- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

Borrowing Gertz

As part of a program to improve security, the State Department since May has been giving security briefings to 7,000 employees.

Are they warned to watch out for Russian spies planting bugs in conference rooms?

Or keep their eyes open for thieves among private contractors, who could lift laptops with classified information?

Nope.

Instead, two State Department officials can't resist telling us that one of the main targets of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security briefings is Bill Gertz, a reporter for The Washington Times, and his recent best-selling book, "Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security," a critical assessment of the Clinton administration's defense and national security policies.

One briefer told employees "this is a bad book" because it contains an appendix with classified documents, published to bolster the author's argument.

The briefer added to one audience: "Don't buy it, go to the library and get it."

Reached for comment, State Department spokesman Andy Laine replied the briefer "doesn't disparage" the book.

Rather, he explains, the department is holding up the Gertz book as "an example of somebody leaking classified information."

Roaring '00s

Still not intrigued by the 2000 presidential race? For whatever reason, you're not the first American generation to have their minds elsewhere.

An advance copy of "Hats in the Ring: An Illustrated History of American Presidential Campaigns" (Random House, Sept. 15), by historians Evan Cornog and Richard Whelan, says previous generations have placed politics on the back burner.

Take the Roaring '20s, an extravagant American bacchanal that ended, the authors opine, in well-deserved retribution in the form of the Great Depression.

"When it came to the election of 1924, voters appeared more interested in six-day bicycle races, flagpole sitters, and dance marathons than in the varying merits of the contenders for the White House," the authors write.

And there were those incredible machines like airplanes and automobiles, plus movies and radio, to keep minds off of Republican Calvin Coolidge, Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert M. LaFollette (who, need we remind Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, was still able to capture 17 percent of the popular vote).

Today's diversions? The Internet, widespread personal wealth (and the toys that come with it), and a mesmerizing stock market immediately come to mind.

Still, feel free to write and tell us what your mind is on these days.

People over pundits

Republican pollster Frank Luntz's instant response focus group sessions during the Democratic National Convention undoubtedly caused heartburn at George W. Bush's headquarters in Austin.

The same heartburn experienced by Al Gore just a few days earlier.

With polls now showing the presidential race anywhere from even to a several-point lead enjoyed by Mr. Gore, Mr. Luntz's focus groups 36 swing voters at the conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles proved a more accurate reflection of public opinion than traditional pundits or prognosticators.

Instead of resorting to the usual talking heads, several dozen media outlets turned to the Luntz sessions to help explain the bounces experienced by both presidential candidates following their convention speeches.

For example, despite lukewarm reaction to the Republican convention by several commentators, the Philadelphia sessions empaneled by Mr. Luntz had seven of the 36 participants switching from Mr. Gore to Mr. Bush, a conclusion soon reflected in the Texas governor's public opinion surge.

Most recently in Los Angeles, seven of Mr. Bush's supporters empaneled for the Democratic convention switched to Mr. Gore's camp, just as the vice president would surge in all post-convention surveys.

And who does Mr. Luntz, a past winner of the Crystal Ball Award, predict will win in November? Only the 36 voters he has lined up to watch the upcoming presidential debates know for sure, he says.

Proud activists

Senate Democrats favor judicial activists "who are willing to change the meaning of statutes or the Constitution to accomplish political goals," while Senate Republicans favor confirming judicially restrained nominees "who take the law as they find it."

So says a new report by the Free Congress Foundation's Judicial Selection Monitoring Project, which credits Democrats for being more effective in advancing their views of the judiciary.

"Some will no doubt claim that even observing these irrefutable facts is partisan," says Thomas L. Jipping, director of the foundation's Center for Law and Democracy. "The simple fact is that Democrats work harder to promote an activist judiciary than Republicans work to promote a restrained judiciary."

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