Lazio battles "sexist" critics

Bush kisses and tells on "Oprah," Gore kisses and makes up with Hollywood and Buchanan tells ballot-access blockers to kiss off.



Alicia Montgomery
September 21, 2000 1:15AM (UTC)

Rick Lazio is out to prove who really wears the pants in the New York Senate race, and he claims he's just too much man for the press to handle. The New York Post reports that the Long Island congressman has charged that criticism of his aggressive style is "sexist," and he spared no words in making that charge during a campaign stop in Buffalo, N.Y. "I think the idea that somehow there's a double standard because you're a man or a woman and that you can't make a point forcefully because you're a man and the person you're making the point with is a woman -- I just think that's sexist," Lazio said. The problems started when the Republican repeatedly attacked Hillary Rodham Clinton during their first debate, and ended by strutting over to the first lady's podium and pressing her to sign an anti-soft-money pledge. But Lazio says Clinton was asking for it. "I believe she actually invited me over," he said of the soft-money confrontation. The transcript shows that she didn't.

Though Clinton has been a vocal opponent of sex discrimination, her campaign didn't seem too sympathetic toward Lazio's plight. "Poor Rick," said spokesman Howard Wolfson of Lazio's discrimination charge. "Let me be the first to offer him my support."

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St. Hillary returns
Plenty of New Yorkers thought that Lazio came on very strong in his recent debate with rival Clinton -- perhaps too strong. The New York Observer reports that, thanks to Lazio's debate performance, state Republicans are concerned about a revival of post-Monica Lewinsky sympathy for the first lady. "I don't know if it's a role she plays or whether it's just the way the electorate perceives her," said New York Assemblyman Phil Boyle, a longtime friend and close advisor to Lazio. "Certain attacks on her evoke sympathy, and we need to be wary of that."

Bush as a ladies man
While testosterone raged in New York, presidential candidate George W. Bush was in Illinois, getting in touch with his feminine side on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The Chicago Tribune reports that the Republican started off right, kissing the talk show queen on the cheek as she introduced him. (In an appearance last week, Al Gore merely shook her hand.) Oprah proved to be no partisan, lobbing the same softballs at Bush that she'd thrown at Gore a week before. She also managed to get in some deep-thought questions, asking Bush, for instance, whether he had received a calling to run for the White House. "Life would be so much simpler to be in Texas, with my wife, and not putting our children through the meat grinder of public opinion," he said. "So, yeah, there's a big call. I feel a deep calling." An hour and one heckler disruption later, Bush left Oprah's stage smiling.

Mending fences, collecting money
Gore and Joseph Lieberman are showing signs that they're ready to kiss and make up with Hollywood supporters. The New York Times reports that the Democratic duo toned down their anti-entertainment industry rants just in time for a $4.2 million California fundraiser on Tuesday. "Al and I have tremendous regard for this industry," Lieberman said. "We're both fans of the products that come out of the entertainment industry -- not all of them, but a lot of them." He even backed down on threats that Gore would use federal regulation to enforce more stringent standards for movies, music and television. "We will nudge you," the vice presidential nominee said gently. "But we will never become censors."

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Gore does Leno
The vice president doesn't just want entertainers to share their money with him but to share their stage time as well. The Associated Press reports that Gore made a quick appearance on "The Tonight Show," kidding around with host Jay Leno during the opening monologue. Reading from cue cards, Leno began telling his audience, "According to the latest polls, Al Gore is the handsomest, smartest, most qualified -- what?" Then the camera panned over to show Gore holding the cue cards. "It's the man who invented the cue card, Al Gore. Wow!" Leno said. "Nice to see you, sir." It was the vice president's third television talk show appearance in about a week. Besides his appearance on "Oprah" Sept. 11, Gore also appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" on Thursday.

Shaggy-dog story
Gore has been mocked ceaselessly as the man who claimed to have invented the Internet. Now some critics say he has invented a family story to help make a policy point, according to USA Today. To push his prescription drug plan, Gore has told audiences that his mother-in-law pays three times as much for arthritis medication as Gore does when he buys the same medicine for his dog. In fact, Gore based this assessment on price information from a congressional report, not on his mother-in-law's checkbook. The Bush camp seized on the dog story, with veep hopeful Dick Cheney accusing Gore of "playing fast and loose with the facts in terms of trying to win an argument. It's unfortunate." While Gore later acknowledged that he had used the wrong figures, his staff insisted that the essence of the story was true. "The point, which most people get, is that it's wrong to pay three times as much for the same drug," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.

Incidentally, Gore's mother-in-law, Margaret Ann Aitcheson, pays $2.13 per capsule for her arthritis medication, Lodine, while Gore pays 92 cents per capsule for Etogesic, a version of Lodine, to treat the Gore family dog's ailment.

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Buchanan runs into a wall
Illness hasn't mellowed the Reform Party's presidential candidate. After four weeks of recovering from gallbladder surgery, Pat Buchanan is back on the trail, reviving his reputation as the angriest man in national politics. The Detroit Free Press reports that a battle to regain a spot on the Michigan ballot has Buchanan back in fighting spirit. "You people are being robbed of your rights," he said, decrying a spate of court decisions that could keep him off the state ballot. Buchanan called it "a travesty and a tragedy" that he could miss his chance in Michigan, and implied that the Bush campaign was somehow behind the mess.

But Michigan Secretary of State Candice Miller says that's ludicrous. "This has nothing to do with politics," she said of Buchanan's claim. "He simply did not follow the election law." John Hagelin, Buchanan's Reform Party rival, didn't make the Michigan ballot either.

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Don't worry, be happy
As one third-party contender called on voters to rise up in his defense, another asked Americans to calm down on the issue of Social Security. The Associated Press reports that Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader wants the major party candidates and the public to stop fretting over the entitlement program. "The idea that Social Security is going to run out of money is simply nonsense," Nader said at a news conference. Under even the most pessimistic economic scenario, he asserted, the program should be able to provide benefits until 2037. Nader warned that Bush's and Gore's calls to arms would lead to an unnecessary and ultimately damaging fix to the program. "Social Security does not need to be saved, it needs to be improved, which can be done by calmly making gradual changes," he said. "Panic fueled by opportunistic politicians and investment firms poses the only serious threat to the program." Nader went on to criticize Bush's partial privatization plan as "unsound policy."

On the trail
Buchanan: Ohio.
Bush: Pennsylvania.
Gore: California and Washington.
Nader: Wisconsin.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

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  • Gore 48 to Bush 43 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 15-17).
  • Gore 50 to Bush 38 (Newsweek Sept. 14-15).
  • Gore 46 to Bush 39 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 10-12).
  • Gore 42 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 42 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Gore 47 to Bush 47 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Sept. 15-17).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Voter.com Sept.10-13)
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 10-12).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Aug. 30-31).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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