With Friends Like These ...

In which our man Durst watches Pat Robertson explode in Bush's face, and John McCain alienate everyone except the Democrats.

| Wed Mar. 1, 2000 3:00 AM EST

Friends are the lifeblood of politics. They keep a campaign's circulation and -- most importantly -- its cash flowing. Phil Gramm says a politician's best friend is money: Then again, Phil Gramm is about as cuddly as a pit bull caught in barbed wire. But it is the company you keep that helps plot the public coordinates that define you. Which is probably why nobody hangs with David Duke anymore, and Pat Buchanan is avoided like oysters dripping green ooze in July.

There are problems with friends, though. For example, they may have the table manners of rutting boars. Or you may have to tamp down their enthusiasm when they press too hard in your favor. For instance, they might say that whoever doesn't agree with you is nothing but a large-mouthed slime lizard destined to spend eternity in hell, sucking potato seeds off the treads of farmers' boots.

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Take Pat Robertson. Please. Specifically, his taped phone calls on behalf of George W. Bush, where he calls McCain's national chairman, Warren Rudman, "a vicious bigot who wrote [that] conservative Christians are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes, and would-be censors." Which, minus the vicious bigot part, I don't have a problem with, because mostly it's true.

I'm sure Robertson means that such a characterization is a bad thing, though. He's just pissed because his presidential shot in 1988 floated like a garbage scow shoved off a cliff. He must be feeling a little less-than, especially since the Christian Coalition lost its tax-exempt status last year and this is his last-ditch effort to be a Big Time Player by having Bush beholden to him. Although it seemed for a while that McCain might gain the most from Robertson's proxy work.

McCain, however, has his own problems. One of them is with analogies. First he gets in big trouble for calling Bush's truth twisting capabilities "Clintonesque." Then he likens party freako units on the right -- Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- to party freako units on the left -- Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan -- which caused all hell to break loose. I'm sorry, all heck to break loose.

Either way, it helped in Virginia and Washington about as much as a bicycle seat on a baseball bat. North Dakota doesn't count. Sorry North Dakotans. I'm sure this is not news. Glad you had a caucus and all, but really, who cares? What was it, three delegates? Nothing personal. It's just business.

Another of McCain's problems is that the man is ostensibly trying to win the Republican nomination for president even though Republicans don't seem to like him very much. Democrats and independents find him huggable as all get- out, but he stubbornly refuses to run for either of those parties' slots. I don't understand. What's he think is going to happen? In the middle of a debate, George W. Bush is going to turn to him, break down and say, "You. You have a gift. Yes you do. What was I trying to do? The Republican Party belongs to you, the real reformer. Forgive me, Godfather."

Yeah, that'll happen. Or at least McCain better hope it does, because otherwise we're looking at six more months of Bush and Gore waltzing around the Ivy League Ballroom, and the only dance left for Iron John will be with the Yellow Ross of Texas. And word on the streets is Perot likes to lead.

Will Durst is covering the 2000 election for the MoJo Wire. He is also host of the PBS series "Livelyhood" and "The Citizen Durst Report," and promises never again to be a "lifeline" on a television game show.