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Jewish World Review July 20, 2000 /16 Tamuz, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey -- VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE is back playing Harry S Truman again, but a strategy that worked in Democratic primaries may not be so successful in the general election.

Gore defeated former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) in the primaries by attacking fiercely and justifying it by saying to voters, "I'll fight for you."

It worked in part because Bradley didn't fight back. Indeed, Bradley seemed stunned, building up Gore's reputation. By the time the primaries were over, Gore had pulled even with Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) in the polls.

Gore turned his attacks on Bush for part of the spring, though without Trumanesque trappings, but it didn't do much good. Gore was criticized for going negative, lost ground in the polls and shifted to positive messages. That didn't work either, and by last month Bush's lead was averaging about 8 points.

Now, Gore is back to the Truman model, linking Bush and the "do-nothing-for-people Republican Congress" to "special interests" such as HMOs and insurance, drug and oil companies. He's been pummeling the whole lot for benefiting "the powerful and comfortable."

Gore stated and restated the theme, "I will stand up and fight for a real patients' bill of rights ... for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors ... for affordable health coverage," and demanded that Bush intervene with Congressional GOPleaders to pass such legislation.

Even though this is an activist tack and though Truman's 1948 come-from-behind victory is a hallowed moment in Democratic history, there are a few problems with it for 2000.

For one thing, Bush is not assuming the passive role that Republican nominee Thomas Dewey played in 1948, believing that the unpopular Truman would fall easily.

Even though the Bush camp has been steadily touting poll results showing Bush ahead, top Republican officials say they expect that by the time both party conventions are over next month, the race will be tight.

Bush, with his Republican base secure, is reaching out to nontraditional constituencies, including Hispanics and African-Americans, and is bolstering his appeal to moderates with "compassionate conservative" proposals.

While he's not engaging Gore directly, Bush is not letting Gore's assaults go unanswered. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer is out with a rapid response each time Gore attacks, usually around the theme that Gore is constantly reinventing himself.

Last week, Fleischer accused Gore of "dressing up in Harry Truman's double breasted suit" and of "demonstrating lack of leadership by calling on the governor of Texas to get from Congress what a sitting vice president can't."

Moreover, in the context of 1948, Truman was the centrist, opposed not only by Dewey, but by former Vice President Henry Wallace on the left and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond on the right.

Gore, with the Democratic base not yet secure, is still reaching left to bolster traditional constituencies. He's emphasizing his dedication to affirmative action and bilingual education, for instance, and avoiding advocacy of merit pay for teachers, which was voted down by the National Education Association.

Gore's populist attacks on corporations and "polluters" seem designed to keep liberals, labor union members and environmentalists from decamping to Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.

In the process, Gore risks disappointing at least some centrist New Democrats and voters whose livelihood is derived from the high-tech "new economy."

One important Washington centrist, for instance, said that "Gore is not a credible populist, with his stiff demeanor and elite upbringing. He comes off as inauthentic. He is not exactly a man of the sod."

More importantly, though, this moderate said, "Gore should be using Nader as a foil to demonstrate his centrism. He shouldn't pander to the Naderites. Harry Truman didn't pander to Henry Wallace in 1948. He fought him."

While the Democratic Party platform --written by Gore aides to his specifications --is generally centrist, it does contain a major sop for labor unions, promising that Gore "will insist on and use authority to enforce worker rights, human rights and environmental protections" in trade agreements.

If Gore insists that every new trade agreement contains such standards, the danger is that many countries will refuse to negotiate and U.S. industries will lose potential markets.

One other major question about 1948 parallels lies with Congress. While Republicans certainly are not enacting the Democratic agenda, they are looking active enough that the "do nothing" label may not stick.

Republicans are in the process of passing major tax cuts and have proposed alternatives on patients' rights and prescription drugs that at least give them cover.

Polls show that Republicans and Democrats are running about even on the generic Congressional ballot test, suggesting that the GOP Congress may not be the useful boogeyman for Gore that it was for Truman.

The big difference between 1948 and 2000, though, is that we now have televised debates. If Gore comes off as the Trumanesque fighter in that arena, and Bush is an out-of-it Dewey, history could repeat itself all over again.

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


07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
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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