We're Off! 

All's fair (and unbalanced) in this year's presidential campaign.

Anyone who is not enjoying American politics at this point is missing an important gene and a sense of humor. Whee, we're off!

The candidates are rounding the first turn, into the backstretch. A leader breaks from the pack. He stumbles, he falls! Now the long-faced gray from Massachusetts moves up, the showy palomino from North Carolina hangs in, and the general drops out. It's muddy out there. Splat! Splat! Splat!

My favorite campaign document of recent days is from a conservative e-mail newsletter, Talon. Item One is a nasty piece of gossip about a Democratic contender, whereas Item Three is "Gutter Politics To Get Uglier." Reacting to the relentless questioning of the president's service record, RNC chairman Ed Gillespie said that despite being so early in the campaign season, the Democrats have made clear they intend to run "the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics."

I think we need a rule calling for at least two paragraphs between spreading nasty gossip and then decrying the spreading of nasty gossip. On television and radio, 24 hours should be required. Standards must be maintained here, team.

In the category of most ludicrous attack, we have an outcry over the news that John Kerry takes money from special-interest lobbyists. I had to sit down and fan myself when I heard it. Corporate special-interest money in politics! What next?

Kerry has surged to the fore and is now undergoing the pluperfectly idiotic political experience of being called the candidate of special interests by Republicans! Oh, this is so rich, how can you not rejoice? President Bush has only raised 28 times as much money from corporate special interests as Kerry. But that didn't stop the Bush campaign from sending out an e-mail video to six million supporters accusing Kerry of being the candidate of the special interests!

In another lovely development, it turns out Al Sharpton's campaign is being "financed, staffed and orchestrated" by Roger Stone, longtime Republican dirty trickster. According to Wayne Barrett in The Village Voice, Stone helped raise money in several states from his own relatives and political pals so Sharpton could qualify for federal matching funds, which is an infuriating waste of taxpayers' money and a perfect example of why public campaign financing laws need to be written carefully.

But for sheer, vicious nastiness, no one can compete with Ann Coulter, whose latest error-riddled effusion is an attack on former Georgia senator Max Cleland, who has been critical of the administration. Apparently in an effort to make George W.'s "incomplete" in the National Guard look better, Coulter wrote a column distributed by the Heritage Foundation saying Cleland, a triple amputee, had shown "no bravery" in Vietnam, "didn't give his limbs for his country," is not a war hero. My favorite sentence is, "Luckily for Cleland ... he happened [to lose his limbs] while in Vietnam," her point being that if he had been injured at Fort Dix, he wouldn't be a hero.

He also wouldn't have been under enemy fire at Fort Dix. She says he lost his legs in "a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends." Actually, Cleland lost his limbs when a grenade detonated after he and another soldier jumped off a helicopter in a combat zone.

As for not being a war hero, Cleland earned the Silver Star in a separate incident just four days before he was injured. The citation reads, "During heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland disregarded his own safety, exposed himself to rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. Cleland's gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."

How lucky for Cleland.

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