News & Politics



World Closes In on Smirk & Sniffle

Word War II

Last week’s “peaceful revolution” in Yugoslavia and the threat of a war in the Middle East put foreign policy — one area where Bush and Gore actually differ — in the spotlight. Gore argues for an aggressive “peacekeeping” policy abroad, while Bush, although he would beef up the military, is more restrained. Bush would commit troops only when war is seen as clearly winnable. Yugoslavia illustrates the pitfalls of the Clinton decision to intervene after the war was well under way. For years the administration was an awkward ally of Milosevic, and even now the world doubts that the U.S. is serious about prosecuting him as a war criminal.

Milosevic’s downfall leaves open the question of whether the Serbs will attempt to refashion the old Yugoslav federation. To do that, the civil rights of all groups in the former Yugoslavia must be respected. Otherwise, Milosevic’s legacy of ultranationalism will continue to leave Serbia cut off from the rest of Europe.

Most of the democratic opposition, which backed the nationalist Kostunica as the best way of getting rid of Milosevic, hardly shares the law professor’s nationalist views. Kostunica has said that he won’t turn Milosevic over to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, and indeed doesn’t even recognize it. Meanwhile, Milosevic is vowing to get back into politics.

Vuk Obradovic, the former army general who heads the Social Democratic Party, told The Washington Post over the weekend what many fear — that as long as Milosevic remains in the country “he is a dangerous man… He is a thug, a mafioso, a dictator.”

In the past, Kostunica has allied himself with Vojislav Seselj, who, with his nutty calls for beating up journalists in public and otherwise trashing anyone who does not embrace ultranationalism, has always been viewed as further to the right than Milosevic. It’s hard to see Belgrade’s independent journalists, who are firmly anchored at the center of the democratic opposition, supporting Kostunica over the long term. Nor is Natasa Kandic, the activist who runs the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, and who dared to go into Kosovo at the height of the war to monitor human rights abuses, a comfortable fit in this post-Milosevic world. In the face of adamant opposition from the military, which has branded her a traitor and wants her jailed, Kandic is pushing for prosecution of army leaders for war crimes. It’s hard to believe that Kostunica, whose takeover was reportedly masterminded by the Yugoslavian army high command, will view her crusade with favor.

As for Kosovo, its ruin seems irreversible. It certainly appears to be lost as any sort of partner in a new federation, at least in the foreseeable future. The most likely prospect is for it to slip into some sort of short-lived independence before being swallowed whole by Albania. The emergence of a greater Albania will continue to threaten peace in the region by exacerbating fears of revolt in Greece and Bulgaria, both of which have large Albanian populations.

Central in More Ways Than One

New Jersey’s Hot 12th

There is no fiercer congressional race in the country than the knock-down-drag-out going on in central New Jersey’s 12th District, where Democratic bigwigs like Bill Clinton, Dick Gephardt, and Ann Richards have hurried in to shore up the tottering one-term New Democrat Rush Holt. Pitted against him is Dick Zimmer, the former Republican congressman who authored Megan’s Law, who is attempting a comeback. John McCain has made appearances in the district to support him. Political insiders are watching this district for clues as to which party will control the House.

Linking Trenton to New Brunswick and Princeton to Rutgers, with well-heeled pharmaceutical and telecom companies jammed together in what has become a commuter’s gridlock nightmare, the fast-growing 12th is a study in suburban sprawl. An economic conservative who sides with the likes of Dick Armey but a social moderate who backs choice, Zimmer is dead center on the GOP-Democratic faultline; he nearly fits the bill of a DLC Democrat and is one step from being a libertarian Republican. As an early-’90s congressman, he fought the Clinton health plan, backed no-frills prison reform, and was gung-ho on welfare cutbacks. But he has a reputation as an environmental advocate who has advanced plans to set aside open spaces and protect the Delaware River.

For his part, Holt authored an amendment last year to provide federal funds to states and communities to buy park and recreation land. As a result, $40 million will be added to New Jersey’s matching-grant program for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the state will be eligible for more than $1 million to invest in open-space preservation.

Another hot issue revolves around tax cuts. On this, Holt is a Gore copycat, proposing $500 billion in cuts skimmed from the surplus to reward low- and middle-income residents, while also backing reduced estate taxes. Zimmer, like Bush, backs across-the-board tax cuts.

Spending has been lavish, with Zimmer having raised $1.2 million to Holt’s $1.5 million. Securities and investment companies are Zimmer’s biggest contributors, donating $248,250 to his campaign, while retirement groups, which so far have given $118,250, top Holt’s list. The race is considered a toss-up.

Rush’s Favorite Pollster

Upstate Upstart

In certain respects, the most important figure in New York’s Senate race is not Rick Lazio or Hillary Clinton but an unprepossessing middle-aged man sitting in an old telephone switchboard office in the Erie Canal city of Utica. He is John Zogby, often derisively called by liberals “the Republican pollster” because his most prominent polls appear in Murdoch’s New York Post. He has also been tabbed Rush Limbaugh’s “favorite pollster.”

Zogby is key to the Senate race because of his keen ear for the nuances of political trends upstate, where insiders have long thought the race will be decided. The region ought to be solidly Republican, but last week Zogby’s New York poll showed Lazio slipping there. Lazio still leads, but by only 7 points, whereas, Zogby argues, he should be 10 or more points ahead. Overall, Hillary is now ahead by 4 points and running strongly in the city (70-23), with Lazio ahead in the suburbs (60-35).

For months the race has been frozen in the polls, with Zogby arguing it will eventually be decided upstate and on “whether people will accept Hillary or not. I think she is doing a lot of the right things. She gets a multiple impact upstate, with pockets of Democrats, white working women, union voters, and very favorable media attention.” It’s been Zogby’s view all along that if Hillary can keep Lazio to a single-digit lead upstate and hold the cities, she can win.

Zogby is often regarded as an upstart pollster who pushed his way into competition with Gallup and Harris, leaving the all-too-serious Marist Poll in the dust. Part of this is due to his partnership with Reuters, which helps get his polls printed in papers and referred to on TV across the nation. His business clients include Philip Morris (providing data for youth anti-smoking campaigns in Eastern Europe and the Middle East) and Microsoft (polls to gauge the effect of the antitrust suit). He has done public-opinion surveys in Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and polled the last Israeli election.

Growing up in Utica, Zogby ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1981, then started a one-man PR-advertising company that blossomed into the current polling operation. He does business with many of the important institutions in central and upstate New York, from banks to insurance companies to hospitals. He polls upstate with a team from Colgate University, and has a deal to do international public-opinion surveys with the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

As for incurring the wrath of leftish journalists who see him as Rupert Murdoch’s stalking-horse for first Giuliani and now Lazio, Zogby doesn’t get it. “I spent the first 12 years arguing I was a Democrat but not a biased Democrat pollster,” he says. In fact, Zogby voted for Barry Commoner, the environmentalist running an independent race for the presidency in 1980, and later backed Jesse Jackson.

Says Zogby: “I have found with the Democrats — and I still vote Democrat more often than not — that if you’re only 99 percent with them, then you’re considered not a Democrat. I can go to Republicans and say, ‘This is foolish. You’re a bunch of idiots. Why are you doing this?’ And they take notes.”

Surplus Value

Contrary to all of the tongue-wagging about what to do with the enormous surplus, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week reported that any overage is tenuous and is in danger of being swallowed up. “If the nation’s leaders do not change current policies… deficits are likely to reappear and eventually drive federal debt to unsustainable levels,” said the CBO.

Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Theresa Crapanzano

Archive Highlights