Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 1999 /10 Kislev, 5760
White House race may be best in decades
THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION may be the first in decades in which voters and the press don't say, "Gad, what a choice!" or "Is this the best the American political system can produce?"
True, there is not a Thomas Jefferson or Franklin D. Roosevelt in the race, but all four of the top candidates are plausible presidents, would put up a good fight for their parties' principles and, probably, won't embarrass their supporters."
There's a good chance that this election -- in both the primaries and the general -- will be more about issues than "character" or scandal."
Moreover, even though current polls show GOP front-runner George W. Bush leading Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley by 10 to 12 points, there is every reason to think the race will tighten before it's over."
The bottom line here is that 2000 could be one of the most wholesome, civics-book elections in memory -- certainly a whole lot better than 1972, when the choice was a scandal-tarred Richard Nixon or an inept pacifist, George McGovern."
Or 1996, for that matter, when the choice was a scandal-tarred (and soon to be more scandal-tarred) Bill Clinton or an outclassed, irascible Bob Dole."
Looking back, in fact, one probably has to go to 1952 to find an election in which most people felt they had a solid choice -- war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson."
By 1956, lots of Democrats wanted someone other than "loser" Stevenson. The 1960 matchup between Nixon and John F. Kennedy was pretty even, but at the time people felt they were taking a risk with the untested Kennedy and an unappealing Nixon."
In 1964, millions voted for Lyndon B. Johnson only because they were scared of Barry Goldwater. The 1968 election pitted two heavyweight politicians against each other, Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, but lots of Democrats yearned for someone stronger, such as the slain Robert F. Kennedy."
In 1976, almost everyone complained that there had to be better candidates than unelected President Gerald Ford and the onetime Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter. In 1980, lots of Democrats stuck with Carter only because they were terrified of Ronald Reagan."
In 1984, Reagan and Walter Mondale were worthy adversaries, but many Democrats were unhappy with Mondale's dullness and over-responsiveness to interest groups."
In 1988, Michael Dukakis proved an embarrassment to the Democrats who nominated him. In 1992, Clinton was already dismaying Democrats for his philandering, but only Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) and Paul Tsongas challenged him for the nomination."
This time, it's different. Almost certainly, at the end of the process, the United States won't be burdened with a soap-opera president producing X-rated official documents and endless efforts to blame others for his plight."
The four leading contenders for the presidency this time seem to be grown-ups who sowed their wild oats in youth, if at all, and won't do so in the Oval Office."
Self-control isn't everything in a president, of course. Wise and skillful leadership is the most important thing. As president, Texas Gov. Bush, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Vice President Gore, or ex-Sen. Bradley, D-N.J., could prove to be as weak as Carter. But if that's the case, they haven't betrayed startling flaws so far."
Bush allegedly is light in the information department, but the advisers he's selected are all first-rate and uniformly attest to his self-assurance about principle and his attentiveness to policy detail."
Bush clearly has political talent, demonstrated in Texas and in his domination of the GOP establishment, and he offers the prospect of changing at least the party's image and maybe its substance."
Fortunately, Bush is not going to be able to stroll to the nomination. He'll get tested by McCain, who would certainly make a high-spirited president if he somehow gets elected, though he'd be at odds with pros of both parties."
The two Democrats may be dull, but they're also smart, experienced and have strong convictions about the issues confronting the country."
Whichever of them gets the nomination should be able to wage a hard-hitting campaign against the Republicans, who are proposing significant policy changes that they haven't educated the public well about yet. Republicans want to partially privatize Social Security, open Medicare to private insurance companies, cut taxes substantially and limit liability in lawsuits."
Those proposals -- plus HMO reform, gun control and help for the uninsured -- will make 2000 an issues-rich election. Right now, the public sides with Democrats on most of them, which is likely to lead to a close race."
The stakes in 2000 are great enough that it ought to be a well-fought contest. Control of Congress is up for grabs along with the power, probably, to change the ideology of the Supreme Court."
As the two major parties make it a serious-business election, the public will not be wanting for comic relief. Off on the fringes, there's a circus in town called the Reform Party with more clowns joining up every day.
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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