An Expert's Advice to the Ambitious Pol

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by Tom White by Tom White

Back in glorious days gone by, when a chap named George W. Bush was just some big shot's ne'er-do-well kid, I subscribed to a wonderful monthly called the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, RRR for short. We didn't know it at the time, but we were being treated to some of the last of the great Rothbard's writings, which had the magic quality of always seeming effortless and incisive while often being very funny indeed. What an eye he had for the passing scene.

One passage I still laugh to think of was an imaginary interview he presented in the run-up to the 1992 election. Bush the Elder (Bush I) was running that year for a second term against an oncoming Giant Among Statesmen, Big Bill, the Arkansan. Rothbard has George H.W. called in by Rockefeller for some instruction a few months before the election. I assume this was David, the family capo at the time. (Is he still? Or has some younger member of the clan replaced him? It's amazing how little we know of our really powerful dynasties.)

I seem to recall that David wrote the New York Times in October of '92 throwing the Rockefeller weight to Clinton. Whether this was before or after Rothbard's piece appeared I don't know.

In the Rothbard "interview" George H.W. adopts the humble posture requisite for a retainer, while Rockefeller rumbles on after the style of the Godfather, suggesting that if George has any sense of what is good for him or for his family – for that crowd of youngsters he has who are all going to need some sponsorship by the powerful, or at least avoid being excised from the rolls of the viable – he, G.H.W., needs to throw the election. And of course George did. Did a star turn at it, as a matter of fact. Few elections have been better thrown. (The mournful Dole exercise was, I think, rather different, simply a way of saying "pass.")

I am no giant among political analysts, but I think I see a sort of parallel to the Bush I case developing this year. Somebody seems to have called in JFK II and delivered a similar message to him on the tremendous advisability of losing. I have no dog, as they say, in this fight, but I think people with money on Kerry might think again. The man has a natural winning strategy to adopt, but he steers as clear of it as if it were poison gas.

Kerry could talk loudly about negotiating an end to the Iraq invasion and he could even set a formal timetable for early withdrawal of our troops, since, after all, "we have done what we signed on to do." (Keep in mind that, like all campaign promises it would not have to be kept; think of it as a winning ploy only). It would galvanize the anti-war crowd, which increasingly includes the parents of military assigned anywhere overseas, and I'd guess a lot of the military themselves, and it would sweep into the Democrat column every half-way intelligent adult able to assess the horrible balagan (a wonderful Hebrew term Israelis now use for their own ungodly mess) that we have made of Iraq. Truth is, it might even move me to vote for K. and that is saying a great deal.

I can think of some convoluted reasons why Kerry is not doing this but I forbear using up space for such mere speculations. Howard Dean is surely an example to him of the dangers of going anti-war prematurely. Perhaps it is that Kerry knows something the rest of us don't know. I have even thought he might have a resolve "in the breast" to get the hell out of Iraq as fast as he can after the election, but dares not mention it now. (I am thinking of the way the Pope can make a cardinal "in the breast," but not announce it, usually for political reasons.) But nothing I can think of seems to make much sense out of Kerry's oddly supine stance in front of the Bush media juggernaut, which the happily acerbic Frank Rich of the NYTimes recently described as a kind of castration.

So perhaps, after all, he has been called in by the capo. Two months to go.

Tom White [send him mail] writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous (2003).

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