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Jewish World Review May 9, 2000 /3 Iyar, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan -- IT'S ONLY MAY, with the election six months off, but the two presidential candidates are flailing at each other as though it were October. It's going to be a long year.

The puncher is Vice President Al Gore, relentlessly accusing Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R, of everything from fiscal recklessness and social callousness to a strange foreign-policy combination of Cold War thinking and isolationism.

Bush is the counterpuncher. He claims that Gore is a savage, say-anything partisan who is constantly distorting the governor's ideas. In contrast, Bush promises to be a "uniter, not a divider" and to restore comity to American politics.

Gore may succeed in his effort to drive up Bush's unfavorability ratings, but there's also a danger that he will be seen as going over the top and of being unable to get anything done with Republicans if he's elected.

Certainly, polls indicate that Gore's attack strategy is not working so far. In March, as he was securing the nomination, Gore had caught up with Bush in most national surveys. Now Bush leads in practically every one, by margins averaging about 5 points.

According to the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, Gore's favorable rating has dropped from 51 percent to 43 percent since mid-March. Bush's rating went from 53 percent to 51 percent. Gore's unfavorable rating is 41, Bush's is 33.

The Pew Research Center poll shows that 68 percent of voters think that Republicans and Democrats in Washington are "bickering and opposing each other more than usual" -- that percentage is almost as high as it was during the federal government shutdown in 1995.

Pew's director, Andrew Kohut, thinks that "partisanship is a turnoff to people" and that "any candidate would do well by striking a pose indicating he'd try to increase cooperation and bipartisanship."

That's obviously what Bush is calculating. He's spent his time since the end of the primaries repairing his image as a "compassionate conservative," and last week he promised to try reaching across party lines.

At his record $21.3 million fund-raiser in D.C., Bush blamed the Clinton-Gore administration for starting "the cycle of bitterness and arms race of anger" afflicting Washington, but added that Republicans have "responded in kind."

This is a one-sided view of history, of course, underplaying the radical-revolutionary influence of ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. But at least Bush promised to try to counter the "legacy of cynicism and generic disgust."

Bush has a record of bipartisanship in Texas, and he indicated that he would apply the principle in trying to reform Social Security.

On Monday, he plans to lay out guidelines for partial privatization of the retirement system that will track ideas previously advanced by Democratic Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, N.Y.; Bob Kerrey, Neb.; John Breaux, La.; Chuck Robb, Va.; and the New Democrats' Progressive Policy Institute.

Moreover, Bush aides say that the plan will be put forward as an outline to be filled in through negotiation with Congress. This approach indicates flexibility and also saves Bush from having to specify details that can be attacked.

Politically, aides say that Bush's bipartisan initiatives are designed partly to "highlight an image of Gore as ruthless." And, they say, "Gore is doing everything he can to make it easier for us."

Indeed, he is. Gore scarcely lets a day go by without an attack on Bush, his Texas record or his 2000 proposals -- often in extravagant terms.

In the past two weeks, Gore has charged that Bush's tax cut would "shatter confidence in our economy, sending a message... that the era of fiscal responsibility is over."

Gore persists in estimating Bush's tax cut as costing $2.1 trillion over 10 years, though Bush puts it at $1.3 trillion, a figure supported this week by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. Gore also claimed that Bush, as Texas governor, has never prepared a budget -- a false statement.

This week, Gore denounced the idea of partially privatizing Social Security as "casino economics" and a policy of "survival of the fittest." In an interview with the Washington Post, he denied that the Clinton administration had ever proposed such a thing -- which it did, twice, and then dropped.

Even though both he and Bush are moderate internationalists, Gore claimed in one speech that Bush aligns himself with isolationists and "dangerously fixates on the Cold War past when speaking of the use of force."

Gore does not even tip his hat in the direction of bipartisanship. This failure opens Gore up to the charge that he could never work with Congress if it remains under GOP control.

Gore aides deny that there is any danger of backlash. They claim that the veep's attacks are strictly policy-based, not personal, and they say that Gore's image only improved during the primaries when he went after his Democratic rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley, N.J. They deny any Bush surge in the polls.

Indeed, Gore's attack strategy did succeed in the primaries. But Bush aides say that Bradley did not know how to fight back. Bush does.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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