“Mr. Mediocre” was the headline Monday in the Daily Mail of London above an article about George W. Bush’s victory in the Republican primary in South Carolina. “In Bush America looks set to get another Clinton but with less intelligence and much less sex appeal,” the paper’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Jeffreys, wrote. “That is what happens when the most powerful office in the world is for sale to the highest bidder.” Bush’s popularity with the religious right in South Carolina is ironic, given “his record of alcohol abuse, drug taking and womanising.” Jeffreys said, “Whilst the money men who have given Bush a 50 million pound [$80 million] war chest are happy, the rest of the world is puzzled. … Can George W. Bush, a man whose life, despite huge advantages, has mostly been marked by mediocrity, really be the best America can do?”
While the Times of London led its South Carolina story with Bush’s claim that the death knell has sounded for the Clinton-Gore era, the Financial Times was not so sure. It said in an editorial that his victory was dearly bought. “To win, Mr Bush was forced to veer from the mainstream and strike an alliance with rightwing religious groups which are certainly conservative but hardly ‘compassionate conservatives,’ ” it said. In the Daily Telegraph, commentator Mark Steyn wrote that Sunday’s American newspapers “weren’t quite ‘Dewey beats Truman,’ but they bore the signs of some hasty and not entirely convincing re-writes: ‘Humiliating Bush defeat calls candidacy into doubt’ pieces had suddenly become ‘Humiliating Bush victory calls candidacy into doubt,’ which doesn’t work quite as well. The ‘Dramatically higher turnout helps Bush, er, I mean McCain’ analyses were painful to behold.” Steyn said that in South Carolina, Sen. John McCain’s strategy for winning the Republican nomination “ran up against its natural limits. But commentators preferred to attribute his loss to Bush ‘going negative’ on McCain. It was, in fact, McCain who went negative, and disastrously so.”
The Guardian of London took the generally held view that McCain must win Michigan and Arizona Tuesday to have any chance of the Republican nomination, while its “Inside America” columnist Harold Evans, the husband of Tina Brown, wrote that even if he wins them both, “he faces another blitz of negative advertising and the superior resources of the Bush campaign in getting out the Republican vote on a succession of Super Tuesdays in March.” Evans said the Democrats are delighted with Bush’s victory, because they reckon that McCain would be harder to beat in the presidential election. He also said it is “a safe bet” that Vice President Al Gore “has squashed the challenge from Bill Bradley, a clever and likable man who has somehow come over as a patronising whiner: folks, how privileged you are to be able to vote for me.”
The Independent of London said in an editorial that the fun has gone out of the American presidential race because the United States “has ended up with the combination it first thought of, namely a Bush-Gore contest.” It called Bush “a deeply uninspiring candidate” and “an empty monument to the curious persistence of the hereditary principle in a nation which prides itself on the half-myth that, no matter how humble one’s origins, anyone can get to be President.” McCain, on the other hand, is “the most refreshing of the four serious candidates to succeed President Clinton. … Viewed from this side of the Atlantic, his no-nonsense support for a more vigorous prosecution of Nato’s war in Kosovo marked him out, both from the waffle and evasion of Bill Clinton and from the ignorant isolationism of mainstream Republicans.” But if it is going to be Bush vs. Gore, Gore would be preferable as president from the point of view of the rest of the world. “He is an internationalist, not least because of his environmentalist tinges,” it said. “He does not have the religious right breathing down his neck, and he is not stupid.”
La Stampa of Turin claimed the Bush campaign engaged in dirty tricks to stop McCain supporters voting. Its reporter in Charleston, S.C., said Republicans running polling stations had directed would-be voters for the Arizona senator to other polling places so as “to break the patience of many unorthodox electors.” With this and other expedients, “which even the [Italian] Christian Democrats … or some proto-Communist party would never have managed to think up, the GOP machine succeeded in its purpose”—a resounding Bush victory. Corriere della Sera of Milan said Bush had carried out two thefts—he stole the reformer’s mantle from his rival and from Bill Clinton the title of “comeback kid.”
An election story given even greater prominence in Europe than the South Carolina primary was the triumph of the reformers in the Iranian parliamentary elections, which made many front pages.
The British newspapers practically all led on the narrow victory in a Labor Party primary of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s favored candidate to be mayor of London. Frank Dobson, a former health minister, won by 3 percent against his left-wing rival, Ken Livingstone, but only after the votes of a third candidate, the former actress Glenda Jackson, had been redistributed among the front-runners. Livingstone claimed to have won a majority of the votes of trade unionists and rank-and-file Labor supporters in an electoral college weighted against him, and he called the result undemocratic. Blair stood accused of rigging the system to favor his man. The Independent said the Labor Party was now facing its biggest split in 20 years.
On the day after a huge demonstration in Austria against Jörg Haider, the far right Freedom Party leader, Le Figaro of Paris carried an interview with Wolfgang Schuessel, the new Austrian chancellor, who brought Haider’s party into the country’s new coalition government. Schuessel said Haider should not be judged by things he had said in the past but by the commitments he made on joining the government. “I think Haider has changed,” he said. “He has become more serious and responsible. He knows that the Freedom Party has emerged from chronic opposition to become a party of government. He will do anything not to bungle this historic opportunity.” Schuessel also said he was astonished that the other countries of the European Union should “condemn Austria, but invite [Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi] to Brussels. They talk to Russia, despite Chechnya, but not to Austria.”
Ha’aretz of Israel led Monday with a report of a crisis of confidence between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It said that, according to “a source close to the Palestinian Authority,” Mubarak told PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in a telephone conversation last week: “Barak called me to say he is committed to moving forward in negotiations with the Palestinians, but I don’t believe him.”
In South Africa, the Sunday Times reported that Richard Lambert, the editor of the Financial Times of London, has been called to appear before the South African Human Rights Commission at hearings into racism in the media. According to the Times of London, which took up the story Monday, Lambert could face a prison sentence or a fine if he fails to give evidence at an inquiry into allegedly racist content in his newspaper. “It is the first time a foreign publication has been called to give evidence in what has been described as a ‘McCarthy-like witch-hunt’ into allegations of racism in South Africa’s media,” the Times said. It added, “More than 50 media organisations have been issued with subpoenas.” Lambert is to be questioned about an article that appeared in the FT in August 1996 about the activities of a Muslim vigilante group, People Against Gangsterism and Drugs. A media research body employed by the commission described the article as “collective character assassination that promoted hate speech and incited violence against Muslims and Islam.” Lambert said in a statement that the FT is “proud of its record of reporting events in South Africa over many years.”