Looking Backward

Campaign Falls Flat

The presidential campaign appropriately now shifts briefly to the “Confederate heritage” state of South Carolina before racing toward Super Tuesday, and the end. Already, the Bushites are talking about how to put some steel behind Shrub, maybe by dumping “General” Elizabeth Dole and her long quest for the No. 2 spot and snubbing John McCain, who they don’t think would add enough luster to the ticket, in favor of a really big military brass hat, Colin Powell. As for Gore, he will wait, picking and choosing from a long list of bores of both sexes. Imagine the fearless veep paired with such soporific politicians as California’s Dianne Feinstein or Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Devoid of any serious overriding issues save sloganizing on health care, the campaign so far amounts to little more than a series of packaged, dead-end themes that can only be seen as signposts along the road of America’s gradual decline. To get an idea of how far right the agenda has shifted, consider that in 1992 few candidates entertained any basic change in the income tax. All sought tax cuts, but Jack Kemp’s flat-tax scheme was considered too wacky for most. Now, junking the income tax for a flat tax is almost “middle of the road” in the Republican debate, with even so-called moderate George W. supporting the idea of a “flatter tax.” Both Gore and Bill Bradley trail along with milder forms of the same. Junking the income tax would, of course, result in a sprawl of sales taxes that would widen the already yawning divide between rich and poor. On Social Security, the entire Republican field, with the Democrats in tow, seeks in one way or another to move toward a privatized system, which means at the very least investing retirement funds in the wildly swinging stock market.

Whereas more moderate Republicans once joined Democrats in ridiculing Reagan’s Star Wars, now they are all for it, with McCain wanting to base missiles on ships that can be franchised out to threatened surrogate states like Taiwan. Even here, Clinton-Gore has moved ultra-right, with its own version of Star Wars, most lately in the news after an embarrassing missile misfire in a loudly promoted test two weeks ago.

On education, all the candidates embrace slogans. Youth violence: apple pie against it. Racial intolerance: all together now, fight it. The Internet: Yeah! (And figure out how to make money from it.)

As for the real issues — the growing disparity between rich and poor — silence. The non-voting homeless: nothing. Subsidized housing: zippo. The rising cost of energy: burp.

Bradley speaks grandly about the need for a new politics of commitment to public life. Pushing his increasingly quixotic campaign are senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, two men who are fleeing politics as they urge others to jump in.

Beneath all the tired rhetoric and the rallies and the “town meetings,” the underlying issue of the 2000 race is as old as the republic: greed.

Putting the Press in Chains

Among the Jerks

The way the Democratic presidential candidates try to manage the press is a study in propaganda. In the Gore campaign, nothing is left to chance, and when it suits their purposes, a little intimidation is not considered out of bounds.

At a mid-month rally in Penacook, New Hampshire, reporters clustered inside a roped-off area in a gym, watching it gradually fill up. “Supporters,” who had been brought in from Boston and points south, listened uncomfortably as the ever-tedious Al Franken made jokes about cocaine to whip up the crowd. Finally, the vice president, who now leaps into crowds like a flamenco dancer, appeared, dressed casually in his new signature beige-and-brown shirt and trousers. Not long into his stump speech (which has been known to last more than an hour), a small street-theater group called Class Act unraveled a banner in the bleachers challenging him to speak out on the Amazon rainforest, where indigenous peoples are protesting plans by Occidental Petroleum, a company with long ties to his family, to drill for oil on land they consider sacred (see Mondo Washington, January 25, 2000, and October 19, 1999). Gore supporters immediately tore down the banner, and Secret Service agents assembled at the foot of the bleachers to escort the protesters from the gym. When a member of the group yelled that Gore should act to release imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, Gore staffers appeared at the protester’s elbow and asked him to stop. If not, they said, he must leave at once. Acquiescing, he was allowed to stay. A few minutes later, local cops rushed across the floor and grabbed a man who they later said had been making gestures and threatening the peace, and hustled him from the room. Reporters trying to follow were blocked by Secret Service agents, but not before they saw a half-dozen cops literally sitting on the man.

As the rally labored on, a Gore staffer assigned to patrol the press area passed a Village Voice reporter and, intently eyeing his press pass, whispered to a security agent, “That guy standing next to you is from The Village Voice.” The men exchanged knowing glances. Continuing his patrol, the Gore flack paused before a Voice intern wearing a temporary Voice press pass. Stopping abruptly, he stared at the young woman as if he had just apprehended a shoplifter. Approaching the flack, the Voice reporter asked, “Is something wrong? She works for me.” The Gore man shrugged. “No, seriously, is something wrong? You think we’re not who we say we are? Look at my press pass.” Another shrug. Pressed further, the Gore flack said he had thought the intern and reporter were working for the Bradley campaign.

Many of the Bradley people, dressed in gray striped suits with individual name buttons attached, act like they’re working for Lyndon LaRouche. As the candidate approaches, they start flopping around, running to and fro, groaning, sweating, and breathing heavily. They are into ropes in a big way, incessantly tying off spaces where the senator is scheduled to speak, knotting off holding pens for the press, and then herding reporters into the secluded areas. “You go there!” they bark in hysterical tones. At the Newport Opera House last Friday, the Bradley suits were presented with a serious challenge because, instead of ropes, they had to make do with chains for the press pen. The chains kept falling apart, leading to growing frustration and screeches of “No, No! Let me do it!” Because Bradley has a thing about cameras, his people have been known to push cameramen to keep them at a proper distance. If a soundman lowers a boom anywhere near the candidate, an aide charges through the film crews, screaming, “Booms Up!” and swatting at the poles to get them away from the sacred space around their man’s head, lest they record the great one saying something profound, like, “I need your vote.” At the end of a campaign stop, the suits let the spectators out first, then block the press from leaving the building until Bradley is safely into his van and sucking a Coke. “Nazoids!” yelled one photographer. “It’s a cult,” said another.

To make matters worse, the Bradley people clumsily, and quite openly, play favorites. Last Friday, it was Ted Koppel and his film crews who were allowed to violate the no-fly zone around the senator’s head by shooting from above and behind Bradley, while other cameras were forcibly removed. Bradley proceeded to give a sullen, spoilsport talk about what a lying shit Gore has turned out to be. Hello. True to form, Ol’ Squirrelhead produced a lugubrious half-hour. Koppel’s big news for the evening was that Bradley had exclusively confided to him that he would stay in the race through mid-March. Duh.

Gore Whores

Lobby Horse

Notwithstanding all the flak Gore took in 1996 as solicitor in chief for the Clinton campaign, it looks like more of the same in his presidential quest. Bush may have raised more money than Gore last year ($67 million to $28 million), but Gore has one distinct advantage. He is the sweetheart of the Washington lobbyists, whose firms gave him more than $600,000 in 1999, with their client companies donating many millions more.

Gore’s lobbyist pals, in addition to the vice president’s former aide and top fundraiser Peter Knight (clients: Bell Atlantic, Schering-Plough, TVA), include former Long Island congressman Tom Downey, who represents Microsoft, as well as drug and chemical companies and airlines, reports The Boston Globe. Two other examples cited by the Globe:

In 1997, Teligent Inc. won a microwave bandwidth worth up to $1 billion. The next year, the company contributed more than $200,000 to Democratic committees, and officials of the company have since given tens of thousands of dollars to Gore’s campaign.

Network Solutions Inc. had exclusive government rights to award Internet domain names. When other users cried monopoly, the company hired former Gore domestic-policy adviser Greg Simon as a lobbyist. Though the domain name business has since opened up, NSI is still preeminent.

Administerin’ a lickin’

In Oakland, California, a kindergarten teacher has been placed on administrative leave after ordering Tiana Powell, a five-year-old girl, to lick the chalkboard with her hands behind her back. Powell, a former resident of a homeless shelter, was given the punishment because she disobeyed the teacher’s instructions not to write on the board. “I didn’t believe it,” said Dorothy King, the girl’s godmother. “I made her repeat it. I made her show me. It not only made my heart hurt, but it was so disgusting.”