London Rocked by Scandal: The MUGGER Family Hits the U.K.

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:53

    Tony Blair Sniffs the Third Way's Demise When it comes to anything remotely mechanical, I'm a wreck. So upon arrival at London's Heathrow on March 16, I took top honors for the most foolish-looking man in the nearly deserted airport as I clumsily navigated one of those darn trolleys with seven bags, while the kids and Mrs. M were way ahead at the immigration control line. The Concorde flight was splendid (and sitting next to Junior I was able to snag his tiny jar of caviar) and it's a shame that when British Airways and Air France inevitably shutter their luxury mode of travel, there won't be a quicker way to cross the Atlantic. You'd think by now someone would've thought of a way to muffle the sonic booms so that such planes could fly over land. I guess symbolic trips to the moon were considered more important than a truly meaningful advance in transportation. Whatever happened to the prediction that in the year 2000 it would take just two hours to fly from New York to Tokyo? Gone the way of the nickel hotdog. There was virtually no rush-hour traffic into town, but when the driver pulled up to the wrong hotel, I wondered if 47 Park Street, our lodging of choice in London, had fallen a notch or two. Usually, the men they send to fetch you are affiliated with the facility and treat you to?if desired?a running and fascinating monologue on the peculiarities and not-to-be-missed sites of the city.

    Our first night was a sheer session of pandemonium: Junior and MUGGER III were wired from the flight and all the foreign visual stimuli: they checked out the British shows on the tube, spit out the kidney beans that studded the room service pasta, and insisted on watching snooker matches after the cartoons had ceased. Then they ran around and wrestled and tickled each other, while Mrs. M and I counted the minutes till they got tired and we could all go to sleep.

    My brother Jeff, coincidentally in town for a business meeting, stopped by late Thursday night and tried to manhandle our two little hooligans, and emerged worse for the wear. But he was a good sport and promised his nephews that the three of them would go on a "special" two days later. That term goes back a ways in my family. It started when Uncle Pete, now almost 80, was a swingin' bachelor, just back from World War II, and he'd take my two oldest brothers on daylong larks, whether it was a trip to Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Coney Island or a double feature. It gave my parents a break and Pete had as much fun as the boys.

    By the time I was born, my mother's younger brother was married and had started his own family, so I missed the adventures, which had been logged into Smith lore, but I'm glad the tradition continues. As it did when I minded my nephew Caleb and niece Traie a couple of times back in the early 70s, surreptitiously squiring them into Danish gambling joints (actually fast-food storefronts) where you could drink beer and lose money at the same time. The three of us, along with their mom and dad, had a ball driving across Europe, stopping in at least eight different countries and getting into as much mischief as possible.

    Anyway, at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, Uncle Jeff appeared at our door and I had drag my two little tykes from bed (they were horrendously jetlagged) and shove them out into the brisk air. Jeff took them to Buckingham Palace and they all tried to get the guard standing at attention to crack a smile. Even MUGGER III couldn't pull off that well-practiced trick, but Junior took a number of pictures. They both complained about the mile walk when they returned, and Junior said, "Hey, I thought Uncle Jeff was going to teach us how to crack our knuckles. But he forgot all about it! That's the only reason I got up so early."

    Occasionally, on our cab rides to school in the morning I show Junior my cracking technique and explain to him that Jeff, much to my mother's horror, who claimed that our knuckles would grow to elephantiasis size if we continued, was the champion in the family. He can crack almost every joint in his body. My boys know that my neck is messed up for life (an old Nam injury; just kidding, all you McCainiacs) from jumping down a flight of 12 stairs and landing on number 11 instead of the pillows at the bottom, causing a pinched nerve at the time and twice-yearly bouts of excruciating pain?if I sleep wrong or read in bed with a soft pillow?as a result.

    Junior had a huge project for his first-grade class during spring break?a photo journal of his trip to London?which led to a few sticky situations. For example, most storekeepers get rather curt if you point a camera at their wares, and the fancier the store, the more stern the admonition. After an interminable 90 minutes inside Harrods, where our oldest couldn't find a leather jacket but did locate a load of Action Man figures (our rule on toy purchases was that they had to be unavailable in the U.S.), he and MUGGER III were delirious.

    I've got a real problem with Harrods: yes, it's an amazing department store where you can even buy a sheep if you wish, but it's confusing as hell, the staff is by and large rude and there are endless displays of Punch, the dim magazine published by the store's owner. Seeing that proud title so soiled in its current incarnation is a sad sight, but so are the hordes of customers picking over garments and accessories. I felt as claustrophobic as when Mrs. M and I took a shaky funicular ride in Santiago some nine years ago. And having to fork over a pound just to enter the men's room is too avaricious for my taste.

    Later that day, Mrs. M drew the long straw for some private time, so the boys and I combed the stores on Regent St. for a leather jacket with no luck, but we did get a cool double-decker bus piggy bank, and a lunch at very unique institution they were way jazzed about. Burger King. Well, what could I do? I downed a double espresso nearby to gird myself for the mobbed monstrosity and Junior at least took a lot of zoom photos inside. Just before lunch, we took a tour of Aquascutum, where I couldn't locate any striped turtleneck shirts, but did make the acquaintance of a Sammy Davis Jr.-lookalike salesman who took a real shine to my kids.

    We looked in vain for a gambling arcade that I'd been to a dozen times over the years, right by Piccadilly Circus; it was probably there, but with the Times Square-like crowds, and two little boys holding on to my jacket, we had to be careful so that no one took an errant walk somewhere. Not to mention the cars speeding "on the wrong side" of the road. As it turned out, when we roamed around Soho several days later, we did find a slot-machine den, but were tossed out faster than you can say "Al Gore's a crook," since the minimum age for entrance is 18.

    On Friday night the grownups went to Bibendum for dinner, a snazzy and popular restaurant in South Kensington, located in the building that used to house a Michelin showroom. I'm not much for Frenchy food?way too rich?but it was a rather compelling menu. One thing about European meals, and this has spread to London in the last 15 years, they go on for hours, something my wife and I aren't used to, at least since we became parents. So we were terribly late for the sitter at the hotel, and just imagined that the varmints had tied her to a stake or carved her into a funky jack-o'-lantern. But Bibendum's grub was impressive: caviar on an egg souffle; tiny fried frog legs; lamb cutlets with delicious roasted onions; braised rabbit; whole prawns in a cream/chive sauce; foie gras; and a sampling of chocolate desserts that everyone at the table cooed over, save your correspondent, who has an aversion to sweets.

    We had a skirmish outside the restaurant over hailing a cab, a typical NYC catfight. We lost the first and second rounds, but then bested a quartet of smashed Germans who tried to jam their beefy bodies in the car ahead of us.

    A British buddy doesn't agree with the following theory, but who am I to argue with patriotism and all that rot? I've noticed a slight decline in cab service in London in just the last year and I'll bet that it'll continue to deteriorate over the next 10-15 years. London cabbies have the deserved reputation of being the most knowledgeable in the world, remembering every crooked alley, and being extremely courteous as well. (By the same token, if I hear one more time how they have to study for about 18 years and attain a 99.9 percent grade on their test before getting a license, I do think I'll puke.) It's a middle-class job where drivers earn higher salaries than teachers. However, in our short stay, I drew at least 10 fellows who didn't know where our hotel was, and only recovered when I said it was near the American Embassy. That's never happened before.

    I see a pattern: more than a generation ago, there was the stereotypical NYC cabbie who chewed your ear off about politics, baseball and Chinese restaurants, but also knew Laight St. from Maiden La. Not to mention 6th Ave. That's because most drivers owned their cars and took pride in their job, and also earned a decent wage. Today, a constant wave of immigrants takes a rudimentary test and then gets tossed behind the wheel. With predictable results: ask a cabbie to get you to Cornelia St. and you often get a blank stare. Some still don't know where Tribeca is, saying, "I'm not familiar with downtown."

    I think the same thing will happen in London. That assumes massive deregulation, but that's hardly a stretch. And London has a slew of immigrants, like New York, who are probably aching to ditch their low-paying newsstand jobs and go trolling for passengers. Watch for an easing of city knowledge, increased cab rentals and an eventual traffic logjam that's worse than today. A small observation, perhaps, but it's another long-revered regional institution that will be lost in rapid globalization.

    The boys were a mite peckish on Saturday morning, as we combed Kings Rd. in Chelsea for that elusive leather jacket and wound up stopping in every store that looked interesting to them. Mrs. M did pick up a few books, Junior sulked for a while and MUGGER III was tickled by the UK covers of the Goosebumps series of kids' thrillers. He collects the R.L. Stine books, like a bunch of other things: bottle caps, key chains and empty film canisters. A highlight for my wife and me was finding a photo booth where we took a shot of ourselves, replicating one from our first trip to London together 10 years ago. We have that little picture in a cheesy gold plastic frame at home and it's the boys' favorite?they love to see their mom and dad smooching even before they were born and the world really began.

    Finally, we spied a Harley Davidson outlet that had exactly what Junior wanted, a heavy leather jacket with a logo on the back and front. He was so thrilled that I suspended my dislike for any clothing garment that doubles as an advertisement, and just reveled in his pure joy. MUGGER III was nonplused by Junior's ecstatic 15 minutes inside the biker store?he was much happier when he got a lolly at the nearby Starbucks. Or as they say, "Star-Slow-Bucks."

    Later in the day we visited my brother Gary, sister-in-law Terry and their two boys Quinn and Rhys at their home in St. John's Wood. The cousins get along tremendously and had a ball at the local park, near the Abbey Road studios, playing on the slides and swings, while the adults chatted and started to freeze as the sun went down. Spring has arrived in London earlier than New York: the dogwoods are blooming, and the primrose adorning the walls of the park was simply dreamlike, as if we'd landed in a London from 60 years ago, with no McDonald's in sight, no one using a cellphone, just a gaggle of parents, babies and little kids happily communing on a Saturday afternoon. Okay, that sounds kind of sappy and San Francisco-like: life is twisted, man.

    On Sunday, while Mrs. M and MUGGER III took off for Harvey Nichols and Hamleys, on a shopping and lunch outing, I took Junior to Selfridges in one more vain attempt to get a plain leather jacket. (My wife struck out in most stores, even on smart Bond St.; as she said, London's a city for men, as MUGGER III found out one morning when, after some souvenir hunting, he endured my stopping at Turnbull & Asser for ties, Davidoff for Cuban stogies, Church's for slippers and Foster & Sons for a pair of black boots. The highlight for him was the antique toy soldier shop in Prince's Arcade and a jelly donut afterward.)

    We did have a funny conversation at the espresso bar with a woman from Madrid, who told us it was against the store's policy to take photos inside. We snuck a few anyway, and she explained, in broken English, the ins and outs of bullfighting, something that Junior can't wait to see for himself. Then we landed in Camden Town and this was a trip back to Austin Powers' love 'n' peace 60s on Carnaby St. (or Berkeley in 2000), with all the head shops out in the open, t-shirts for sale, political activists (socialists, of course) on every corner and leather shops five to a block. But none for kids.

    At one point, Junior spied a selection of hashish pipes and rolling papers and asked what they were and I sort of mumbled something about grownups and the olden days when Dad was a teenager. That often gets him off to another topic. When it comes to drugs, I'm of the Don't Tell and Hope They Don't Ask policy for as long as possible. You can take all this 100 percent honesty with kids and stuff it: there's plenty of time for reminiscences about our bad selves. Like when I'm 70 and Junior and MUGGER III have gone through their angry-young-men periods and we can all share a laugh and a highball.

    But Junior was transfixed by the markets in Camden Town, the wall-to-wall mass of tourists and locals, all the orange and green hair (still! Just like Berkeley!) and tats and men and women with tongue piercings. Not that he hasn't seen that in Manhattan; it was just such a concentration on this strip of real estate, a complete freakshow, that he was dazzled. We did have a ball in this very cool store that sold postcards and movie stills and weird Simpsons toys. Next door was a stand hawking rude t-shirts, one of which said, "Barbie is a slut." Junior, who's reading now, laughed, and said, "You know, Dad, Barbie is a slut!" I let that one slide.

    He had lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (Mrs. M and MUGGER III went the more sensible route and ate at a pub) while I took photos of all the Japanese buying Lady Di ashtrays, postcards of goofy Prince Charles and Jimi Hendrix, and all that dope-smoking paraphernalia. It took us forever to get back to Mayfair, and we were afraid Mrs. M would have a rolling pin waiting for us, but as it turned out she and our youngest hadn't yet returned.

    I thought the boys would be swept away by the madness at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park but they weren't: all the men and women ranting about Jesus left them entirely bored. (Humility forces me to admit that at the start of the expedition, I raised a hand to flag down a cab. Mrs. M reminded me that our destination was about two minutes away by foot. She's a crack navigator; I get lost in my own neighborhood in NYC.)

    In truth, I've been to much more raucous sessions in the past?it was especially lively during the Gulf War?but all of us liked this Asian trio who pointed to The Man With the Third Eye who could grant all sorts of favors if you adopted their religion. Of course the eye was figurative, but MUGGER III got a cackle out of some teenagers in the crowd when he said: "I know where the third eye is, Dad, it's inside that guy's butt!" That was enough for us and after a stop for popsicles we retired to the hotel. Mrs. M read a book while I combed through the Sunday papers, answered e-mail on my iBook, and the kids, tuckered out, played with their Action Men.

    Another observation: I've long considered London's dailies superior to those in the United States, and while that's still true?look no further than New York for the level of competition?they've suffered a noticeable dip in quality. It used to be that you could spend the better part of a morning just reading the papers. Now, it's a rip 'n' tear situation, with even the Daily Telegraph heading into Snoozeville. Some blame it on the Internet, but I think that's too simple an interpretation: what website do you go to often? Salon? I didn't think so. No, the Web is just an excuse for an already lazy worldwide media, a line of work so bloated by bureaucracy that not even the shrewdest businessmen can entirely cut the fat.

    The boys had a grand time with their mother on a trip to Big Ben and the London Eye. Unfortunately, the latter attraction, with its giant Ferris wheel, had lines far too long for an extended stay. The day before I took them to the London Dungeon?a shifty cabbie took a circuitous route that added about 10 pounds to the ride, the fucker?and we were warned at the door that the sights inside might be too frightening for the "young lads." Horsefeathers. Both boys started yawning at the rather tame exhibit. Sure, there was Mary Queen of Scots getting her head sliced off, and several peasants barfing up buckets of blood, but aside from a skeleton that periodically deafened the room with a sinister screech, we were unimpressed. One of the actors stopped by the snack bar where the kids were eating hotdogs and tried to camp it up for them. I appreciated the effort, but when MUGGER III said, "The blood on your face is fake," I couldn't stop laughing and the poor guy slinked off for more gullible prey.

    Mrs. M and I went to Bayswater for a sentimental dinner at The Standard, an inexpensive Indian restaurant where we've had a half dozen meals in the past. Per tradition, we stopped at the pub on the corner, blew several pounds on slot machines we couldn't understand, and marveled at the continued stinginess of the British when you ask for a mixed drink. You can't beat the pints of beer, but ask for a gin and tonic and you receive just a thimble of the juniper.

    We returned home via Virgin Airlines, and though the flight was long for the kids, they were delighted by the individual movie screens that allowed them to watch cartoons or play videogames, the backpacks filled with time-consuming goodies and the extremely solicitous service by the staff. In the lounge before we took off, Junior didn't know what he wanted to do first: he headed off to the arcade, then peered into the enclosed music chamber, got a Sprite and some brownies, and then announced, "I think it's time for my massage."

    Once on board, the pampering continued, with an amusing p.c. twist. On the menu (you're allowed to order at any time during the flight, a huge innovation in first-class service), the following paragraph appears at the bottom: "Customers are advised that food served inflight may contain nuts or nut derivatives. If you wish to know which items may contain genetically modified soya or maize please ask a member of the cabin crew." Yes, I understand there was a flap a year or two ago about peanuts on airplanes, but who could resist a chuckle at such language?

    Stop the Presses Sorry, but I'm compelled to mess up the flow of this column. It's Monday, March 27, and I've just finished reading The New York Times. There's an astonishing story by Katharine Q. Seelye about Al Gore's absurd plan to hijack campaign finance reform from John McCain as his hot issue for November's presidential election. Gore says?and try not to laugh?"If you elect me as your president, the McCain-Feingold bill will be the first domestic legislation I send to the Congress on my first day in office." Not only that, but he's fashioned a risky scheme that intends to raise $7.1 billion from individuals, corporations and unions, the interest on which will be used to fund congressional campaigns starting in 2008. As in, when his second term has elapsed. The good news is that Gore has completely misinterpreted the success of McCain's primary campaign: people voted for the Senator because of his biography, not for any of his fuzzy ideas. In fact, exit polls in most states showed that campaign finance reform ranked near the bottom of issues of importance to citizens. But Gore, literal and grandiose as ever, shamelessly claiming he's been cleansed of past fundraising violations, believes this will catapult him into the Oval Office. Chalk up one more mistake for Tony Coelho, Donna Brazile and the Gore Gang.

    The Times, naturally, is thrilled with Gore's conversion. On March 27, the paper smugly proclaimed: "Beyond McCain-Feingold, [Gore] said he would push for public financing through tax-deductible contributions to a special endowment and, if that proved insufficient, would have broadcasters provide free air time as a condition for keeping their licenses."

    That'll go over big in the communications industry.

    The paper continues: "Now that Mr. Gore is declaring himself so firmly for reform, the pressure is on Mr. Bush to come out for real reform as well."

    No it isn't. It's not time for the GOP candidate to advocate trashing the constitutional rights of Americans; it's not time for the Texan to abandon his equitable tax-cutting plan even though the Times lies and says it's "designed to favor his rich campaign donors."

    Incredibly, on the same page, the Times ran an editorial against the flag-desecration amendment currently before Congress. I happen to agree on this one: burning or destroying a flag, while repellent to some, is certainly no crime. But right after advocating a debasement of the First Amendment on campaign fundraising, a Times editorialist has the balls to write: "If the Senate truly respected the Constitution it is sworn to uphold, it would not be trifling with the Bill of Rights and its precious guarantee of freedom of speech."

    As usual, the Timesmen want it all: their candidate, their interpretation of the Founding Fathers' documents and their elite, arrogant and presumptuous notions of how Americans should live and be governed. This is a despicable, power-hungry newspaper that's only grown worse with the aging of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. The paper piously invoked Pravda when ranting, day after day, about the GOP's arcane primary rules in New York, but amateurs like the bumbling George Pataki aren't a patch on Sulzberger and Howell Raines.

    It's fortunate that at least some editorialists learned to tell the truth as children. David Tell, writing in the March 27 Weekly Standard, is devastating on the topic of Gore, confirming once again why he's probably the finest political essayist in America today. After cataloguing the Clinton-Gore-Reno atrocities, which understandably eats up countless column inches, Tell concludes: "Al Gore's sense of extralegal entitlement is a dangerous thing in a would-be president. His opponent in the forthcoming campaign, George W. Bush, may well try to make this case. There is no guarantee Bush will succeed. Eight years into the Clinton administration, the country's concern for the integrity of its laws?at least as they apply to politics and politicians?has never seemed weaker. 'Everybody does it,' Americans now routinely tell themselves, whistling past democracy's graveyard.

    "But they are wrong about that. And there will be honor in any attempt to change their minds, even if the attempt is a practical failure. George W. Bush should speak out, early and often, about the true import of Al Gore's grotesque campaign fund-raising scandals."

    Back to Business: My Political Notes While in London, my blood pressure went up a notch when I read the New York Times review (faxed to me a few days ahead of publication) of Peggy Noonan's The Case Against Hillary Clinton, which I'd given a rave notice in the March 16 Wall Street Journal. Michael Oreskes, toeing the Times party line, panned the brilliant book because it was a "polemic" and not based on thorough reporting. Like readers don't already know that the Clintons are a pair of social-climbing, power-hungry ciphers who don't care about anybody but themselves. That's my opinion: and Oreskes has his, citing administration toady Jeffrey Toobin's whitewash book A Vast Conspiracy as proof that Noonan's effort was flawed. Yes, Oreskes is that objective, as if Toobin doesn't have his own agenda, just like Noonan. These strange people employed by the Times have an endless store of arrogance and their work is really quite disgusting to read; what's worse is that none of them seems to know that the Times in its current incarnation is a neon blight on today's journalism. Unfortunately, because readers are so easily duped, mine might be a minority view.

    Oreskes writes on March 19: "In Toobin's telling, Bill Clinton, while flawed and foolish, was really a good guy, besieged by overzealous opponents who did far worse things than the president and the first lady. Noonan's case against Hillary Clinton would have been stronger by far if she had confronted this line of thinking and showed New Yorkers why it was wrong."

    Okay, I get it: Noonan's book would be "stronger" if she agreed with the equally biased Toobin, Oreskes and The New York Times. At least Noonan admits up front that she believe the election of Hillary to the Senate would continue "Clintonism," something I'm sure most Americans are not in favor of.

    Toobin is a prominent reporter whose writing should be recognized for its partisanship and elitism. He had a piece in the March 20 New Yorker, a profile of Washington Post publisher Donald Graham that was repellent for its condescension. Toobin says that Graham runs the "nation's second-most important newspaper"; I don't think he was alluding to The Wall Street Journal as the top banana. Frankly, as a Manhattanite, I'd swap the Times for Graham's paper in a flash. Toobin sniffs at Graham's obsession with market penetration, quoting the executive: "A lot of what makes the Post a good business is that if you put an ad in to sell shirts, you'll sell a lot of shirts." What an extraordinary concept! A newspaperman who thinks about commerce instead of promoting a political agenda!

    On Monday night, I was watching CNN and there was John McCain being interviewed on the steps of the Capitol, explaining to a doting reporter that he was glad to be back at work, ready to cooperate on his pet reform projects with "Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and vegetarians." I'll ease up on John of Arc now that he won't be the GOP nominee, but it would be gratifying if he got some new material. Perhaps Salon's Jake Tapper, once he emerges from McCain's lower intestine to become the Senator's press secretary, can help out on that front.

    What's far more irritating is that the Beltway press, looking for a villain in the McCain campaign?someone who dashed their dreams for a "reform" candidate they'd never vote for?has settled on consultant Mike Murphy. Jacob Weisberg was especially obnoxious in a March 16 Slate dispatch: calling Murphy a "creep," the reporter objected to the outspoken strategist's interview with The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz (a fellow McCain toady) a few days after the Senator's campaign was suspended. Saying that Murphy exceeds the "normal standards of the political-consulting profession, which ranks ethically somewhere between personal-injury law and loan-sharking," Weisberg claims that Murphy was a credit-hog, a backstabber, a purveyor of dirty campaigning and sneaky. I'd say that reporters like Weisberg, who completely betrayed their own political instincts to fall in the tank for a committed conservative like McCain, rank very low in the ethics department, but that's a different and longer story.

    Question: If Murphy was such a skunk, why didn't White Knight McCain fire him? Answer: Because without Murphy's brilliant co-optation of almost the entire liberal media, and some on-acid-for-a-month conservatives, McCain wouldn't have become a phenomenon, a famous man who inspired millions to vent their own anger?which probably had nothing to do with the candidate. If it weren't for Murphy, McCain, underfunded from the start, would've pulled a Bruce Babbitt (another media favorite) and dropped out early in the race.

    Weisberg dumps on Murphy for suggesting to Kurtz that the now-infamous Virginia Beach speech, in which McCain stupidly blasted Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, was the work of campaign manager Rick Davis and that he tried to soften it. Who knows? I'll bet that Murphy and all the McCain staff high-fived each other (along with reporters) after those remarks?which equated a has-been like Falwell with Al Sharpton!?almost immediately backfired. In any case, McCain himself was on a messianic crusade at that time, high from all the attention and certain of his self-righteous and miscalculated screed. Again, if McCain, the candidate, didn't sign off on the oration, he didn't have to deliver it.

    It's the job of a political consultant to vault his client to victory. Murphy and McCain's other main handlers almost pulled off a miracle, against incredible odds. That Weisberg and scores of other reporters who bonded with the former POW are now disappointed is no reason to blame the hired hands. McCain was the presidential candidate; he wasn't a puppet. And that's something I'm sure he'd agree with.

    The Nation's David Corn wasn't nearly as churlish and mean-spirited as Weisberg in his March 27 editorial about the primary results, but his writing was just as silly. It seemed a throwback to the 60s, with an odd twist: When did The Nation ever mourn the defeat of a man who's pro-NRA, anti-Hollywood, a military hawk, pro-life and a self-proclaimed political heir to Ronald Reagan? It seems reform covers it all: you utter that word and liberals come running. It doesn't matter that's McCain's hobbyhorses are the elimination of "soft money" in politics, which Mr. Keating Five collected plenty of, and a war against tobacco. And that's it. Now, in the extreme solipsism of the media that rallied behind McCain, it was obvious they believed the candidate would "grow" and become a full-fledged progressive with honor. Talk about self-deception.

    Corn writes: "The system works. After Super Tuesday, each party has as its putative nominee the fellow embraced by its elites, by its main money people, by its prominent lobbyists and, of course, by its loyal voters, who followed the orders from above and spurned challengers who, in limited fashion, dared their parties to be better. John McCain and Bill Bradley provided more discomfort than expected. But the lesson is not startling: It's damn hard to beat the Man. Even when you're a reformer/ war hero who inspires independents. Even when you're a reformer/sports hero defying the number-two to an impeached President."

    "The Man"? I haven't heard that term in 20 years. But what's most startling about this Nation editorial is its condescending attitude to all those who voted for Bush and Gore. The Bush voters are written off as sheep-like boobs, but what about all the "people of color," gays and union members who cast their lot with Gore? Do Corn and The Nation, who champion these groups in every issue, really believe they're so stupid as to "follow the orders from above"? I'd like to hear a response to that.

    (It should be noted that Corn, who's written for New York Press in the last two years, has had his column discontinued. No knock on Corn, a friendly and smart fellow, just a hard editorial decision that comes up from time to time. Also, he tells me that the "the Man" line was a joke, but I sort of doubt it.)

    Now to the truly reprehensible, if only for its mass circulation: on March 16 Richard Berke and Frank Bruni wrote the standard anti-Bush article, this one headlined "Bush Rebuffs Bid To Embrace Views Pushed By McCain." Their front-page lead story was larded with the bias against the Texas Governor that has defined the Times' agenda in the GOP nomination battle, suggesting that current relations between the two competitors were far more strained than they really were. The story, once again, was accompanied by a large, unflattering picture of Bush.

    However, if you read the excerpts of the interview that Berke and Bruni conducted with Bush (presumably recorded verbatim) you'll emerge with a different picture from their one-sided story.

    Bush: "First of all, Al Gore is no John McCain. Please don't lump John into that category... I know everybody said this was a dirty campaign. Compared to many campaigns, it wasn't and the proof is that we had huge turnouts in our primaries, huge, much bigger than the Democrats and much bigger than the past... I know that some are saying that people aren't interested in tax relief. I happen to think they are. And even if they weren't, I'd still be talking about it, because I happen to think it's important for the economic growth."

    Berke & Bruni: "Polls say voters aren't demanding a huge tax cut and that they trust Al Gore more on the tax issue. Is that not like campaigning with weights around your ankles?"

    Bush: May I make something really clear to you, once again, and I hope this pleases you. I don't care what the polls say. I don't... It's not going to change my opinion about what I think should happen."

    Now it's possible that Americans don't care about tax cuts. (Although I believe that most believe that a dollar they earn is better put in their pocket than in the binge-spending government's.) Still, Bush's position on polls is refreshing after seven years of Bill Clinton relying on focus groups and a battery of pollsters to dictate not only domestic and international policy, but where to vacation.

    Then I was reading the March 21 International Herald Tribune and nearly spit up my coffee. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jim Yardley, of the New York Times Service, come up with a whopper on the McCain/Bush front.

    They write: "Without question, Mr. Bush has been a popular governor, yet he is not widely viewed in Texas as a reformer. Unlike Senator John McCain of Arizona, who bucked the Republican Party on such issues as campaign finance and tobacco legislation, Mr. Bush is not as confrontational, nor is he usually identified with sweeping change. His record is largely built on compromise and his ability to build coalitions with conservative Democrats.

    "Mr. Bush's boldest effort at reform?his 1997 plan to overhaul the state's outdated tax code?failed badly. The governor won plaudits for his courage but ultimately could not leverage the 'political capital' he has promised to use if elected president: He could not win the support of enough lawmakers in his own party."

    Amazing. Start with that last sentence: McCain couldn't win the support of his own party either in his attempts at reform. Both examples of McCain's "bucking" the system failed miserably. And is it bad that Bush wants to work with conservative Democrats in Congress, just as LBJ gathered members from both aisles at his toilet to ram through legislation? Unintentionally, Yardley and Oppel Jr. prove that Bush, based on his record in Texas, would be superior to McCain in actually passing laws.

    Why Bother With Facts?

    Eric Alterman, the affluent pundit who writes for The Nation on a semi-regular basis, is an asshole. Aside from family members and buddy George Stephanopoulos, I'm curious to see how many people will refute that characterization, one I don't make lightly. In the April 10 issue of the quasi-lefty weekly, Alterman lets facts slide as he skewers Rupert Murdoch for owning conservative publications. We've been down this road before, but Alterman is so bent on adding his own spin (for about the 50th time) to a tired subject that he makes many mistakes in the process. I have no idea whether they're intentional or not.

    For example, he describes the New York Post as "a money-losing tabloid composed almost entirely of gossip and sports." Yes, the Post loses money, as does The Nation I'm sure, judging by its constant pleas for reader contributions, even though one of its owners is the wealthy actor Paul Newman. And there's gossip and sports, it's true, but I wonder how Fred Dicker, Jack Newfield, Deborah Orin, Brian Blomquist, Mary Huhn, Keith Kelly or any of a number of non-gossips and -sportswriters would feel about Alterman's ham-handed dig?

    Alterman's current beef is with the "blind" items found in "Page Six." He claims that the Post uses this admittedly suspect device to hound liberals. But guess where Richard Johnson ("Page Six" commander) lifted the idea: from Michael Musto, in that ultraconservative tabloid called the Village Voice.

    More irritating, however, is Alterman's reflexive bleat that Murdoch is "a committed right-wing ideologue who uses his media properties to romance reactionaries and assault his liberal adversaries." That's either naive or purposely misleading. Murdoch has his own political views but he doesn't let them get in the way of business. How else to explain his endorsement of Clinton-clone Tony Blair against Conservative Prime Minister John Major in 1997? Also, the New York Post threw all its muscle behind the doomed candidacy of John McCain this spring, even though Murdoch certainly didn't agree with the Arizona Senator's stands on tax cuts, campaign finance reform or anti-tobacco legislation. Obviously, he was far more interested in McCain's position as Commerce Committee chairman in the Senate, where he could return the favor when necessary.

    Alterman, like many affluent left-wing writers, is paranoid. Mention the name Murdoch and they froth at the mouth. Levelheaded thinking is not a trait of such journalists, but Alterman is currently the worst offender.

    March 27

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