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Down The Hatch; Progress Report


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Jonah Goldberg

DOWN THE HATCH
Now, I don’t like saying this, but apparently my first choice for president of the United States is Orrin Hatch, the Mormon Frank Burns (character from M*A*S*H played by Larry Linville – also the star of the short-lived 1982 TV series, Herbie the Love Bug).

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Yesterday, a friend forwarded me the URL for selectsmart.com. At this site, you answer a bunch of questions about your political preferences and it spits out your choice like an old Univac. This nutty thing said my numero uno hombre is Orrin Hatch. My number two was Gary Bauer and my number-three choice, according to these guys, is Harry Browne.

I like Gary Bauer and I hope he’s the next chief of staff in a Republican administration, but he has zero chance of getting my vote. As for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, I would certainly vote for him to chair the next big Star Trek convention, but president of the U.S.? Not a chance.

What about Hatch? Well, I don’t hate him either. But by my own, admittedly rough, non-computer-aided calculation, the odds of me ever voting for Orrin Hatch are roughly equivalent to me naming Sidney “Argh! That holy water burns!” Blumenthal godfather to my firstborn child.

Still, I’m sure the slide-rule gnomes inside that big computer were right when they said that Hatch and I “agree” on many, probably most, issues. But come on, Orrin Hatch?

The reason I’m not hitching my wagon to the Hatch juggernaut is because the guy is a classic political hack. Can anyone remember whether he’s calling for Janet Reno’s resignation? Or does he call her his good friend and colleague during even-numbered weeks? I can never keep that straight.

Anyway, the point isn’t Hatch. The point is that a politician’s stance on the issues are a necessary-but-not-sufficient ingredient for supporting a presidency. In recent years, there has been so much hand-wringing, chest thumping, and tut-tutting on the question of “the issues.” Why can’t they just talk about the issues? The Lewinsky scandal is distracting us from the real issues. Issues, issues, issues!

Well, fine. Issues are important. I think semi-socialist Senator Paul Wellstone’s a decent guy. But if I wanted to live in Sweden, I’d move there.

But in the wake of the Clinton scandals, can anyone really say that character isn’t important? I don’t simply mean the pants-dropping. By character I mean what sort of man he is. I mean the kind of personal and political opportunities a man looks for. The way he treats his enemies and, more importantly, his staff and friends. I mean his work ethic and his sense of humor, and perhaps most important, his sense of himself. If you don’t think that emerges in policy and politics, than you don’t pay attention to politics.

Bill Clinton’s character has left a trail throughout his political life. This trail’s been well documented and I’ve already showered, so why go through all of that again? But I remember when he said over and over again during his first year or two, “I’ve been working so hard!” for your this, that, and the other thing. I remember my dad saying, “Who cares how hard he’s working? What does that have to do with anything?” My dad’s point was that whining about your workload is not merely childish, it’s egocentric. That stuck with me.

From the Lewinsky scandal through his recent defeat on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Clinton has stuck to a new formulation — he needed to “get back to the work of the American people.” After his defeat on the treaty, Clinton was asked at a press conference about Judge Wright’s ruling that he lied under oath. He responded, in part, “The American people have been put through enough, and they need every hour, every day, every minute I can give them, thinking about their business.” Putting aside Clinton’s endless fundraisers and serial golf outings on the American people’s dime, my biggest problem with this formulation is that it suggests that the president of the United States is the indispensable brain of the body politic. That by simple, but constant, application of his intellect we can solve all of our problems. In short, I don’t want a president who thinks he’s that vital and, really, that important.

When asked at a March 1, 1929, press conference about his place in history, the third best Republican president this century, Calvin Coolidge, responded: “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.” That is my kind of guy.

Of the Democrats — Gore and Bradley — they both seem to have shades of this problem. Gore thinks he is required to fix the internal combustion engine, the country, the world. Bradley, more humble, simply thinks he is needed to fix race relations in this country. Gore’s arrogance has been well covered. But Bradley’s is in a way just as bad. What is left for the government to do to change men’s hearts? What is left to say? If there were a concrete program, policy, or position that could be taken by the president of the United States that would demonstrably “fix” race relations, does anybody think that Bill Clinton wouldn’t have done it? For that matter, wouldn’t George Bush have done it?

Nonetheless, few Democrats will be voting for Gore or Bradley because of the “issues.” As we will undoubtedly learn tonight during their first debate, they are in near total agreement on the issues. Ultimately, people will vote for two things, their character and their ability to beat the GOP nominee. This is not good news for Gore.

Of the Republicans, I agree with Steve Forbes on the issues more than anyone else. But if I were a primary voter, I doubt I’d vote for him — because I don’t think he’d make a particularly good GOP nominee and I can’t for the life of me figure out what kind of president he’d be. And, he doesn’t blink. That leaves two men: John McCain and George Bush, both of them consummate blinkers. On the issues, John McCain is, in my opinion, the lesser candidate. In terms of character, George Bush comes up short and not because he’s not a war hero. “Compassionate conservatism” and his various forms of Clinton-style triangulation are not great omens for the kind of president he would be. Ultimately, the choice will come down to who is the taller candidate.

Just kidding. I simply couldn’t figure out how to end this column and I can’t figure out who my candidate is. So, perhaps a new poll is in order. Especially since so many candidates have dropped out since the last one.

If you remember how G-File Presidential Polls work, the general assumption is that all campaigns cheat. It is like the Kobiashi Maru from Star Trek II or, for that matter, the Iowa Straw poll. A candidate is judged by his ability to rig the poll. Last time, for example, several hundred thousand “people” voted in our poll because various campaign computer geeks disabled the one-vote-per-user protocols. I can only assume that will happen again. Anyway, here we go

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The Jonah Poll Who is your choice for the Republican Party nominee?
George W. Bush
John McCain
Steve Forbes
Gary Bauer
Alan Keyes
Frank Burns, er, Orrin Hatch
PROGRESS REPORT
Now, on to more important issues. Like, say, the fact that if you go to google.com and search for “More evil than Satan himself,” the number one answer is Microsoft.

Also, I must apologize for the lack of a G-File yesterday. I got caught up writing the latest installment of our occasional feature, “Magazine Arguments” [Link defunct] — a sort of book review of big magazine articles. Today, I write about Sam Tanenhaus’s piece about conservative women in the latest Vanity Fair, as well as Eric Alterman’s reaction to it in the pages of The Nation.

Also, we’ve set up Ronald Bailey’s Envirofact-a-Day [Link defunct], which lays out a new, often surprising, fact about the environment that you’re unlikely to hear from the mainstream media.

And, of course, Rich Lowry, my boss and the greatest humanitarian in the world — in that order — continues his World Series Diarist [Link defunct].

Also, our “What’s That From?” [Link defunct] feature is proving too difficult for many of you. So we are dumbing it down to my level.

On the plus side, we are installing a “forward e-mail” function to most of our features that will send the URL for the page to anybody you want. This is a shameless and obvious ploy to bring more people to the site. Please exploit it with abandon.

Remember, I’m the editor of National Review Online now, and I’ve got to cover a lot of ground and still leave time to watch The Equalizer every day ( I play this cool game where I shotgun a beer every time someone says, “And the police won’t do anything!”). We are constantly adding new, exclusive content and links to the homepage, and it has paid off. The number of visitors to the site has more than doubled in the last month and half. But now the suits are addicted to dramatic increases in traffic, rather than the actual numbers. I get paid when more of you come here, and my Webmaster gets denied much-needed medical attention when you don’t. So do yourself, me, and my Webmaster a big favor and come around more.



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