2000-04-29 Bush a prize cynic, fellow alumnus says/text

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Saturday, April 29, 2000

Bush a prize cynic, fellow alumnus says

By Ethan Forman
Eagle-Tribune Writer

ANDOVER -- Newsweek Senior Editor Jonathan Alter showed a healthy dose of skepticism for presidential front-runners at talk at Phillips Academy last night.

At the same time, he tried to draw the line between skepticism and cynicism, telling students, faculty and administrators they can be both idealists and skeptics. But he warned against cynicism, a word he looked up in the dictionary. The word carries a medieval definition of "resembling the actions of a snarling dog," he noted.

Mr. Alter said the Monica Lewinsky scandal created a "cynical pall" around Vice President Al Gore's primary campaign. And, he said he was sad to see the way Mr. Gore misrepresented New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's record on health care during his failed bid for the Democratic nomination.

But the author of Newsweek”s acclaimed "Between the Lines" column awarded the top prize for cynicism to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a fellow Phillips Academy alumnus, who graduated in 1964.

Reflecting on the March presidential primary in South Carolina, Mr. Alter criticized "our own alumnus" for the way he distorted the record of then-candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"The first stop that George W. made was to appear with a crack-pot veteran who said McCain had done nothing for veterans in the Senate." Sen. McCain is considered a war hero after he spent five years as a captive during the Vietnam War.

During the New York primary, Gov. Bush went on to accuse Sen. McCain of voting against breast cancer research. Gov. Bush eventually distanced himself from ads that stated Sen. McCain opposed putting money for breast cancer research into a military spending measure. Sen. McCain ultimately dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, but there is still some question if he will embrace Gov. Bush's campaign.

Mr. Alter said Gov. Bush's attack on Sen. McCain's honor may be why Sen. McCain "won't go on the ticket."

While Sen. McCain showed cynicism on whether or not South Carolina should fly the Confederate flag over its capitol, ultimately, he admitted his mistake. "I guess you could argue better late than never," Mr. Alter said.

Mr. Alter said he and other reporters enjoyed riding with Sen. McCain on his swung through New Hampshire during the primary, because Sen. McCain was so accessible, chatting for hours with reporters.

"He earned his good press honestly, not cynically." The message that he was running for president to end the cycle of cynicism caught on, he said.

Mr. Alter, a 1975 graduate, came to Andover as the third recipient of the school's Kayden Visiting Fellow Award of Journalism. His lecture, titled "Oh, Don't Be So Cynical: Reflections on Politics, the Media, and Idealism in America," urged students not to be cynical in their outlook. The award's sponsor, Jerold Kayden, Class of 1972, was on hand for Mr. Alter's lecture.

He noted that Phillips Academy students, with their commitment to community service, may be less cynical than when he was managing editor of the school's newspaper, the Phillipian.

"Maybe you don't need any lectures on not being so cynical because you have already surmounted that," he said.