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Jewish World Review August 25, 2000 /24 Menachem-Av 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Gore hands center to Bush -- VICE PRESIDENT Al Gore ceded the political center to Texas Gov. George W. Bush at the Democratic National Convention last week -- and with it, probably, the election.

Gore may or may not get a brief polling bounce from the convention, but he handed Bush huge gifts for the fall campaign, leaving the presidential debates as his last chance to win the White House.

Gore's acceptance speech -- written by himself, leaving no one else to blame -- revealed him to be an old-line populist liberal with a grim view of America's "working families" being victimized by "powerful forces and powerful interests."

There was no sense of optimism, despite America's economic boom, and no sense that the high-tech new economy provides exciting opportunities.

Those themes are now owned by Bush, who enunciated them at the Republican convention along with promises to be "compassionate" toward those in danger of being left behind.

Gore also laid out such a long laundry list of government initiatives -- reminiscent of a State of the Union message in the Great Society days of President Lyndon Johnson -- that Bush seems justified in saying budget surpluses had best not be left in Washington because they'll be spent.

Not only was Gore's content politically self-destructive, his delivery was so rushed that he tromped over his applause lines. And the speech was utterly devoid of humor or poetry.

His best lines were: "That's the difference in this election: They (Republicans) are for the powerful, and we're for the people. Big tobacco, big oil, the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand up and say no -- so families can have a better life."

The message was a throwback to William Jennings Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech, but it was better expressed this year by Pat Buchanan in his Reform Party acceptance speech.

Buchanan referred to Washington as a political "swamp" that neither "Beltway party" would drain because "to them, it's ... a protected wetland, their natural habitat. They swim in it, feed in it, spawn in it and are as happy there as Brer Rabbit was in his briar patch."

Gore's speech suggested that his campaign is seriously worried about the challenge being mounted from the populist left by the Green Party's Ralph Nader, who's drawing close to 9 percent.

Gore's disastrous speech capped a disappointing convention in which, according to daily polling by the Battleground survey, Gore not only failed to gain on Bush, but fell a bit further behind.

Polling data last Monday showed Bush leading the race by 9 points. Tuesday and Wednesday polls showed him leading by 11, with conservative Democrats and married white working women moving further away from Gore.

It's not hard to figure out why. First, President Clinton failed to dramatize Gore's part in the country's economic and social successes during the past eight years.

Then, most speakers at the convention -- finishing with Gore -- spent all their energies tending to the party's liberal base instead of reaching out to centrist swing voters.

Gore's vice presidential nominee and presumptive emissary to the center, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), spent much of the week convincing teachers unions and African-Americans that he is reliable on their issues: school vouchers and affirmative action.

Lieberman's speech to the convention Wednesday night, while winningly delivered, was utterly devoid of the centrist New Democrat ideology he's been espousing for years, especially as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Even the two New Democrats who nominated Lieberman, Sen. John Breaux (La.) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), delivered speeches bleached of any mention of entitlement reform or free trade, the ideas they've promoted.

The one touchy issue that Lieberman did hit, but lightly, was about Gore and his wife, Tipper, once taking on Hollywood over explicit song lyrics -- a position they later abandoned.

Lieberman said, "No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children." Though the convention audience loved Lieberman, that line got scant applause.

Among the many tasks that Gore needed to accomplish in Los Angeles, the one he perhaps got farthest on was acquainting people with his life apart from the No. 2 role he's played with Clinton. The many family portraits presented were heart-warming, if at times excessive.

To get himself out from Clinton's ethical shadow, Gore mentioned Clinton only once in his acceptance speech -- and gave short shrift to the accomplishments of the past eight years.

Evidently worried about seeming "too negative," Gore failed to mention Bush directly. Gore disparaged the "personality contest" aspect of the presidential race, but he did little to erase Bush's advantage.

Gore campaign aides said the Veep needed a huge bounce from the convention to catch up to Bush and then start the fall campaign just a few points behind. My guess is that Gore's only hope now is a disastrous Bush performance in the debates.

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


08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
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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