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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2000 / 17 Tishrei 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Two debates leave lots of questions -- THE TWO VICE presidential candidates proved in their debate that they are qualified to be president. That's good. But they failed to do what vice presidential candidates are supposed to do: skewer the opposition.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his aides believe that Vice President Al Gore can't be trusted to tell the truth. GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney has said as much on the campaign trail, but he went silent on the point in Thursday's debate.

Similarly, the Gore campaign thinks that under Bush the environment and public health in Texas have deteriorated, but the Democratic veep candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), didn't touch that issue. The two veep candidates essentially repeated the arguments and counterarguments that the presidential campaigns have been making on the issues over the past weeks, but they utterly lacked the combative spirit that the presidential candidates showed in their face-off.

Citizens viewing the debates must have the impression that all four candidates are presidential, but my guess is that they are mightily confused about who's right on any number of issues.

Now it's up to PBS' Jim Lehrer in future debates to get the candidates to clear up the differences and also to get them to say what they really think about each other.

In the first presidential debate, Lehrer did ask Gore about his statement that Bush lacks the experience to be president. Gore denied he made such a statement, but subsequent fact-checking has established that he did. Lehrer should ask him about that.

He also should ask Gore about his various other misstatements -- tallied up by Richard Berke in The New York Times on Friday -- that he visited fire disaster sites in Texas in 1998, that schoolchildren lack desks in Sarasota, Fla., and that he "took a risk" by talking to Russian leaders about Kosovo when the talks were scheduled by others.

Besides his Texas record, Bush should be forced to defend his math. He maintains that he'd devote just a quarter of anticipated budget surpluses to tax cuts, but independent calculations show it's more like one-third. They also demonstrate that his Social Security reforms and spending programs would more than use up the surplus.

Bush needs to be asked, particularly, about how he'd make up the "transition cost" of his Social Security plan -- the $1 trillion the government would not collect in taxes when workers are allowed to invest their money in the stock market.

On tax cuts, Gore has been forced to quit charging that Bush would hand more money in tax cuts to the top 1 percent of taxpayers than he'd spend on education and other programs; but independent analysts say the very rich would get more than 10 times the tax break that poor families would receive.

Gore, meantime, has been able to successfully declare that Bush is relying on a partisan Senate Budget Committee staff analysis demonstrating that he'd overspend the anticipated surplus.

However, there are other analyses that show the same. Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan though moderately conservative group, calculates Gore's spending at $2.2 trillion over five years -- $800 billion more than the anticipated surplus.

On education, an important issue to voters, there is a real difference of opinion between the two campaigns over whether the past eight years have been a period of "recession" or progress.

In Thursday night's debate, Lieberman asserted that the National Assessment of Education Progress showed that U.S. reading and math scores had improved during the Clinton years.

Yet that is not what actual NAEP numbers suggest. More or less, as the Bush campaign asserts, the scores have been flat or have fallen slightly for the past eight years, and U.S. scores remain significantly below those in other industrialized countries.

On defense preparedness, even though it is not a top concern of voters, Gore needs to be asked if it isn't true that spending declined during the early Clinton years before it began rising again under pressure from the Republican Congress.

Bush needs to be asked about the Gore assertions that the Democrat anticipates spending $100 billion more on preparedness than he does over the next 10 years, and that Bush is planning to deprive the services of the next round of procurement upgrades.

Whether or not any such questions will affect the race is open to debate. Last week's polls provide a confusing pattern. The Gallup poll showed Gore jumping to an 11-point lead. But an ABC News poll showed Bush ahead by 7 points after the week's debates.

The Reuters-NBC poll showed Gore up by 5, while the Battleground survey had Bush ahead by 2.

Various electoral vote counts are also at odds, depending on how razor-close Michigan and Florida are counted.

What remains clear is that about 10 percent of the electorate is undecided. The group is 65 percent female, 50 percent independent and tends not to be college educated.

In focus groups, undecideds say they are waiting for more discussion of the issues before they make up their minds. The debaters and their moderator should give this to them.

In the end, though, my guess is that the undecideds are waiting for a defining moment -- a major revelation, a gaffe or a triumph.

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


10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
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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