Jewish World Review April 17, 2002 /6 Iyar, 5762

Jules Witcover

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Dems' open season on Bush | ORLANDO Al Gore and the other potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2004 who peddled their wares at the Florida party's convention here last weekend demonstrated a unity on one point: while they support President Bush on the war on terrorism, they are not going to be inhibited in criticizing him on other matters, domestic and foreign.

The former vice president set down the marker in a particularly aggressive and vigorous defense of the right of Democrats, while standing "shoulder to shoulder" with Bush on the war, to go after him in other areas where they disagree.

His charge that the Republicans "are wrong to vilify honorable men and women who oppose their right-wing domestic agenda and blatantly dishonest budget" served notice that Bush will get no free ride because of the war. The other Democrats here quickly joined in.

Their assault came against a background of continuing resentment among Florida Democrats over what they consider the stolen presidential election in 2000. It colored much of the rhetoric, joking and serious, heard here over the weekend.

Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe kicked off the argument that the war on terrorism could not justifiably curb partisan politics in a congressional election year, tying it in with the Florida fiasco of 2000.

Referring to the Republican candidacy for Congress of the Florida secretary of state closely involved in the maneuverings that led to Bush's winning the state, he asked: "Does anyone really believe that electing Katherine Harris to Congress is going to help root terrorists out of their caves in Tora Bora?"

One of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, wisecracked that if "Katherine Harris ever leaves politics, she will make one hell of a fine Arthur Andersen auditor."

But such jibes did not disguise the determination of Gore, Kerry and the other Democratic speakers from the Senate - Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina - not to let the war on terrorism silence them on their differences with Bush on other issues.

They did not limit themselves, either, to the customary Democratic attacks on the Bush tax cuts, budget deficits, dipping into Social Security funds and other familiar gripes against the administration.

On the Middle East crisis, Kerry castigated the president for declining for 14 months to take on "the task of making peace" in the region before finally dispatching Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.

Lieberman, one of the Senate's staunchest defenders of Israel, said the Bush administration was wrong to pressure Israel to desist in fighting terror in the disputed Palestinian territories while itself legitimately fighting it in Afghanistan.

The most forceful words against Bush, however, came from Gore. His gloves-off style, and pointed reminders of the economic well-being of the Clinton-Gore years, elicited repeated comments from delegates that had he showed the same fire in 2000, he would be president today.

At one point, he drew a standing ovation in observing: "We put America's financial house back in order. I don't care what anybody says, I think Bill Clinton and I did a damn good job."

Gore has been widely criticized within the party as having thrown away the 2000 election by being too cautious and poll-driven. In the speech here, however, he bucked a recent Gallup Poll that found 82 percent of Democrats surveyed saying he should not criticize Bush.

That relative abandon, sources close to him say, reflects a new determination by Gore, as he explores the possibility of running again, to be more outspokenly assertive than he was in 2000 as a vice president.

Taking on a wartime president riding high in the polls is a political risk. But Gore and the other White House prospects, looking down the road, clearly are willing to take it as a means of rallying party support for what now at least seems a long-shot effort to beat Bush in 2004.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

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03/25/02: Campaign finance reform irony
03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
03/15/02: Gore re-enters the arena
03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
02/19/02: Just a beginning on campaign finance reform'
02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
02/06/02: The Bush budget: Reality replaces poetry
02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
02/01/02: Bush keeps Dems on ropes
01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
01/21/02: In search of Tom Ridge
01/18/02: Kennedy takes on the tax fight
01/16/02: On the departure of high government officials
01/11/02: The lobbyist as party chairman
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12/07/01: September 11th and December 7th
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11/21/01: Normalcy vs. security at the White House
11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
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10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
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10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
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08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
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08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
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07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
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05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
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05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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