Sunday, September 03, 2000


Keep both eyes on candidates

        We would not be giving away any secrets of the international magicians' union if we explain how a magician can make it appear he has just plucked a silver dollar out of your ear.

        It's called sleight of hand.

        It is simply a matter of taking your attention away from the hand that hides the coin. If the wizard makes you watch his left hand, you won't see what his right hand is doing.

        Diverting attention from the mundane to accentuate the wondrous is a particular skill of political campaigns. We have seen it practiced in textbook style here in Cincinnati by both Al Gore and George W. Bush.

        The most recent example came just this week, when Mr. Bush came to Indian Hill for a massive fund-raising event sponsored by two of his Cincinnati friends, Mercer Reynolds III and William O. DeWitt Jr.

        About $2 million was raised. But up until the day before the Indian Hill event, there were to be no issue-oriented photo ops or public rallies connected with the Bush visit; just take the money and run.

        But political campaigns — particularly in the stratospheric climes of the presidential race — are sensitive about having the media focus on fund raising, the unseemly side of politics, so they generally like to have something else for the media to cover to divert attention from the check-writing.

        So the local Republican party was dispatched to find a Cincinnati-area working family to meet with Mr. Bush at Lunken for a few minutes to talk about tax cuts, one of the Texas governor's favorite subjects.

        A very nice couple from North Bend with two kids were found and hustled out to the airport, where they had their private audience. Then, Mr. Bush walked out to the waiting press horde on the tarmac and announced that these folks would have a nice wad of cash in their pockets if George W. Bush were president.

        The tax cut moment at Lunken gave television some pictures to put on the evening news — because they couldn't get much out of a private fund-raiser — and it made it look as if this was a working campaign trip.

        It was political imagery, but George W. Bush didn't invent it.

        Neither did Al Gore, but he does the same thing.

        Last April, after tornadoes tore through Montgomery and Blue Ash, Mr. Gore and his motorcade showed up in the tornado-ravaged neighborhoods and walked about with TV cameras in tow, shaking his head at the devastation to commiserate with the afflicted.

        Of course, Mr. Gore didn't do squat to help them. And in fact, a few days after he left, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the Blue Ash and Montgomery wouldn't be getting a nickel in federal assistance.

        And what did Al Gore do that day, the minute he was done emoting for the cameras in Blue Ash and Montgomery?

        He hustled his motorcade to a downtown Cincinnati hotel for a fund-raising luncheon that put $500,000 in his campaign account.

        The moral of this story: When it comes to presidential candidates, try to keep your eye on both their hands at all times.


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