I LIKE to think I'm not hypersensitive; give a pop, take a pop, such is the nature of political conflict. But John Sununu's descent into the gutter of bigotry in seeking to impugn the motives of his critics should not go unremarked.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an unsourced item on its front page: "Israel supporters quietly campaign against him (Sununu), spreading their complaints about his ties to Arab-American groups." I wondered who was selling that story.
Then last Monday, I opened the Washington Post to find an astounding sentence in a column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. Of the coalition against the White House chief of staff, they wrote, "Perhaps most important is Sununu's suspicion that attacks from sources that might be expected in his corner have come because he is a second-generation Lebanese-American who is not fully supportive of Israel's demands on the United States."
The words "Sununu's suspicion" are known in the trade as clear attribution; those words did not appear in the copy of the syndicated column that ran in last Monday's New York Post and other newspapers. The Washington Post's editorial page editor properly believed that the gravity of the charge of bigoted motive rated an attribution, which the columnists supplied at her request.
Now, who do you suppose is "sources that might be expected in his corner"? Which conservative columnist -- who agrees with Sununu on quotas, global warming, etc. -- denounced him as a pompous ass whose unethical perks-grubbing and compulsive Peripateticism demonstrate a judgment chasm that endangers the Bush presidency?
I fit that description. My ulterior motive, according to the word Sununu passes to other journalists, is to bring down a nice Lebanese-American boy whose only transgression is to resist Israel's demands.
The final desperate bleat from this exposed royalist who cannot zTC defend his rip-off of the taxpayers is to blame Israel's supporters, and this Jew in particular, for his troubles.
Following up the venomous suspicion attributed to Sununu in the Evans and Novak column, the Washington Post's Ann Devroy reported: "Two sources said Sununu had listed 'those who don't like my call for evenhandedness (in U.S. policy in the Mideast), the Jewish groups" as among those either working against him or egging on those working against him."
Sununu's scapegoating to save his neck is giving anti-Semitism a bad name. It caused Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, to write to Sununu protesting that his reported views were "offensive and without foundation."
Having been identified as the source of these widely planted "suspicions" of racism or Israeli support motivating his critics, Sununu called Hoenlein to insist: "I never said it. These things were never heard from me. I do not believe it or feel that way."
Somebody is lying; that somebody may be, in Daniel Schorr's phrase, a deadbeat from the presidency. Evans and Novak, who were anti-Israel long before it became popular, are honorable reporters with top-level sources; in three decades, I have never known them deliberately to mislead readers or editors by practicing unsourced mind-reading.
Both the Sununu smearing and subsequent denial fall on barren ground because everybody knows he is irrelevant to foreign policy; Lebanese-Americans, for example, were dismayed at his unwillingness to utter a peep at Syria's unopposed takeover of Lebanon.
Thus does John Sununu depart, creating a supernova of bigoted resentment to make himself a household name at his president's expense. Spiro Agnew is alive and well and working near the Oval Office.
Nobody who recognizes his danger to the president is immune. Having been stabbed in the background by the secretary of state, Sununu now peddles columnists the fantasy that James Baker sees him as a potential rival for the 1996 nomination.
Get ready, publishers, for "How I Tried to Be Evenhanded and Was Done In by the Jews, the Elitist Media and Jim Baker," by Honest John Sununu. The author will be available for an unending 30-city tour.