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George W. Bush is smarter than we may think.

He may be having a hard time figuring out how to out-fox Al Gore. But
Bush the Younger definitely made the right move when he chose not to
participate in Gail Sheehy’s foul-ball profile of him for the October


Vanity Fair.

Sheehy, the author of “Passages” and other famous books, has been cranking out her windy, psycho-diagnostic treatises on what lies inside the strange brains and twisted psyches of presidential aspirants for Vanity Fair since the Bush-Dukakis race of ’88.

This latest mind probe, “The Accidental Candidate,” could be her crudest political hatchet job yet. It wastes half of its time trying to circumstantially prove that Bush’s weakness with words and his aversion to protracted serious thinking is due to her favorite malady, dyslexia, which he doesn’t really have.

The rest of the time, Sheehy is making Bush out to be a head-case who is forever trying to prove himself worthy to his dad and whose only real skill is schmoozing rich people to get his hands on their money.

Sheehy’s work is not without merit. Over the years, she has shown herself to be capable of digging up lots of interesting biographic tidbits and insights with her voluminous reporting. She does it often with Bush, as when she shows what a funny, fast-tongued wise-ass he was before he became clean and sober enough to run for Texas governor.

But she also is capable of making a complete dolt of herself, which she does with Bush when she goes on and on and on trying to find some deep meaning in his lifelong obsession with baseball and his need to win everything he plays.

Sheehy obviously never met one of America’s million certified baseball nuts before, and she doesn’t recognize one in Bush, who’s idea of heaven is an eternal season of spring-training.

Try as she might to discredit Bush for his air-brained, fun-loving, frat-boy, admittedly over-privileged life, Sheehy manages mostly to prove that Bush is a simple, regular, likable guy. A guy who, unlike his main opponent, was not turned into a weirdo by an elite political pedigree and Ivy League education.

Sheehy doesn’t try very hard to hide her dark liberal roots in “The Accidental Candidate.” She heaps cheap juxtaposition upon cheap innuendo, the cheapest of which is to make Bush seem responsible for the 100 years’ worth of polluting privileges that Texas has granted its oil industry.

Bush will survive Sheehy’s latest act of malpractice. (

Christopher
Hitchens,
however, agrees wholeheartedly with her diagnosis in The Nation, asserting that “The poor guy is obviously dyslexic, and dyslexic to the point of near-illiteracy.” ) Whatever the truth, in the interest of fair play, it’d be nice if Sheehy gets a chance to drill as deeply into Al Gore’s famously eccentric psyche. If Vanity Fair needs a good headline for that piece, they might try “The Occidental Candidate.”

Dr. Sheehy and Mr. Hitchens may think they’ve got Bush psyched out, but he seems to have some political experts hopelessly confused about who he is and what he believes.

Last week,

The Weekly
Standard’s
brain trust was telling him the only way to win was to quit pussyfootin’ around and start acting like a real conservative. This week,

The New
Republic
has a cover package saying that behind that likable mask of moderation Bush wears lurks a scary radical right-wing conservative.

According to Jonathan Chait’s reading of things in

“Sweetness &
Right,”
Bush is not a GOP version of Clinton. Echoing John Judis’ companion piece that details the sharp (and, of course, dangerous) turn Bush took to the right once he was re-elected Texas governor in 1998, Chait says Bush is really the rebirth of a Gingrichian monster of 1994.

Bush’s compassionate talk has duped the mainstream media into thinking he’s a middle-of-the-roader, Chait says. In fact, Bush’s tax cuts and Social Security privatization plan “are designed to bankrupt and delegitimize government” the same way Reagan’s deficits did (at least temporarily) in the 1980s.

Let’s hope Bush is who Chait says he is and not who former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan says Bush is — a New Democrat. Sullivan, in his first effort as the magazine’s weekly

TRB
columnist,
laments that Gore has turned back the Democrat clock and become a tax-and-spend big-government liberal of yore.

It is Bush, Sullivan says, not being critical, who is thinking and acting like someone who wants to “reinvent government,” address Social Security insolvency and use modest private-sector-based reforms to help poor kids and improve schools.

It is Gore who is “the crusader for the new leftism,” Sullivan says disapprovingly. Government’s tax take is at a record high as a percentage of GNP, he says, sneaking some sense into a magazine that desperately wants Gore to be president. Our future entitlement commitments are going to sink us. But Gore “wants to give old-style liberalism one more wad of blank checks, easy abortions and racial preferences.”

Drilling for the real Al Gore

Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard’s cover piece this week by

Tucker
Carlson
says the secret to Gore’s success with voters, the media and Oprah is that he is really good at sucking up to people. Flattery — and flexibility (i.e., hypocrisy on issues like his attacks on Hollywood) — get him everywhere.

But do you want the real scoop on oily Al Gore, a.k.a. “The Occidental Candidate”?

Want to know how “he and his father got on the payroll of one of America’s most ruthless tycoons, Armand Hammer”?

Want to know how he “ruthlessly exploits his sister’s death and his son’s accident for personal political advantage”?

Or do you want to know how “Al Gore violated the most basic journalistic ethics by helping cops run a sting operation on a black politician in Nashville”?

If this dirt appeals to you, then you must go — of all places — to the back cover of

The Nation,
where left-winged muckrakers Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair are hawking their book, “Al Gore: A User’s Manual.” The duo, who edit the newsletter CounterPunch, promise an “unsparing look at the man raised from birth to be president.”

Before you get ready to send off $20 of your own after-tax money for the book, however, be advised that though they hate Gore more than you do, Cockburn and St. Clair are far from being conservatives.

Their other complaints about Gore include things that few Bush backers would find fault with, such as “How Gore sabotaged the Endangered Species Act” and “prodded Clinton into signing the savage welfare bill.”

But enough politics.

Remember

Details,
the 1990s attitudinal young men’s magazine? It’s back — yet again. Once upon a time, when it was born 12 years ago, it was edgy and new and contained good, smart writing.

Then it started having identity crises. Was it for straight readers or gay? Was it a fashion magazine? By the time Maxim, Stuff and FHM starting arriving from Britain and quickly transformed America’s men’s magazine sector (especially their covers) into monthly cheesecake contests, Details was deader than Dracula.

But like Dracula, Details lives anew. It has been reborn as a hip, edgy magazine aimed at a rare, seemingly oxymoronic demographic: serious young men (i.e., 25-year-old CEOs and other New Economy types of all sexual persuasions and races who no longer need to see women’s breasts exposed before they’ll read anything).

Details’ October issue contains a post-prison interview with Robert Downey Jr., plus the usual guy grooming tips. It may not last long in its current guise. But Details ought to be easy to find among the cover babes in the men’s magazine racks. It’ll be the only one with a fully clothed man on the cover.

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