Donations he gets, but nothing else

September 23, 1997|By RICHARD REEVES

NEW YORK -- Traffic came to a big-shot-on-board standstill in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday night.

Abandoning our taxi, my wife and I joined the march up Madison Avenue, until walking slowed at 63rd Street, where there were enough policemen, police cars and ambulances around to invade Canada.

"What's up?"

"Vice President Gore," said a cop.

"Yeah," came from a voice in the crowd. "He saw a $10 bill blowing down the street."

Private meeting

That was close. "Private meeting," said the schedule, and the blocked street seemed free of reporters.

The vice president of the United States was at a little get-together at the home, just off Fifth Avenue, of a woman named Denise Rich.

Ms. Rich, just divorced, has given $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee so far this year. She gave another $190,000 in 1995 and '96.

Her ex-husband, with whom she fled the United States more than 10 years ago, is one of America's Most Wanted.

His name is Marc Rich and he is believed to be on the run in Switzerland, where he escaped to after being indicted on racketeering and fraud charges for buying discounted oil from Iran during the hostage crisis and for breaking U.S. trade sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid years.

Ms. Rich, an accomplished woman who has written pop songs and sponsored her share of charity events, is, to my knowledge, a solid citizen who married a very bad guy.

But this is not about her. It is about Al Gore. What is he, crazy?

In Washington, the vice president's staff says he is keeping a low profile, even admitting to a "bunker mentality" about claims and counterclaims about his fund-raising activities for the Democratic National Committee.

Well, Fifth Avenue is no bunker. The guy, one of the best in national politics and government, and a former newspaper reporter, is killing himself -- and taking a lot of politicians with him.

President Clinton's time is over. History will judge his decision to abandon great chunks of the patrimony of his party and American liberalism, rather brilliantly turning his back, or at least his side, on Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

He was and still is a dominating politician doing whatever he has to do to survive or thrive, including shameless pursuit of every loose buck in the same streets.

Mr. Gore's time may never come. I don't know if he has broken any fund-raising laws. But he's sure breaking a lot of Democratic hearts by feigning ignorance of the family business.

His job, as he apparently sees it, is to get enough money in hand to discourage other Democratic politicians thinking of challenging him for the party's presidential nomination in the year 2000.

Angry frustration

And he is both angry and frustrated by the obvious attempts of a Republican Congress to cut him down to size with endless investigation and innuendo.

None of them, neither Democrats nor Republicans, seem to have any true awareness of the consequences of their defense (or pleas of legal innocence) of a system that has gone bad.

"Everybody does it" -- which is true -- is not persuasive to people who can walk by Fifth Avenue but never afford to live there.

The United States' most important new political commentator, Roger Tamraz, the international hustler being questioned now by Mr. Gore's Republican nemeses about why he gave the Democrats $300,000, said it all when someone asked why he never voted: "This is a bit more than a vote."

That's right -- $300,000 is a bit more than a vote. Mr. Tamraz also contributes to Republicans. Guys like him are taking more ordinary Americans for suckers. He knows it and is laughing at Congress and at us.

It's possible that Al Gore really doesn't get it, which means he may not get to be president, either.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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