HILL OF BEANS: Burning Bush

Bush is in even worse danger than he looks. Republicans still say they think Bush has a better chance of beating Gore in November, according to a CNN/Gallup poll. But they're wrong. Because the same poll has Bush beating Gore, 50-45, while McCain beats Gore 59-35.Republicans' best hope of winning in this antiestablishment year is that Al Gore is even more establishmentarian than anyone the GOP could propose. Establishment campaigns, as we're seeing with Bush's, are generally neither agile nor imaginative. Clinton's were an exception. But Gore's staff is planning to run the same, tired "Ultra-Extreme-Right-Wing-Fanatic" campaign that has worked so well for Democrats in the last two elections.Gore's strategy is tailor-made for a Bush who has visited Bob Jones and entrusted his on-the-ground operations to Pat Robertson. In fact, Bush may be the only Republican on Earth Gore could beat. Such a campaign is a terrible match with a McCain who's attacking Gore's campaign-finance corruption and drawing Democrats in droves. But the Gore people are behaving like it's too late for them to change horses -- so what they're doing is pretending McCain is Bush. After all, says Gore, "they echo one another in their efforts to attract the extreme right wing." Yeah, sure they do.What Gore's doing is what successful parties always do: reuse a campaign strategy until it fails miserably. Republicans ran every presidential campaign between 1972 and 1992 as if they were running against George McGovern. If your target cooperates with your stereotype of his party -- as Dukakis was in 1988 -- he gets clobbered. If he's agile, innovative, and the least bit unpredictable -- as Clinton was in 1992 -- you get clobbered, because your candidate looks like the lazy sloganeer he in fact is.In such an antiestablishment moment, is it worth talking about Bill Bradley? In a word, no. The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel recently gave some backhanded praise to Bradley, saying that "one could argue that he has talked as liberal as any presidential candidate since Teddy Kennedy in 1980." She's right. That's why he's proving to be such a political clown.Just because Al Gore lies about Bradley ("Racial profiling practically began in New Jersey," the Vice President said last week) doesn't make him an honest man. Bradley is now putting all his eggs in the basket of a primary -- Washington's -- that doesn't even allot delegates. That's because the only state he has a slim chance of beating Gore in is one Gore has decided doesn't matter. What makes Bradley "different" is not that he's antiestablishment, but that he belongs to a rump establishment of peacenik socialists that thinking Democrats had abandoned even before the Berlin Wall fell and Bill Clinton came around to collect their votes.Take Bradley's speech at Columbia last week. Bradley argued in favor of "infostamps" that would allow people to buy computers and get online. Now there's an idea we haven't seen since about 1968 -- let's complicate the entitlement system! Then he expressed his commitment to free trade by saying he's in favor of cash payouts to workers who lose their jobs through trade agreements. I believe the word most of us use to describe cash penalties for foreign trade is "tariff." Then at the Democrats' Apollo Theater debate, he started ranting on about "White-Skin Privilege."This put me in mind of Chris Rock's disquisition on the word "nigger." Rock says white people are always coming up to him and asking: "How come you get to use it all the time but it's a bad word when I use it?" Rock's perfectly reasonable answer is: "Because I'm black." "White-skin privilege" is another term white people shouldn't use. The reason is that if you're dirt-poor and white, there's no such thing as "white-skin privilege." But if you're filthy rich and white, as Bradley is, then "white-skin privilege" is only part of a much larger package of privileges. One would feel better about Bradley's willingness to give up "White-Skin Privilege" if he were also willing to forgo Dumb-Jock Privilege, which allowed him to get elected to office despite a shaky knowledge of the issues and an outright indifference to his New Jersey constituents; or Fatcat Politician Privilege, which has allowed Bradley, in the years since his "retirement," to collect several million dollars for a few nights of speaking to corporate conventioneers -- not to mention Gentile Race-Hustler Privilege, which allows him to consort with Al Sharpton without the slightest discomfort that half the people he's invited believe every word of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

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