By Oren Rawls

Published September 19, 2003, issue of September 19, 2003.
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Picture This: Partisanship may be a staple of pre-election years, but this year’s candidate-bashing by the media seems to have a particularly nasty flair to it.

Take, for instance, John J. Miller’s cover story in the September 1 issue of the conservative National Review, titled “The Awful Specter of Yet Another Term.” The article takes aim at Senator Arlen Specter, the senior of the three Jewish Republicans in Congress.

“The 73-year-old Specter is one of the Senate’s best-known but least-liked members,” Miller reports, characterizing the Pennsylvania Republican as “a humorless man who is cold to colleagues and cruel to staff.”

Specter is facing a strong challenge in his bid to win a fifth term from conservative Rep. Pat Toomey. National Review, in a thinly disguised endorsement of the challenger, explains why the senator, moderate by GOP standards, is not fit to carry the Republican Party mantle.

“The problem for conservatives is that Specter isn’t their jerk nearly enough,” Miller writes, in reference to a 1992 stump-speech quote by conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich that “Arlen Specter is a jerk, but he’s our jerk.” “He is an abortion-rights absolutist, a dogged advocate of racial preferences, a bitter foe of tort reform, a firm friend of the International Criminal Court — the list is long.”

To the conservative observer, though, Specter’s most egregious mistake was to break party ranks by not voting President Clinton guilty of impeachable crimes in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Even worse, the senator and former Warren Commission lawyer is unapologetic: To wit, Miller reports, “two pictures of Clinton decorate the foyer of Specter’s Senate office.”

Criticism of Specter’s interior decorating is, of course, old news for avid Forward readers. In our July 18 issue, he was scored by an anonymous Pennsylvania Jewish communal leader for displaying on his office wall a framed photo of the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad.

To Specter’s critics, it seems, the senator just doesn’t get the picture.

* * *

Bush Whacked: Critics across the aisle were no less charitable in their barbs against the resident president.

Here’s how John Nichols handicaps the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls in the September 29 issue of the liberal magazine The Nation: “While the other candidates continue to position themselves as the progressive populist (Kucinich), the mainstream liberal (Kerry), labor’s champion (Gephardt), the women’s rights contender (Moseley Braun), the civil rights contender (the Rev. Al Sharpton), the vaguely Clintonesque Southerner (North Carolina Senator John Edwards), the serious senior senator (Florida’s Bob Graham) or the Democrat even a Republican could love (Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman), Dean is satisfied to run as the guy who really, really wants to put it to Bush.”

And that, Nichols argues, is the essence of former Vermont governor and current Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean’s electoral appeal.

“To a greater extent than any other candidate, Dean has recognized that what Democrats want in 2004 is a Bush-bashing populist,” he writes. “If Dean is to be displaced, it will be by a candidate who does a better job of convincing grassroots Democrats he or she will give Bush no quarter and, when the opportunity comes, deliver the knockout blow.”

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