Poor George W. Bush: All that money and no campaign

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted February 7, 2000

Although Bill Bradley's liberaler-than-thou primary challenge to Democratic heir apparent Al Gore did not die outright with Mr. Gore's slim, 5-point victory in the New Hampshire primary last week, exit polls show the New York Knickerbocker has not won many hearts or minds among union members and other working-class party faithful.

With the Democratic primary calendar sending the candidates into a number of large states dominated by those constituencies (including California and New York) on March 7, Mr. Bradley's chances of wrestling away the nomination begin to look quixotic.

But it's quite a different matter on the GOP side.

In the end, the nation's decision to give the Clinton administration a "third term" under Mr. Gore, or to make a change, may well rest on something not easily controlled by any of the candidates -- the economy.

Just as the Democrats -- then the party of "smaller government" -- need hardly have bothered to field candidates during the great economic run-up of the 1920s (quick, who was John W. Davis?) so is it hard to imagine America casting aside Mr. Gore and his party during an ongoing boom ... and just as hard to imagine Americans voting for "four more years" of higher taxes, metastasizing bureaucracy, and "no compelling legal authority," should the stock market suddenly head for Sao Paulo.

But if destiny may take a hand next November, at least in the upcoming Republican primaries in South Carolina on Feb. 19, and in Michigan and Sen. McCain's home state of Arizona on Feb. 22, it is the candidates themselves who control events.

Texas Gov. Bush still has the advantages of a mighty war chest and the "anointment" of most of the the GOP's kingmakers, desperate enough after having been locked out of the White House for eight years to have signed on early with what appeared to be a "moderate, consensus" candidate.

But at least some in the GOP must be harking back to 1976, when their opposite numbers in the Democratic Party attempted a similar early anointment of Washington state Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- and then found themselves scrambling for tickets to their own runaway national convention.

It's all well and good to say Sen. McCain's New Hampshire victory was "predictable" because he skipped the Iowa caucuses in order to spend more time in the wintry Granite State. But a victory of 49 to 31 percent ain't small potatoes. And in this Internet age, Sen. McCain's staff reports raising an additional $500,000 over their Web site within hours of the New Hampshire tally.

Should Mr. Bush suffer another embarrassment at the hands of Steve Forbes in Delaware on Feb. 8 (Sen. McCain has ignored this lesser primary, though millionaire publisher and "flat-taxer" Forbes, who finished third in New Hampshire, won the Delaware contest in 1996), the worries of the Bush camp will surely begin to mount.

The irony here is that Gov. Bush ought to be winning on the issues. With too-high tax rates leaving Washington awash in unexpected loot, Mr. Bush favors tax cuts, which would have the twin benefit of allowing Americans to make more of their own spending decisions, while removing temptation from the path of the capital's already-bloated bureaucrats.

Like the Washington insider he has become, Sen. McCain instead favors using the funds to "pay down the debt," which sounds good but is more akin to leaving a hungry child at the dessert buffet with a promise "not to eat anything till I get back."

While tobacco is indeed an addictive drug, it's also a Native American sacrament and a substance which all Americans have a Ninth Amendment "retained right" to grow and possess. Yet Sen. McCain's anti-tobacco tirades would convince one that he believes alcohol Prohibition and the current War on Drugs have gone so well, he'd like to try for three.

George W. Bush hasn't done much to distinguish himself as a Second Amendment champion, but Sen. McCain was one of five "moderate" Republicans who "breathed new life into the Juvenile Justice Bill's anti-gun amendments after it had been killed," according to the Arizona Rifle & Pistol Association. The five "moderates" threatened to vote for the Lautenberg gun show ban bill unless the Republican Leadership brought up the bill, which subsequently passed the Senate, according to the ARPA, which grades Forbes and Alan Keyes "A" on gun rights, George W. Bush a "B" ... and McCain a C-minus.

The centerpiece of Sen. McCain's platform -- campaign finance reform -- similarly plays well in the war of sound bites, but really only constitutes another incumbent-protection measure, while violating the Constitution for good measure.

So why is Sen. McCain's campaign trouncing the Bush campaign?

What Bush campaign?

Playing like a ball team sitting on a massive halftime lead, the Bush team's strategy to date has been to keep to the prepared script, swaddling their candidate in a cocoon of isolation, avoiding the press and its embarrassing questions.

Sen. McCain, on the other hand, met more than 60,000 people at 114 New Hampshire town meetings and answered every question he was asked, no matter how many hours it took.

Sort of like ... a political campaign.

And if the Bush camp's only answer is to go into South Carolina attacking Sen. McCain by proxy as "not enough of a social conservative" -- in other words, "too electable come November" -- the band could once more end up playing "The World Turned Upside Down."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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