INSIDE THE BELTWAY - Bush had no realistic rival in Iowa - and made a killing. Now he’s trying to stack the deck in NY

George W. Bush emerged relatively unscathed from the Iowa caucuses - anyone whose main challengers were Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes had to be pleased with his chances - but there remains on his horizon a cloud somewhat larger than a man’s hand, and its name is ’New York.’ More accurately, its name is ’Fairness.’

George W. Bush emerged relatively unscathed from the Iowa caucuses - anyone whose main challengers were Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes had to be pleased with his chances - but there remains on his horizon a cloud somewhat larger than a man’s hand, and its name is ’New York.’ More accurately, its name is ’Fairness.’

George W. Bush emerged relatively unscathed from the Iowa

caucuses - anyone whose main challengers were Steve Forbes and Alan

Keyes had to be pleased with his chances - but there remains on his

horizon a cloud somewhat larger than a man’s hand, and its name is ’New

York.’ More accurately, its name is ’Fairness.’



George W., unlike other crowned monarchs, still has a challenger, John

McCain (who, perhaps unwisely, did not contest Iowa). And now he is in

the process of handing McCain the most potent weapon. By aiding and

abetting - and publicly supporting - the smug New York Republicans in

their scheme to keep McCain off the ballot, Bush appears not canny and

shrewd as Governor Pataki imagines, but mean, slick, conniving and -

worst of all - unfair.



What is at issue is the arcane system of getting on the ballot in New

York. A candidate must obtain the signatures (complete with middle

initial and address) of a large number of registered voters in each

district.



McCain’s people have enough names, they say, in about half the

districts, and the formidable Pataki machine is prepared to challenge

the validity of those names (middle initial, changed address,

illegibility, etc.).



New York pols are highly skilled at this, and besides - they appoint the

judges.



So George W. will carry New York on March 7, a ton of delegates will

fall in his lap, and when the unfairness and downright chicane of the

process is hurled at him by the media, he can smile one of his smirks

and claim it was the state party organization that did the dirty

deed.



But if there’s anything Americans dislike in politics, it’s

unfairness.



And it’s already clear that the denial of ballot access to McCain is

unfair, and it will be clear George W. could have stopped it. One phone

call to Governor Pataki, with either a friendly suggestion to call off

his minions or an unfriendly suggestion that the vice-presidential list

could get shorter, could qualify McCain for the ballot in a New York

minute. But Bush leaves things to the locals when he favors the

unpopular side - if there are votes in it.



Thus, in South Carolina, where the Confederate flag flies over the state

capitol, Bush - aware most locals are happy to have the flag come down,

but also aware that most Republicans who vote in primaries are not -

says only, ’It’s a local issue.’



This ducking of ’local’ issues may seem smart now, but his partisan

rather than populist approach betrays a lack of statesmanship - and it’s

a long way until November. By then, Americans might remember that the

Confederate flag was flown by folks who made war on the US. And come

March 7, New Yorkers with just one real name on the ballot may ponder

the fairness of the man who let it happen. ’Compassionate

conservativism’ anyone?



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