-friendly thrust at McCain. The question is, what will be Hatch’s reward for these valet chores?

McCain Enthralls Franklin Firemen

Senator Sway

At 6:30 last Tuesday evening, John McCain, surrounded by a cocoon of cameras and friendly reporters, strode into the high school at Franklin, New Hampshire, a small former mill town. The entourage burst into the gym, packed to the rafters with 500 people roaring their welcome. Franklin is a center of McCain support, partly because of its proximity to a veterans’ home nearby.

While the Arizona senator may have gained a fan club among liberal reporters, here in Franklin he laid out a most conservative agenda: He is pro-life; interested — but not that interested — in the environment, conceding the “possibility” of global warming, and promising, if elected, “to put the best scientific minds in America on this issue.” He speaks with authority about the military, the need to modernize the armed forces, and the national responsibility to make a better life for veterans who are society’s discards. He thinks the acting Russian president Vladimir Putin is nothing more than a “former KGB apparatchik.”

Like Bush, McCain takes a cautious line on tax cuts, arguing that not all the surplus should be turned over as a tax rebate, but that some should be aimed at incentives to help the working poor. He wants to put about two thirds of any surplus into Social Security, which he would reform by introducing personal savings accounts so individuals could invest part of their retirement fund in the market. Another 10 percent would go to medicare. McCain said workfare represents the “greatest achievement of this century.” Most of all, he wants to take Social Security “out of the hands of Congress.”

McCain doesn’t believe in tax cuts for the rich. He wants to raise teachers’ salaries to compete with lawyers’. He believes in capital punishment. He runs as a war hero on a sturdy, Goldwater-type platform.

And people at Franklin loved him. Unlike so many politicians who seem removed, speaking in sound bites and memorized stump slogans, McCain lives in the minute. Reagan turned politics into a propaganda movie, elevating the military to heroic caricature. His New Hampshire town meetings were full of bands playing “America the Beautiful” and blustering speeches against Castro and the Kremlin. McCain has lived what Reagan talked about. He transforms the nasty, belligerent-looking Legionnaire into the friendly vet next door — easygoing, self-effacing, funny, and directly answering people’s questions, and, most of all, telling drop-dead fascinating stories.

Having lunch at the Manchester fire department Wednesday, the senator ate bites of chili and relived the fight to save the aircraft carrier Forrestal during the Vietnam War. A dozen firemen sat around the table, listening in rapt attention as McCain told what it was like on the flight deck when a fighter’s missile malfunctioned and fired into the ship itself: the havoc on the decks, the men fighting the fire for a day and a half as the ship’s commander realized he was engaged in a struggle to save the huge ship from sinking. Then McCain likened the 134 men who died fighting the ship’s fire to the recent disaster in Worcester, Massachusetts, where six firemen died.

McCain’s campaign was undeterred by last week’s series of stories that sought to portray him as intervening on behalf of special interests that had contributed to his war chest.

Unalienable Rights for Christians

Religious Righteousness

Last Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. about 100 Concord High students listened respectfully as Gary Bauer, a Christian Right candidate and son of a Kentucky janitor, made his pitch. Bauer began by offering $20 to the first person who could complete the line of the Declaration of Independence that begins, “That all men are created equal,” and continues “… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Two students tried and failed to get the line right, and then a teacher nailed it and rushed to the speaker’s podium to claim his $20.

Bauer went on to argue that the line clearly showed government flowed from a Christian God. What about black people, a student asked, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson, one of the signers, was a slaveholder. Bauer said Abraham Lincoln used the Declaration to free the slaves, but the student continued to press him, until Bauer flew off the handle, yelling, “You’re wrong, you’re wrong.” When another asked why gays shouldn’t have the right to marry each other, Bauer warned that a domino effect would follow, with all sorts of weird coupling: 40-year-old men would marry 12-year-old girls, and men would turn to polygamy. “If you think men can marry men then how can you oppose a man marrying three women?” he asked almost gleefully. A student suggested, tongue in cheek, that maybe rape was a good idea. Bauer let that one go, but when another wondered if a rape victim should have the right to abortion, the candidate said no. “I have met adults conceived in rape,” he said, “who became incredibly wonderful people.”

By the close of his talk, Bauer was becoming belligerent, and in the corridor behind the stage, he told one woman who said she was an atheist that the Declaration of Independence spelled big trouble for her. On the way out the door, Bauer conceded that even though the God who conceived America was a Christian God, non-Christians ought to be protected by the constitution and have the same rights as Christians.

Bradley vs. the VP on Abortion Rights

Gore’s Choice

Last Wednesday Bill Bradley, who is pro-choice, stood next to Mary Rauh, a former president of Planned Parenthood of New England; Tanya Melich, executive director of New York’s state Republican committee; and Pixie Lown, a former New Hampshire state representative, at the Newmarket, New Hampshire town hall. They released the names of 600 pro-choice women who support Bradley’s campaign, then laid down a scorching attack against Gore for equivocating on the issue of women’s reproductive rights.

As a member of the House from 1977 to 1984, Gore supported the position of the National Right to Life committee 84 percent of the time, the women said. Gore voted to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1984 to define a “person” to include “unborn children from the moment of conception.” He voted against using federal funds for abortion in cases where the mother’s life was endangered or where medically necessary, or in cases of rape or incest. He voted 19 times against federal and local funding of abortions. In 1980, 1983, and 1984, Gore opposed including coverage for abortions in federal health plans. Still, Gore insists he has always been pro-choice.

In the past, Gore has been straightforward on the issue. In 1986, he told the Washington Monthly, “It is quite correct that a position like mine in opposition to the federal funding of abortion results in unequal access to abortions on the part of poor women. Nevertheless, I feel the principle of the government not participating in the taking of what is arguably human life is more important.” Gore supports capital punishment.

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi

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