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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2000 / 24 Tishrei, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Gore needs to put first things first -- THE GORE CAMPAIGN has decided to make the economy its main, if not sole, issue for the rest of the campaign. With all due respect, it's about time.

The only legitimately successful president to be elected or reelected with a majority of the vote (Clinton never did break 50 percent) since FDR was Ronald Reagan. Reagan cared about two things: fighting communism and reducing government interference with the economy.

FDR threw out a lot of ideas, but he really only cared about two big things: beating the Depression and winning World War II.

When George W. Bush ran for governor in Texas he promised to do just four things: tort reform, education reform, welfare reform and juvenile justice reform.

While this time Bush's mission seems dismayingly diffuse for a conservative, it can be summed up largely as tax relief, entitlement reform (including Medicare and Social Security), military reform and restoring "dignity and honor" to the White House. That's pretty much it.

There's an elegance to such promises and to the kind of government they produce. An administration that has a narrow agenda will be more likely to leave people alone and fix the big problems that voters really want fixed.

A campaign, like Al Gore's, that promises to do everything will in all likelihood do nothing or do just enough of everything to make everything worse.

Another problem with overpromising government is the sort of people it yields. Candidates who promise everything invariably encourage the notion that every group and constituency deserves a promise of its own.

Indeed, when Gore says, "I will fight for you," he means lots of different "yous." For example, at the Democratic National Convention, Gore promised, "I'll fight for tax cuts that go to the right people." Just look at the "undecided" voters at the last debates. Nearly all of them asked some form of "what can you do for me" question. That's gross.

For example, perhaps my second favorite president - after Reagan - was Calvin Coolidge who proudly did nothing, because he did not think anything was needed. When Coolidge died, H.L. Mencken wrote, "There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches he was not a nuisance." Now, that's my kind of president.

But Gore is the un-cool, un-Coolidge. Gore promises every constituency a ticket to the trough. He fancies himself a new Harry Truman who will fight for the little man. Well, Mencken had something to say about Truman, too. "If there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country, Harry Truman would have promised to provide them with free missionaries fattened at the taxpayer's expense."

But Gore does Truman one better. Not only does he promise to do many things, he promises to do many, many things simultaneously. In fact, the list of things he will do "first" is growing into the dozens. A few examples, "My first act as president -- if I'm entrusted with the job -- will be to resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate," said Gore in March.

In February, he said that "the No. 1 priority for me," is his $115 billion education plan.

The Associate Press quoted him in December as promising that "the first order of business of the Gore-Lieberman administration" would be to end racial profiling.

And he's said for almost two years that, "If you elect me as your president, the McCain-Feingold bill will be the first domestic legislation I send to the Congress --- on my first day in office."

That's an awful lot of first things to do first.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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