Sleazy Southern Hypocrite? ‘W.’ Is the Real Clinton

Writers of popular fiction are usually advised: “Show, don’t tell!” The same advice would appear to hold true for a work of populist fiction currently in the process of publication, so to speak. Namely, Candidate Gore.

This is a man who has changed his public persona so often that it is by now apparent that he cannot exist in real life, and must therefore be a work of the imagination. Someone’s imagination, though whose is not yet clear. My advice is directed therefore to that cadre of Gore imagineers who are constantly telling us that, in private, Al is a barrel of laughs, relaxed and witty, and not the updated simulacrum of the stiff-limbed guy in the old Amana TV commercials who had those of us of a certain age rolling in hysterics in front of our DuMonts, circa 1955. If Al is such a cool guy, stop telling us about it! Give us a look!

Many people for whom I have warm feelings have declared for Mr. Gore, who is the clear favorite among the bien-pensant types. Bien-pensant literally translates as “well-thinking” but is usually rendered (by Harrap’s, for instance) as “right-minded.” I don’t know about the latter, since it has been my experience that the people I know who seem to incarnate what is meant by bien-pensant are those who pensent bien mostly about themselves. They do tend to be people who are as guilty about their money as they are proud of having gone to Harvard; a vote for Mr. Gore, they seem to think, is a demonstration of personal high-mindedness–which should doubtless make it all the easier for them to accept, with moral grace, the tax cuts proposed by George W. Bush, should the Republican win.

Do not interpret this as a rousing or even a by-default endorsement of W., however. Your correspondent’s current inclination is to pull the lever for Rick Lazio and selected other local candidates and initiatives, and then to leave the booth.

As I confessed in this space last time out, I did not watch one second of the Republican Convention (as, in a display of fairness that should discomfit my enemies, I will not watch one second of the Democratic counterpart), and therefore missed the Speech. To hear my friends talk, it made the famous orations of Lincoln, Pericles and Mark Antony sound like rhetorical chopped liver by comparison. When I ask them why a country in the shape this one is in needs a “new beginning,” the silence that ensues is impressive. I also missed Colin Powell’s Sermon on the Mount, which I suppose I regret, although not really, since I find something skewed in the idea of getting $75,000 a pop to lecture rich white adults about poor black children and yet not feel the Presidency to be worth the risk. Still, General Powell left everyone with a good feeling: What a good guy he is, what good people Republicans are, no longer the tough Lionel Barrymore types that foreclosed Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life , and I suppose that was the point.

The fact is, I don’t trust speeches, especially acceptance-cum-mission speeches made by slick, politically overschooled youngish men promising new beginnings to a howling auditorium packed with the converted. The thickest-tongued among us will sound like Demosthenes under such circumstances. I particularly don’t trust speeches that have to be glossed for me ideologically by Bob Bartley on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal , in the same spirit that Mr. Bartley used to function as ideological (re)interpreter for the notables who used to address the lunches at the old Lehrman Institute (“What the Senator means to say is …”). I do not trust anyone said to be “moving toward the center,” which is where you find the pockets in which lobbyists store politicians’ peckers. I do not trust W.

I was fooled by Bill Clinton in 1992, but I was still drinking then, and I hope I have become less addled in my sunny idealism about what this country is capable of. I do not intend to be fooled by W., who has a great deal more in common with Mr. Clinton than Mr. Gore does, oddly enough. Better hair, a more suspicious mouth. Wire instead of blubber, but a brother under the skin or I miss my guess.

As Al Smith said, look at the record. I think Mr. Bush’s Arlington Stadium–Texas Rangers deal stinks worse than Whitewater or anything Mr. Clinton–or Hillary–has been associated with; as for a sin comparison, suffice it to say that the Bushes, as a family, have always been too busy hustling money to have much time for pussy, and I happen to take a dimmer view of venality than venery, although neither belongs in the Oval Office. Both were governors of Southern states notorious for insider politics, where both kept their death-row populations sizzling like country sausage. Both had the fix put in, military-service-wise. Both are complete hypocrites on the subject of education (I have a daughter-in-law who’s a public school teacher in Texas; you should hear her on the subject of her governor). In Mr. Clinton and Mr. W., you’re looking at two smile-and-a-shoeshine men with hominy accents and rich patrons whose interests they serve and boots they lick. Hard to tell apart.

I’ll be very surprised if Peggy Noonan isn’t right, and that Mr. Gore is licking his chops at the prospect of debating W. A deft debater like Mr. Gore–especially if he lets loose the wit and wisdom his friends tell the rest of us he possesses–might make the nation aware that in W. we’re looking at a version of the very President that Mr. Gore is criticized for being close to/with. If I was Mr. Gore, I’d be thinking: What a great way to run against Clinton without exactly running against Clinton–if you see what I mean. Hell, there’s only two feet of aisle separating centrist Clintonism from centrist W.-ism. It’s merely a question of which Greenspan buttock gets licked first, the right or the left.

These are thoughts sure to increase the skidmark count in the smalls of W.’s inner circle, now that the heady days of the convention are past; I’m predicting we’re going to see all sorts of interesting debate-evasion maneuvering on the Bush side come Labor Day (or sooner).

Taxes are going to be a big issue. My vote is likely to go to the man who comes reasonably close to my own tax philosophy, which begins with the notion that since much great wealth in this country is achieved through tax trickery or subsidy or giveaway, a progressive tax is simply a form of subsidy payback. Behind every great fortune is a crime, wrote Balzac. Had he been writing in millennial America, he might have said, behind every great American fortune lies a fat deal with Uncle Sam.

Progressivism is best achieved by eliminating those tax breaks that one needs to be rich to begin with in order to exploit; the way our system works, to really shelter capital, you have to have capital. Get rid of those gimmicks; if you can’t, stick with graduated taxes, but try to tax as rich what really is rich by present standards. Put a surtax on political contributions over $100 and more than $5,000 in the aggregate for any one tax entity: 50 percent sounds about right. Begin to phase in a special national sales tax on Internet transactions. Confiscate the income of pundits who are wrong more than 50 percent of the time.

One other thing. Since the government seems to like to join forces with the plaintiffs’ bar, how about a strike-suit against Fannie Mae et al. to secure for the American taxpayer a piece of the action in return for the last-resort guarantee we’ve been putting up all these years, which has made Fannie’s stockholders rich? Without that taxpayer guarantee, we’re talking bupkes . If I approached a Wall Street consortium and asked for a similar backstop on a trillion dollars of bond action, you can be sure a piece of the equity would be demanded alongside the stand-by fee. But in the case of Fannie Mae, whose shares are worth God knows how many billions in the market as I write, Uncle Sam has asked for not a single share, which seems to me an egregious breach of duty by the government in its role as fiduciary for the collective American taxpayer. It makes you kind of wonder how a campaign would go that proclaimed, “It’s time to stop screwing the little guy!”

Not that either of these two bought-and-beholden clowns would ever dare do such a thing. New beginning, my ass! Well, on to Los Angeles and Barbra Streisand, if you can stand the thought.

Sleazy Southern Hypocrite? ‘W.’ Is the Real Clinton