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Flash Traffic

Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "All in the family," March 2, 2002

Will President Bush veto the so-called campaign-finance reform bill snowballing through Congress? Opponents are not counting on it. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is threatening to filibuster. He's also planning a lawsuit attacking the bill on constitutional grounds if it becomes law. But conservatives are busy making the case that the president should veto the bill. Arizona Rep. John Shadegg, head of the Republican Study Committee, issued a memo listing the six principles Bush said last year had to be incorporated into any campaign-finance bill, and explaining how "Shays-Meehan" (the House version of McCain-Feingold) violates all six. Bush, for example, said he wants to "protect rights of individuals to participate in democracy." This bill does just the opposite, Shadegg notes. It would ban Americans from buying TV and radio ads "that refer to a clearly identified candidate" within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary. Bush also said he wants to "ban union and corporate soft money." But "Shays-Meehan does not even come close" to doing that, Shadegg points out. In fact, it would "carve out a $10,000 per person, per year loophole" if the money is given to state and local rather than national parties. During his trip to Asia, President Bush made a gaffe so serious that it briefly sent the Japan yen dropping in value before a White House official corrected the record and the yen recovered. Bush told reporters that he and the Japanese prime minister had discussed "the devaluation issue," causing currency traders to panic briefly, believing Tokyo might soon devalue the yen. Bush meant to say he'd discussed the "deflation issue." But unlike previous foreign-policy gaffes-like the time Bush flunked a quiz on the names of world leaders or told an audience that "more and more of our imports come from overseas"-this incident received scant reporting and no late-night comedian drubbing. Why? "People know it was an honest mistake," says pollster John McLaughlin. "This president is battle-tested now. He's winning the war on terrorism.... People are judging him by results, not by rhetoric.... In 2000, the media were trying to turn him into a caricature. Now we all know that was unfair." Bush's approval rating for his handling of foreign affairs is now 79 percent-among the highest Gallup has recorded for an American president since 1971. Pollster Frank Luntz says Bush is in a "Reaganesque moment," able to speak off the cuff in a way that connects with people. "It turns out that George Bush unedited is as reflective of the country's mood as any politician in our generation," and unlike Reagan, he's doing it "without scriptwriters and image-makers." Luntz points to one of the best soundbites of Bush's Asia trip. During a tour of the Demilitarized Zone on the border of North Korea, Bush was shown axes used by North Korean soldiers to kill two American servicemen. "No wonder I think they're evil." Bush reacted instinctively, creating a line that received far more coverage than his gaffe. "I heard [Bush] say that on TV and I thought, 'that's exactly right, they are evil,'" says Luntz. "It's great to hear a president say exactly what we're all thinking." Vice President Dick Cheney heads to the Middle East this month to build a coalition to confront Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Top discussion items: destroying terrorist networks, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, and promoting security and democracy. "Little noted is that of the three regimes singled out by President Bush as belonging to an 'axis of evil,' not one can be conclusively linked to 9/11," observes Republican communications strategist Cliff May. "Why is that? I think it's because Bush is less focused on punishing those responsible for the last terrorist atrocity than he is on preventing the next terrorist attack. Bush knows that if terrorists get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they will be in a position to kill not thousands of Americans, but possibly tens or even hundreds of thousands. Iraq, Iran. and North Korea are all regimes that have or are developing weapons of mass destruction. All are regimes that would give those weapons … to terrorists to use against us. To his credit, Bush is determined not to allow that to happen." May is working with Jack Kemp and former Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg in a newly formed organization, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, to support the war on terrorism.

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Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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