Friday, October 27, 2000

Yes, We Have Some Second Bananas!

Yes, We Have Some Second Bananas!

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2000 at 4:00 AM

With Tennessee's 11 electoral votes known to be up for grabs and all the main players in state for comparison purposes this week, one consequence has been to reinforce the impression TV viewers formed some while back about the smoother styles of the vice-presidential candidates vis-a-vis their ticket heads.

Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney both came, saw, and conquered.

Lieberman, however, suffered from a disadvantage. His best go, like Cheney's only one, was in Memphis, where the Democrat's remarks were confined to a smallish, throughly screened big-spender audience in private, while Cheney's were let go in full view of a high school assembly and the gathered media.

First, Lieberman: some weeks ago various influential Memphis Democrats, including some activists in the city's Jewish community, hatched the idea of a fundraiser for the Democratic ticket that would galvanize assorted Memphians who had not yet invested much attention in this year's campaign.

Many of those were Jewish, and some of the early planners consequently characterized the event in embryo as a "big Jewish fundraiser." But they intended it to be only one component of an ensemble event that would include a public entertainment on the riverside Mud Island site and might involve Vice President Al Gore as well.

Both the Democratic National Committee and the Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 committee were lobbied hard for a combination event on the date of October 24th.

A Closed Event

When push came to shove, however, and the direness of the vice president's home-state positon became obvious (he started trailing in several key polls,for example), a decision was made to go to Nashville instead Ñ leaving the Memphis area only the fundraiser.

That ended up not sitting well with Memphis Democrats who feel they've been short-shrifted by the ticket, despite the fact that, over and over again, they've proved their willingness to go to the ends of Tennessee and elsewhere to support Gore's cause.

In any event, Lieberman made his appearance Wednesday night at the East Memphis home of Bernice Cooper, widow of the late Irby Cooper, who died in July. Cooper owned a fleet of hotels (including the East Memphis Hilton and, at one time, Nashville's Hermitage), and was a well-known philaanthropic figure and a consistently supportive one in Democratic ranks.

His son Pace Cooper is picking up more or less where his father left off, and was able to turn out some blue-ribbon political figures (e.g., both Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., his political rival) and donors for the occasion.

In one sense, the event was a clear success-- raising an estimated $600,000 in far less time than it took to raise a claimed $4.3 million in Nashville over two days this week-- but it took place in a vacuum.

Lieberman was, as usual with an audience, both genial and elegant, and he employed his essentially conservative mien to draw contrasts with the rebate-minded Republicans he and Gore are now having to compete with.

Democrats and Solvency

Boasting the current balanced budget and high prosperity, Lieberman told his 70-odd auditors, "It would have been hard for a Democrat to say 15 years ago, but after the last eight years we've earned the right to say we are the party of economic growth and fiscal responsibility."

And he promised: "We're going to continue the growth by balancing the budget, paying down the debt, by living within our means. And then by making choices that have consequences about how we're going to spend what's left of the surplus."

Lieberman minced no words about why he was in Tennessee. "It's been a remarkably close race, and it probably will be right down to the end. but I feel we have got momentum on our side as we head into the last two weeks." Pointedly, he added, "The kind of money you've raised here tonight will keep us on the air in one of the big states for a week. It will allow us to get out the vote in states where that could be a determinant factor."

Lieberman concluded his remarks with an evaluation of the Memphis event that was especially meaningful to the Jewish members of his audience, "This is the last Gore-Lieberman fundraiser of the campaign," he said, comparing it to a siyum (pronounced 'see-yum'), the ceremony that, for a Talmudic student, marks the completion of a stage of study.

There will be one more big fundraiser in the campaign, an official of the D.N.C. explained later, however. This one, in Washington , will involve gay and Lesbian donors and will feature President Bill Clinton.

Bush's Better Half?

The visit of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney to Germantown High School in suburban Shelby County was an easy, good-natured outing for the former Defense Department official, who served George Bush the elder during his presidency and now could be a crucial element in the success of George Bush the younger.

The GHS visit followed a breakfast meeting with 30 local Republican cadres, and the sunny mood generated there followed him to the podium in the high school gymnasium.

Two daughters accompanied Cheney to Memphis-- Mary, whose gay lifestyle may have given her markedly tolerant father crossover appeal rather than a cross to bear, and Liz, who introduced Cheney after recalling his probably apochryphal advice to her: "Liz, don't screw this up!"

Speaking in front of a wall mount which sequenced the words "Bipartisanship," "Honor and Integrity," and "Results" over and over, Cheney began by noting that he had done next to no campaigning in his own home state of Wyoming. About the result there, he said, "I am confident." The very fact that the current week had seen Gore-- less than two weeks out from the election-- having to exert himself in his native Tennessee was meaningful, said Cheney. " We're going to carry Tennessee on November 7th."

By the Numbers

Much of Cheney's talk was devoted to numbers. Gore's spending proposals would exceed the expected surplus by some $900 billion, he said. The much-vaunted job reduction claimed by Gore from "reinventing" government had come almost exclusively-- some 85 percent-- from the nation's overly depleted military ranks. 25 people involved with the 1996 Clinton-Gore fundraising effort had been indicted . In his 1998 Texas relection effort, Governor George W. Bush had won 27 percent of the African-American vote and 50 percent of the Hispanic vote.

And so forth and so on. In a curious way, Cheney's numbers game created a bond with his audience. And in the Q and A that followed his brief remarks he disposed of the one or two unfriendly questioners deftly and without malice.

To a student who made unflattering statements about the Reagan administration, Cheney said, affably enough, "Well, I have a somewhat different view of President Reagan than you do. . .", and proceeded into a carefully stated apologia .

(Cheney managed his defense of the Great Communicator, perpetrator of Iran-Contra, while simultaneously chastising the Clinton-Gore administration for what he said was winking at the sale of Russian arms to Iran.)

For all his measured obedience to his team's talking points, however, Cheney avoided anything like the hard line. In his conclusion, he made the obligatory request for his auditors' votes but said, "If you decide to go the other way, that's all right." He noted that his own father had been a lifelong Democrat who reluctantly consented to vote Republican after his son became one of the GOP's stars but insisted on givng his political allegiance a formal review every two years.

So there you had it, two vice-presidential candidates, equally winning, each a vicar for his ticket, the one soaking up bucks in private for use in other states, the other building bridges in public for the sake of winning the state he was in.

Time would tell which was the superior strategy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Where's Bill?

That's the main question anxious Democrats are asking; meanwhile, Lieberman will be here this week, and Al's coming later.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The envelope, please: Answers are No, Yes, and Who Knows? The questions are: Is Gore coming to Memphis this week? Is Lieberman coming to Memphis? Is Gore going to do what everybody in politics except himself and his immediate entourage thinks is necessary: i.e., invite Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail with him while there's still time?

Gore: The vice president will be everywhere but Memphis this week. He and wife Tipper will be in Little Rock Tuesday morning, then will fly to Shreveport, Louisiana, then to Nashville, where Lieberman and wife Hadassah will join up for a pair of shebangs (a Wild Horse Saloon affair and a DNC fundraiser) Tuesday night. Another couple of ops in the state capital on Wednesday, and then the Democratic ticket will go to Jackson for an afternoon event.

That's the closest Gore will come to Memphis until the weekend before the election, when (U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., one of his state co-chairs, promises) he will domicile overnight in Memphis.

After the event in Jackson, a Fairgrounds rally with Lieberman, the vice president will fly to Kansas City for another rally and an overnight.

Lieberman: The vice president and his wife will come to Memphis from Jackson later Wednesday night for a 5 p.m. event at the University of Memphis, followed by a $5,000-a-head fundraiser at the home of Bernice Cooper, widow of the late Irby Cooper, a well-loved philanthropist, hotelier, and Democratic loyalist who died earlier this year, just before the Fourth of July. (Son Pace Cooper, who maintains his father's political connections, was instrumental in arranging the visit.)

Clinton: Almost every Democrat who's willing to speak on the issue (and most are) believe that the best way - maybe the only way - for the vice president to win the election is to invite out on the campaign trail with him the man who is (a) widely regarded as the best campaigner of our time; and (b) as entitled to take credit for the current prosperity and (fragile) peace as anybody else.

Rep. Ford, who did a star turn at Temple Israel Monday night in a debate with Bush's Tennessee director David Kustoff, put it simply; "I would!" when asked whether Gore should extend an immediate invitation to the president.

But, as the New York Times noted in a well-read P1 article last Friday, there are strained feelings between Gore and Clinton (as between members of their families and respective entourages), and the vice president seems determined to keep the president at arm's length. A Gore surrogate, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz was putting the word out that if Gore lost the reason could be put in two words: 'Bill Clinton.'

Columnists began to pile on at Gore's expense - the Times's Maureen Dowd, Salon's Joan Walsh, and assorted others. Most of them suggested what increasing numbers of rank-and-file Democrats believe, that if two words account for Gore's currently faltering position (Republican opponent George W. Bush now leads in all polls), they are more likely to be 'Al Gore.' Indeed, Walsh , in a piece entitled "Let the Big Dog Out," went so far as to refer to "Al Gore's cowardly refusal to run of President Clinton's legacy." And Oran Quintrell, a Memphis Democrat who circulates a widely read email newsletter, hit a similar theme.

The closer I watch this election, the more it seems that Al Gore is making this a one-man show," Quintrell observed about Gore. "I do not see him campaigning extensively with other Democrats, especially those that speak directly to the base. I do not see him tying his message to the message of the other party-standard bearers. When I see him on TV, he is standing there alone more often than not. I am getting the impression that the Gore campaign sees this as an election about Al Gore.

"Well, it's not. This election is about me. And you. And you, too, over there. Clinton always understood this. At least, he gave the impression that he did, which is what counts."

Given the spate of Gore biographies in the last year, virtually all of which make a point about Al. Jr.'s domination by his father, the lordly and leonine Senator Albert Gore, it is tempting to get out one's Freudian primer, blow off the dust, and conclude that the current Gore is attempting to substitute Daddy Bill for the Father that must be repudiated for the son (so plainly uncertain at times about his own identity) to claim his rightful destiny.

Politically, that would seem to be as risky a strategy right now as it might seem psychically necessary. (You can write Jackson Baker at

Saturday, October 21, 2000

Ford On the Mend/Internet Hoaxes

Ford On the Mend/Internet Hoaxes

Posted By on Sat, Oct 21, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr., who was hospitalized for two days at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville after suffering from chest pains, was released from the hospital Thursday, and arrived in home-town Memphis in late afternoon to chow down at an East Memphis barbecue rally for the Democratic ticket.

Professing to be "fine" (though not quite ready to hit the stump at the rally for one of his patented fire-breathing speeches), Ford displayed scars on his left leg -- the result, he said, of a freak accident involving his car. "I don't have heart disease," the former congressman said, maintaining that his chest pains were the result of "blood thinner" prescribed as a prophylactic against the possibility of clots stemming from the accident.

Ford, now a consultant with a large clientele in the health-care industry, will repair to a house he owns in Florida for some R and R this weekend.

¥ ¥ ¥

Bush Uber Alles?

One of the more extravagant claims of this or any other election season was made at the Thursday night rally by State Representative Joe Towns of Whitehaven, one of the serial speakers, who at one point in exhorting the parking lot crowd at Eastgate, informed them that the Bush family, a few generations back, had been instrumental in supporting Adolf Hitler. ! ! !

Towns did not elaborate, but other Democrats later on said they had seen some such report "on the Internet."

Haven for Hoaxes

More and more, the Internet is cited as the authority for this or that hoax that makes the rounds. The 2000 political season has been rife with them.

Virtually anybody who both owns a computer and keeps up with party politics received a "pass-it-on" email recently from a friend who had received it beforehand from an equally gullible person, to the effect that there was a plot in Republican ranks to dump vice-presidential pick Dick Cheney and replace him with either John McCain or General Colin Powell.

The purpose of the "pass-in-on" injunction was to foil the plot by giving it maximum publicity . There never was any such undertaking, of course, and Cheney's good showing in his debate with Democrat Joe Lieberman put that one to rest in any case.

Another hoax, this one directed at Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, was passed by Republican cadres, who gave credence to the canard that Gore, in a recent speech, had inadvertently cited the scripture John 16:3 rather than the better known John 3:16. John 16:3 has Jesus saying "And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me." A real boo-boo, huh?

It never happened. Another Internet hoax, and when Cherrie Holden, a West Tennessee communications coordinator for Bush-Cheney, realized she'd been had, she had the integrity to circulate another email on her network explaining the hoax and apologizing both to her GOP readers and to Gore.

The odds are much better than good that the "Bush-Hitler Connection" is yet another Internet hoax.

¥ ¥ ¥

The Package?

Something of a flap developed over the last couple of days between right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the ladies of daytime TV's The View.

Seems they found the current issue of Rolling Stone-- or at least its cover, which features a frontal view of a casually clad, windblown Al Gore-- something of a rouser. "The package," Barbara Walters, Meredith Viera, Star Jones et al. kept bragging about.

Limbaugh, doing an upright Bill Bennett number, chided them for "hypocrisy."

To see the cover shot and get a sense of the controversy, go to or to (You can write Jackson Baker at

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

No KO for Gore, But a Win

Gore does an Andrew Golota number on a rope-a-dopinÕ Bush.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Rules for debate-watching: It is helpful to watch televised presidential debates in the company of political partisans-- and most helpful to be able to divide your watching time between the partisans of one candidate and the partisans of the other.

It is better yet if you can avail yourself of some studiously neutral testimony on the side. And, of course, you have to trust, and be comfortable with, your own instincts.

On Tuesday night, when Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush met for the third time, all these conditions were Present and Accounted For.

I began my debate-watching Tuesday night at the roomy Republican headquarters in Park Place Mall. It was a smaller crowd than had gathered there last Wednesday but one confident in the knowledge that their man Bush, ahead again in all the polls, probably needed only to hold his own with Gore in order to lead in the stretch-- which will focus on issues and reward Get-Out-the-Vote efforts.

Consequently the crowd was both loose and edgy, aware of the consensus that Bush had won the first debate-- one in which Gore looked the bully, huffing and puffing and demanding extra time-- on style points and the second one, a variant on the Empty Chair debate in which a narcotized and chastened Gore seemed not even to be there, on both style and substance points.

The first time both men had stood behind lecterns, the second time they sat, somewhat distanced from each other, behind an angled desk which greatly benefitted a glib and comfortable Bush, who resembled nobody so much as Johnny Carson. (This was first pointed out to me by Kenneth Neill, the resident Mahatma of my workplace.)

This third matchup was the “town meeting” sort which featured an audience whose members would ask the questions. It was a format which Gore had worked at more often than Bush, and when both men emerged with dark suits and red ties the way they had for the first debate, it was apparent that no punches were going to be pulled.

Stay with that metaphor: the boxing one. Early on, Gore was swinging with what-the-hell vigor, a little wild. He began by staying too long with his commiserations on the death, in a plane crash the previous evening, of Missouri Governor Mel Carnavan and was stopped by moderator Jim Lehrer before he was fully launched into his first answer.

A couple of times thereafter, Lehrer stopped a would-be rebuttal by Gore cold, reminding him firmly who was in charge.

As this sort of thing kept happening to Gore, the GOP crowd was a mix of titters, belly laughs, and heady hollers. Things were going good. But this Gore, unlike those of the previous two weeks, seemed to know what he was up to and was neither mindlessly arrogant like Gore Number One nor an unoffending Prozac case like Gore Number Two.

At one point, David Kustoff, the state Bush-Cheney director who had been slam-dunk in his own debate the previous night in Germantown with Democratic counterpart Roy Herron, turned to me and asked how I thought it was going. “Gore’s in his Andrew Golota mode,” I said, cautioning Kustoff against over-confidence. Golota, of course, is the hard-hitting Polish prizefighter who has been penalized by referees (for low-blows and brawling and what-not) in virtually every one of his fights, but he has managed to win most of them, usually by knockouts, and even those few who have bested him were somewhat the worse for wear.

A little later, I told Kustoff and Shelby County GOP chairman Alan Crone (like Kustoff a solid analyst in his own right) that Bush looked a little wobbly on his feet. He was still scoring referee’s points Ñ a fact confirmed by the visiting Ken MacDonald of the BBC, whom I was squiring about for the evening-- but it seemed to me that Bush’s bantom-cock persona might wear down in an hour and a half.

Or as I put it to Crone and Kustoff, “That easiness of his is hard to maintain when you’re on your feet that long.”

Gore meanwhile kept bearing in, for all of Lehrer’s cautions and Bush’s effective jabs, invoking over and over the litany of “My Plan” and challenging Bush’s own blueprints. “If this were a spending contest, I’d come in second,” the Republican would reply, or “A lot of people are sick and tired of the bitterness of Washington,” or accusing the vice president’s targeted tax cuts of favoring “the Right People” rather than being universal like his own.

Over at Democratic headquarters at Eastgate for the second half of the debate (in an office space which had been the GOP headaquarters only two months earlier!), a rapt crowd-- wholly unlike the distracted bunch of Dems that had seen the second debate last week at a bistro-- watched as Gore-s strength began to tell.

On several key exchanges-- concerning environmental concerns, campaign-finance reform, Hollywood excesses (ironically), and affirmative action (especially)-- Gore summoned strong, effective arguments even as a fading Bush kept managing nice soundbites. (The Texas governor’s “Every day is Earth Day if you own the land” was better said than Gore’s “Farmers were the first evangelists.”)

But a visibly weaker Bush would once in a while seem Queegllike (“You heard what I was for” he kept saying defiantly, eyes darting, when Gore challenged him on the Republican’s use of the quota-dodging term “affirmative access.”) You could almost heart the marbles roll. I could certainly hear my Briton friend, Ken MacDonald, say to Bush’s image, “You’re no Jack Kennedy!” (One judge’s card was going through changes!)

Bush would rally, however, and gave a sober and surprisingly moving denial to a questioner’s suggestion that he enjoyed putting so many prisoners to death in Texas.

At the end, the lines of argument were as clear as they had been in the first debate. Gore-- like every Democratic candidate before him-- attempted an astrophe to governmental activism. He largely succeeded and had at least three passionate and eloquent speeches to the camera in closeup. Bush’s mission, like those of his Republican predecessors, was to disparage bureaucracy and extol the actions of the private sector. He, too, had some good lines late-- the kind that would play well in the next day’s soundbites-- but his energy seemed clearly down. Too often, he was having to play rope-a-dope.

In the end, there were two reliable indicators of how it came out. The Democrats were hooting and hollering in satisfaction, and Ken MacDonald, adopting the boxing metaphor in full, observed, “It was interesting how Gore finished the fight on his feet while Bush remained in his corner.” (Which was no more than saying that the aggressive Gore continued to stalk the camera while Bush hung close to his stool, but the observation captured an observable nuance.)

Gore, the erstwhile Master Debater, had metamorphosized into the Underdog for this last round, and he’ll get the media bounce for the next week or so. Bush may have lost on points, but not so badly as to give Gore back the advantage which the Democrat enjoyed after his successful policy-wonking, wife-smooching convention in Los Angeles.

”I promise you I’ll fight for you,” Gore had said then. He repeated it Tuesday night in St. Louis. He proved he can fight, and it’s axiomatic that he’ll have to. This election is still anybody’s to win. (No, Ralph and Pat, that doesn’t mean you.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2000

High Irony on Highland Street

Halfway around the world from the bloodshed in Jerusalem is a demonstration.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2000 at 4:00 AM

It was a brief, almost inconspicuous moment in the history of Memphis-- the protest rally of Palestinian natives held last Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the corner of Highland and Poplar.

Except for some Arab dress here and there, a red-white-black-and-green Palestinian national flag or two, and-- most notably-- a banner declaiming that “Israelis Kill Children,” this well-behaved group of men, women, and children attracted less attention than a group of high schoolers haling down cars for a fundraising car wash might have.

At peak, about ten minutes after the rally started, the demonstration numbered perhaps 40. Two of those were moustachioed, polite men in Western clothes named Hayel Mausour and Maher Taha, both residents of Memphis for the last twenty years.

Masour owns a couple of gas stations, Taha a camera store. Both are doing quite well in Memphis, thank you, and neither is contemplating a return to Palestine (you will never, but never, hear one of these exiles referring to his homeland as anything else, even if his part of it is now formally joined to Israel).

Why are they demonstrating here on this warmish Friday afternoon in fall when there are other things, most of them more recreational, to do?

To even meditate on such a question is not to understand the Palestinian mind, which burns more or less constantly for a national redemption which has not-- and may never-- come. On the other side of the world, in that sliver of desert territory which begat the major religions of the Western world, the near kin of Masour and Taha and these other demonstrators are in a virtual state of war with the Israeli Army.

Rocks against tanks, they say. They are asked about the shocking televised scene of an Israeli soldier being dropped out of a West Bank window to undergo, whether living or dead, a prolonged stomping by an enraged mob. Another Israeli soldier was reportedly stabbed to death, yet another burned.

”These were mourners who were at the funeral of a Palestinian in Ramallah who had been beaten, burned, and killed by Jewish settlers,” Mausour explains. “We do not justify their violence, but we understand it.”

It all started, says Taha, when Israeli General Ariel Sharon showed up with an armed entourage at the holy site in Jerusalem called Temple Mount by the Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and revered as one of the holiest of their holy places. “Never before had Israelis come to the place. The Wailing Wall, which is nearby, yes, but not there.”

Was not Temple Mount so-called by the Jews because it is believed to be the site of their ancient ruined temple? Would this fact not entitle a Jew, even the alleged provocateur Sharon, to visit there?

”That is the past! Thousands of years ago, if at all. The past should be forgotten!” says Taha.

Perhaps it is difficult for the Israelis to forget the past, since so much of it, even very recently, involves persecution and destruction. “We do not condone what Hitler did. But we do not want it done to us!” He claims that the Palestinian people, the native Muslim Arabs who lived in Palestine under the Turks and the British had suffered some 500,000 casualties since 1948, when Israel was established and the land was partitioned between Jew and Arab and the first of several wars began.

If the past is past, why cannot these transplanted Palestinians themselves forget, the two men are asked.

”Let me tell you a story,” says Hayel Masour, and he gives a lengthy account of an Arab traveler on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, finding a winding bridge over a chasm leading to a rocky promontol where, he was told, there was a university of sorts being conducted by Palestinian refugees.

The story makes several points. It speaks of perseverance, fortitude, and the Palestinian hunger to excel and be educated, to prove itself against obstacles.

”We have learned that the best soldier is an educated soldier!” says a third man, Heshan Habib.

The three men join in a refrain concerning how a people has been thrown out of its homeland, cast into every reach of the world (“We are everywhere!” says Habib), and perseveres through every turn of fate, educating itself and becoming accomplished in its transplant realms as it dreams of its lost beginnings.

It is a story told by Arabs. It could as easily be told by Jews.

After some 40 minutes or so, the Palestinian rally begins to break up, and the people retire quietly to their cars and move on.

Only a few minutes later, a man dressed in a grim reaper costume materializes on the center strip of Poplar, waving his cardboard sceptre at cars and shilling for special Halloween offers in the commercial establishments of Poplar Plaza.

From the beginning, he attracts more attention from passing motorists than had the Palestinians who preceded him on the corner. He is still there as the day grows late, waving. Whether smiling or not is hard to say.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Gore Leads UT Poll

Tennessee voters split almost evenly, however, between the veep and Bush.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Al Gore may be having trouble in the polls these days, with two key ones -- Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon -- showing his Texas Republican rival, George W. Bush, edging ahead in the vice president's home state of Tennessee. But some modest help arrived this week with the release of a poll prepared by the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; it shows Gore leading Bush in Tennessee by 43 percent to 41 percent, and he seems to be strong throughout the state, even in traditionally Republican East Tennessee, where he trails Bush by only four points. Of course, these poll results (like most of the others, including the much-vaunted Mason-Dixon that shows a margin of three points for Bush) are those of the proverbial dead heat; in reality, both men are running equally well -- or equally badly. Males prefer Bush by 44 percent to 37 percent, while females go for Gore by a margin of 46 percent to 36 percent. Blacks are for the vice president at the lopsided rate of 72 percent to 8 percent, while whites divided more evenly, with 45 percent preferring Bush and 37 percent opting for Gore. African Americans, always a stronghold for Democrats, favor Gore over Bush 72% to 8%. Whites favor Bush, but not by nearly the same margin; 45% say they will vote for Bush in November, while 37% say they intend to support Gore. Higher income groups tend to prefer the Republican, though not by an exaggerated differential. What might dismay the intellectual class -- habitually and instinctively liberal -- is that college graduates tilt toward the more conservative Bush by the margin of ten percent. The once-vaunted third-party candidacies of Pat Buchanan (Reform Party) and Ralph Nader poll no more than 1 percent each among the Tennessee electorate. What is even more interesting is that Nader does no better than Buchanan among Democrats; each is at flat Zero, depending for support on the Republican and independent fringe. Also illuminating is that some 3 percent of the Tennesseans polled opted for the category of "other," and 11 percent just weren't sure. Such figures may reinforce the contentions of David Kustoff, Bush's Tennessee director, that a poll like this one of registered voters may not have the same precision as a sampling of likely voters. Gore will surely not complain, however; but neither will he find anything in the UT results to let him breathe freer. The race in the Volunteer State is astonishingly tight. (You can writer Jackson Baker at

Thursday, October 5, 2000

Let Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan Into the Debates

Let Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan Into the Debates

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The first presidential debate is over and the loser was . . . moderator Jim Lehrer. Lehrer was fair to Al Gore and George W. Bush and his questions were fine. He was just powerless to get Gore or Bush to give straight answers to most of them. Gore set the tone on the first question. Lehrer asked him what he meant when he questioned Bush’s experience. Instead, Gore took about two seconds to dodge the question (denying -- falsely -- that he had done any such thing) and go off on the first of many boring three-minute canned speeches on his tax program. Bush was no better. Even when Lehrer’s questions were pointed and seemingly left no wiggle room, Bush resorted to generalities and platitudes. If he was slightly more spontaneous than Gore, that is not saying much since Gore hardly ever says anything spontaneous. There is a remedy for this, but it won’t happen this year: let Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan into the debates. The straight-talking qualities that make Nader and Buchanan unelectable make them excellent foils in a presidential debate. They can say what they think, and as television veterans, they’re articulate, skillful debaters. Nader dislikes celebrity and doesn’t pander. Buchanan is more of a ham, but just as uncompromising as Nader. If allowed to join the debates, they would do what Lehrer tried but, for the most part, failed to do. They would bring the views of Gore and Bush into sharp relief, make them answer the questions, and keep them from wandering off into platitudes. Best of all, they would make the debates interesting, both by their own answers and feistiness and by bringing out at least some of the real differences between Gore and Bush. With all the qualifications in the world, Lehrer couldn’t do that. He gamely interrupted a few times and tried to get the candidates back on point or to limit their comments to the agreed-upon time limits. But by the unwritten rules, both Gore and Bush were happy to let the other evade and shade the rules. Anything but candor, because in candor there is the possibility of making a gaffe. Bush and Gore were like two boxers afraid to mix it up, secretly relieved at not having to take a real punch or throw one. But throw a brawler like Buchanan or a crusader like Nader into the ring and things would get interesting. Then the haymakers would fly. Then Bush and Gore would have to stop shadow-boxing and defend themselves. The reason that won’t happen, aside from the fact that the debate schedules have already been set, is that Nader and Buchanan would each likely get an immediate boost in the polls, perhaps to the 10-percent level or higher. That’s what happened to Jesse Ventura when he was allowed into the debates between the two “major” candidates for governor of Minnesota. Before Ventura, Ross Perot in 1992, George Wallace in 1972, and Eugene McCarthy in 1968 showed what a “minor” candidate can do when given equal time on the national stage. The two major parties and their candidates, of course, don’t want it to happen again. So we get boring candidates and boring debates, which are not really debates at all. What a shame that in America in the last decade we have been given hundreds more television stations and thousands more Internet sites to choose to get information but only two sources in our televised presidential debates. (You can write John Branston at

Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Politics for Commoners

Maybe us couch potatoes really do know as much as the cognoscenti, after all

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Now that the two major presidential candidates are appearing regularly on such venues as Oprah and MTV and Larry King Live, we--and they-- are being treated to endless moral strictures from the cognoscenti as to just why this isn’t proper. George Bush and Al Gore are talking down to us, we are told. They are trivializing the election. They have brought the business of politics down to the lowest common denominator of taste. Just why finding a broad common denominator in a democracy should be a bad thing is never quite explained. I suppose we just have to take it on faith that there are superior specimens among us whose severe standards on public issues are good for us in the same way that unpalatable fish oils were thought to be at an earlier stage of society. The idea seems to be that if something is enjoyed by enough people there has to be something wrong with it. And that’s why, in the judgment of our betters, a presidential candidate should stay away from anything so vulgar as a TV show that has its own built-in audience-- that is, one that isn’t hectored to watch or listen in for purposes of self-improvement. The source of this attitude, of course, is a conviction-- not terribly well disguised-- that if a large enough number of people like something or pay attention to it, it can’t be much good. This is a profoundly anti-Democratic bias, and it exists in the realm of morality and science and aesthetics as much as it does in political thought. There is the occasional virtuoso of virtue who knows what is good for us in all spheres. I think of William Bennett, whose disregard for prevailing mass behavior is so enormous and charged with emergency that he will even deign to appear on television in prime time himself in order to more effectively denounce the times and the mores. At a time when most televangelists have learned to modulate their tone and limit their didacticism for fear of limiting the size of their followings, Bennett is virtually the last person left who can publicly harrumph with absolute certainty of his right to sit in judgment on others. His voice is full of sounding brass, but hath not charity. I confess to an unguilty pleasure in watching Bill Bennett wriggle with discomfort as he tries these days to disavow his friend and former fellow moralist, Joe Lieberman, who has displayed an uncommon warmth and capacity for tolerance of diverse points of view in his new role as a candidate for national office. Oh, Bill Bennett is not the only offender. There is a slew of them, ranging from George Will, who can at least be elegant in his statements disapproving the commonplace, to the unfortunate Steve Allen, the once-hip cabaret comic and musician who has degenerated (or lost his audience) to the point that in his old age he begs us in full-page ads to help him combat the Sodoms and Gomorrahs that the entertainment industry has caused to be teeming all about us. To my mind, the most inadvertently telling commentary about the distrust which elitists have for popular phenomena occurred more than a decade ago, when Ronald Reagan was still president and somebody published a tell-all book which included the information that his wife Nancy had for decades been guiding his career by consulting an astrologer who in turn consulted the stars. (The celestial kind, not the Hollywood variety.) How laughable, how outre, how vulgar, the accepted organs of opinion all chorused at once. Not a one of them was open-minded enough to consider the possibility that if Reagan’s wife had been telling him how to get ahead all those years because of what some astrologer had been telling her, then she and her husband had, all things considered, ended up more than a little bit ahead of the game for it. More so, it would seem, than most of those superior sorts howling with derision. And, truth to tell, Oprah and Larry and Dave and Regis and Jay and all the rest of them have been taking the public pulse long enough that maybe they ought to be telling Al and Dubyah some things, too, rather than merely being kind enough to listen to them. (You can write Jackson Baker at

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