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Jewish World Review August 8, 2000 /7 Menachem-Av 5760

Morton Kondracke

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2000 race could leave high road for low -- PHILADELPHIA | Texas Gov. George W. Bush's strong convention closer clears the way for a substance-rich and rhetorically tough presidential campaign that doesn't have to get down and dirty, but probably will.

The key passage in Bush's acceptance speech Thursday that should set up the issues battle was: "The surplus is not the government's money. The surplus is the people's money."

The central policy question that "the people" have to face in this election is: What do we want to do with the anticipated 10-year, $1.5 trillion surplus?

Bush says, "Now is the time to reform the tax code and share some of the surplus with the people." Democrats allege that the tax cuts he proposes will use up all, or more than all, of the surplus, leaving nothing remaining for the "compassionate" initiatives he says he favors.

Democrats, on the other hand, propose to "share" much less of the money with taxpayers -- about two-thirds less -- and "invest" or "spend" the rest on health and education programs, benefits for seniors, and paying down the national debt.

This difference has the makings of what could be an elevated -- and tough -- election debate. Both Bush and Vice President Al Gore can and will claim that America's continued greatness and prosperity lie in following his path.

They can also battle spiritedly over which party is responsible for the nation's current well-being, whether the opposition's taxing and spending agendas add up. and who has the fairer and more effective formula for progress.

In his acceptance speech, Bush invited a fight by charging that the Clinton-Gore administration has "coasted through prosperity" and "had its chance" to lead, but didn't.

Gore has every right to say, "Coasted? The country wasn't prosperous in 1992. It was debt-ridden and isn't any more. Those who don't feel better off than they were eight years ago should vote for another George Bush," etc.

As expected, Bush also laid down defense, Social Security reform, education reform and welfare as basic issues on which he wants to campaign and said of President Clinton and Gore, "they have not led." There's room for a good fight over the administration's record and whether Gore's proposals on those fronts -- college aid, family leave, welfare reform and missile defense -- constitute good policy.

Gore certainly will make health policy -- including prescription drugs and patients' rights -- a top issue, and can accuse Bush and his Republican allies in Congress of blocking administration initiatives.

Growing naturally and legitimately out of the issues debate are questions of motive and, inevitably, character. The Bush-orchestrated GOP convention was one giant iteration of the famous remark by Bush's father, former President George Bush, "Message: I care."

The endless parade of black and Hispanic faces and the repetition of compassionate rhetoric were meant to show that Bush is, as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) described him, "the Founding Father of the new Republican Party."

I'm convinced on the basis of Bush's record and proposals that he really does mean to create a "new" GOP on the premise that "the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference" and would try to "put conservative values and ideas into the fight for justice and opportunity."

But Democrats have every right to question both Bush's and his party's sincerity. There are elements of Bush's record and program that justify doubt. In Texas, he opposed expanding health insurance for poor children last year. He also is not backing up his education reforms with much money.

There is even more ground to question the Republican Party's dedication to his goals. As many commentators pointed out, there were far more African-Americans on stage and in videos at the GOP convention than on the convention floor.

It was fair that the Gore campaign tagged the Philadelphia convention a "masquerade ball" in which Bush "danced the Texas two-step," hiding "the reality that Bush is compassionate for the rich and conservative for everyone else."

It was surprising that Bush and his vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, both tried to tie Gore to Clinton's scandals, with Cheney asking "Does anyone ... seriously believe that under Mr. Gore, the next four years would be any different from the last eight?"

Nearly all of Bush's and Cheney's jabs at Gore were above the belt, but that one -- implying that Gore is capable of a Monica Lewinsky-style scandal -- hit below.

My guess is that Gore will use this punch, among others, as a pretext for saying Republicans "went negative" first, giving Democrats permission to savage Bush.

Gore has demonstrated he is not above distorting an opponent's record -- as he has in claiming that, under Bush, Texas is running a budget "shortfall," when there's a surplus.

Gore probably planned to charge, anyway, that Bush is somehow anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-senior. He made such false charges against his primary opponent, former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.).

So, the GOP convention opened the way for a nasty campaign that probably will overwhelm the elevated, feisty debate that the issues deserve. Before November, voters may have more need for their mud boots than their thinking caps.

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


08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
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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