CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 09, 2004, issue of January 09, 2004.
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Kerry Question: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, after jumping down Howard Dean’s throat last fall when Dean suggested that America should pursue an “evenhanded” policy in Middle East negotiations, used a similar phrase himself on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, according to a tape supplied by a rival campaign.

Dean later apologized for using the expression, saying he since had come to understand that it was considered by some to be “code words” for pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Kerry said at the time of Dean’s now-infamous “ought not to take sides” remark that his opponent was looking to depart from more than a half-century of pro-Israel Middle East policy, but he apparently dropped his hostility to Dean’s wording when responding to a question last week.

On the tape, an unidentified woman, who said she was “speaking now for the Palestinian people,” posed a question to him about the Middle East at a “chili feed” at the Alvirne High School in Hudson, N.H. “It seems to me this is the whole problem with the Mideast: We have to get the Israelis out of the West Bank, and get two states and have some evenhandedness,” she stated.

According to the recording, Kerry replied, “Well, there has been evenhandedness. It may not be now, but I thought Bill Clinton did a brilliant job trying to move down the road, and he got this close — this close. Had the Republicans not tied Bill Clinton up in a witch hunt for several years, I think he would have had the time to complete the mission in the Middle East. … What I’m trying to do is frame the picture because there’s a vision of peace in the Middle East.” Kerry went on to praise Israel as “our friend” and “our ally,” saying that the special relationship between the nations could be “leveraged” to provide a “fair-handed” deal.

Kerry spokesman David Wade argued in an e-mail response that Kerry wasn’t really using the language in the same way that Dean had and then took aim at, you guessed it, Dean. “John Kerry repeated a questioner’s word back to her, he didn’t agree with her,” Wade wrote. “Here’s how you can tell: Answering a hostile question from an activist who opposed John Kerry’s pro-Israel stance, John Kerry defended the tradition of Democrats from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton who proudly took sides in the Middle East, Democrats who knew that Hamas terrorists should never be called ‘soldiers.’” The “soldiers” reference is to another Dean misstep.

“In contrast, Howard Dean’s own statements put him on the wrong side of those fundamental questions,” Wade continued. “To compare John Kerry’s lifelong clear, vigorous support for Israel to Howard Dean’s recklessness and indefensible judgment is laughable.”

* * *

Hitler Hubbub: MoveOn.org, an Internet-based left-liberal group that has pledged to help elect the Democratic presidential nominee, is apologizing for posting on the Web two videos comparing President Bush to Hitler. The videos arrived as entries for a contest the group sponsored soliciting “ads” that would “tell the truth about the president and his policies.”

The videos were among more than 1,500 submissions that were posted on a Web site, bushin30seconds.org, for the public to review.

In a phone message to the Forward, MoveOn founder Wes Boyd expressed his “regret for not having filtered …out” the Bush-as-Hitler submissions, a sentiment he also put in a statement to the press, which has given MoveOn a drubbing for the videos. The Anti-Defamation League also complained, among other Jewish groups.

“The ads of course got very bad scores and are not at all finalists in our contest,” Boyd said.

Left-liberals are not the only ones playing politics with Holocaust imagery. Republican anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist compared the estate tax to the Holocaust in a little-remarked-upon radio interview last fall that was raised again this week in a syndicated column by Richard Cohen. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which inveighed against the videos MoveOn posted, did not return a call seeking comment on Norquist’s rhetoric. But its executive director, Matt Brooks, said in denouncing MoveOn to the Forward, “This brand of hateful rhetoric is damaging to the electoral process — regardless of which side of the political spectrum in originates from,” so by inference he was denouncing Norquist, right?

* * *

Holy Howard: Dean, who recently pledged that he would begin speaking about faith on the campaign trail, is off to a rocky start — and earning a frosty response from the head of the Anti-Defamation League.

The candidate, a Congregationalist whose wife and children are Jewish, began trumpeting his fealty to Jesus around the Christmas holiday in what he acknowledged was a bid to connect with Christian voters in Southern states. Last October, Dean had talked up his Jewish family’s background during a meeting with Jewish communal leaders.

Those moves are “patronizing to both communities” and “in poor taste,” said ADL national director Abraham Foxman. “You talk to Jews and tell them how Jewish your family is. You talk to Christians in the Bible Belt and tell them how much you love Jesus. We’ve gone beyond that.”

Dean certainly is pushing it. Since he began his God jag, he has likened the Democrats’ campaign to Jesus’ squabbles with the Pharisees 2,000 years ago, saying the presidential contest “ought to be about evicting the money-changers from the temple” – not realizing, perhaps, that the Gospel story and the ‘money-changer’ disparagement have formed the basis of oh, 1,900-plus years of anti-Jewish polemic. He also flubbed a question asking him to name his favorite book in the New Testament. He named Job, which as we know is part of the Hebrew Bible — known to Christians as the “Old Testament.” He later corrected himself.

But Dean is nothing if not ecumenical. The New York Times overheard him channeling his inner Muslim, using the expression “Inshallah” (“God willing”), which is often heard across back fences in Vermont. And at a Chanukah party in New Hampshire, Dean recited the Hebrew blessing over the candles, just as – great moments in presidential campaigning — he did impromptu during an interview with the Forward in November 2002.

Foxman, who issued a statement Tuesday “to remind everybody that [religious talk] has limited viability and credibility in an election campaign,” said the ground rules are: “there’s nothing wrong with being proud” of one’s faith, but “it’s not a reason to vote for anybody.”

* * *

Joe in 30 Seconds: Senator Joseph Lieberman’s campaign has begun airing television ads in several of the states voting February 3, including Arizona, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

It also unveiled a radio ad in New Hampshire that touts an “endorsement” of sorts – from Bush, who, according to an Australian newspaper, believes Lieberman to be the strongest Democratic presidential candidate.

Lieberman campaign manager Craig Smith told reporters during a conference call Monday that on February 3 the campaign has “to win” some states and “do well” in others. He said Lieberman needs to finish in the top “3 or 4” in New Hampshire, but if fourth place comes close to third it would be “fine.”

The campaign will spend about a million dollars a week on the ads in January and another million on its ground operation.

The New Hampshire radio ad, titled “Secret,” touts a recent article from The Australian that reported on a private conversation between Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. “Newspapers report that George Bush told the prime minister who he thinks would be the toughest Democrat for him to run against,” the announcer intones. “What do you think he said? Howard Dean? No way. George Bush said that Joe Lieberman would be the toughest Democrat to beat.”

One of the television ads, in what the campaign acknowledged is a swipe at Dean, promotes Lieberman’s moderation. “How do we defeat George Bush’s extreme agenda?” it asks. “It’ll take more than extreme anger. Joe Lieberman has spent 30 years rejecting the extremes of both parties.”

* * *

Arab-American Favorite: An online presidential poll at the Web site of the Arab American Institute is showing Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich to be the most popular Democratic candidate among that group.

Of the 3,450 people who had registered their choices by about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday – polling was to end by Sunday — some 51% had picked Kucinich. The next closest challenger was Dean, with 21.9%. Bush garnered 11.4%. All other candidates registered in the single digits.






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