Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2001 / 15 Elul, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Script for AlGore's coming-out party -- LATER this month, former Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to make his first full-blown partisan political speech since narrowly being denied the presidency last year. The forum is the annual Iowa Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner, traditionally a showcase for presidential aspirants.

At Gore's last appearance at the event, in the fall of 1999, he was riding high as the Democratic frontrunner, and he used the occasion to lambaste his only notable challenger for the party's nomination, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

With Bradley in the audience, he excoriated him for having quit the Senate earlier and declaring American politics "broken." As for himself, Gore repeatedly told the crowd, he decided to "stay and fight" in the Senate for the party's principles and goals. He challenged Bradley directly from the podium to agree to debate him weekly anywhere in Iowa.

Bradley, as usual marching to his own drummer, just smiled and said nothing, leaving the impression with many that he was ducking. That was fine with Gore, who continued to sledge-hammer his opponent without restraint.

The strategy seemed to work for Gore. He trounced Bradley in the subsequent Iowa caucuses after ambushing him in a debate on farm policy, singling out an obscure Senate vote that made Bradley seem insensitive to Iowa farmers hard-hit by floods. Bradley had voted for the main flood relief bill but against an amendment at the Senate party leadership's urging.

At this fall's Iowa J-J dinner, Gore will be watched closely to see whether he comes out of his self-imposed post-election hibernation as a lion or a lamb. During nearly nine months of holding his fire against President Bush, Gore has been under fire himself from Democratic partisans who argue he is precisely the right politician to go after Bush, for two reasons.

The first is their view that Gore was robbed of the presidency by Bush's own partisans in Florida and on the Supreme Court. But that argument smacks of sour grapes, and Gore making it would open him to charges, from Republicans certainly, of being a sore loser.

The second rationale for using the J-J dinner to criticize the Bush record is by far the wiser - that Gore's own warnings of what Bush's then-proposed tax cut would do to the economy that flourished under the Clinton-Gore administration have come to pass.

So also have the then-vice president's predictions that the Bush tax cut would imperil Social Security and Medicare and dictate reductions in a range of desired domestic programs, such as prescription drug benefits, which Bush said as a campaigner he wanted.

The latest projections by the Congressional Budget Office indicate the Bush administration will have to dip into the Social Security surplus to the tune of $9 billion this year. Bush's own budget director has acknowledged that the surplus will be cut to the bone by the tax cut and the economic downturn.

Delivering this message, however, also can present risks to Gore if he accompanies it with the sort of visible and audible suggestions of know-it-all superiority that apparently turned off many voters in last year's election. Gore's efforts at humorous chiding and even self-deprecation have at times fallen flat or seemed insincere. And as the late Republican master of negative campaigning, Lee Atwater, used to say, "If you can fake sincerity, you've got it made."

The Iowa J-J dinner comes at a propitious time for Gore if he can state the Democratic argument against Bush's handling of taxes and the economy without succumbing to wretched excess. The Republican president is already being accused of breaking his promise not to touch the Social Security surplus. Democrats are comparing this "betrayal" with his father's famous broken pledge of "read my lips, no new taxes" that shook his party and undermined his re-election chances in 1992.

The argument of whether or not the junior Bush is breaking his promise will have been thoroughly chewed over by the time Gore takes the podium on the night of Sept. 29 in Des Moines. How he lends his own voice to the charge can determine how successful his re-entry into the political dialogue will be.

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

08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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