Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World ReviewOct. 3, 2000 / 4 Tishrei, 5761

Chris Matthews

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Bush-Gore and the ghosts of Kennedy-Nixon -- AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Jack Kennedy said he felt sorry for Richard Nixon because his 1960 debating partner did not know who he was and therefore was forever trying to decide "which Nixon" to be.

On the eve of tonight's inaugural debate of 2000, George W. Bush displays a similar contempt for rival Al Gore.

"You have a candidate that can be all things to all people, someone who is willing to change perceptions," he told me last week. "That in itself makes voters nervous."

In this important detail, the Texas governor's view of Gore parallels Kennedy's of Nixon. Bush sees the vice president as a man so awkward about his own identity that he must plead for acceptance, not on the strength of his own views and philosophy, but by pandering to the country's electoral constituencies.

I recall Bush's reaction to the Gore declaration to a Mexican-American group earlier in the campaign that, since his first grandchild was born on the Fourth of July, he hoped his next would be born on Cinco de Mayo.

"He's a beaut," Bush grinned, relishing the exposure of so naked a claim to ethnic sympathy. Will his sheer contempt for Gore be the Republican nominee's armor when he goes issue by issue this week with a man informed by a decade on Capitol Hill, then enhanced by eight years as vice president?

If so, Bush will need it. Al Gore is, even by enemy accounts, an unflinching student of the political game.

As a freshmen congressman in the early 1980s, he became the House's recognized expert on the use of state-of-the-art technology to catalog and identify voters back home. Gore was the go-to guy on how a Member of Congress could computerize his constituency, sorting out the pro-lifers from the pro-choicers, the gun owners from the gun opponents, etc.

Gore has been equally zealous in completing his other political homework. When a new ethnic faction becomes fat enough for market -- recall a certain Buddhist temple! -- Gore is among the first to learn of it. If there's a new way to exploit the fund-raising laws, rest assured Gore knows about it.

His sureness of the material, political as well as substantive, and his relish for the game are Gore's best weapons in Tuesday's debate. What he lacks in easy charm, he makes up for in attentiveness. If something needs learning, he will have learned it.

In this detail, it's not Bush who matches the JFK model but Gore.

Jack Kennedy was, like Al Gore, a relentless self-improver. He studied speed-reading, listened to Churchill's speeches and barked like a seal to strengthen his voice. He drove himself to understand ethnic and geographic voting patterns. Before anyone else, he hired a pollster to help him match his message to current voter concerns.

When it came time for the "Great Debate," it was Kennedy who showed up a week early to grill director Don Hewitt about camera angles and other technical factors.

Expect Gore to be equally prepared. Watching him campaign in recent weeks, we can see already his growing comfort in public settings. Forget the cigar-store Indian of yore. Today's Gore is in his best possible shape -- physically, psychologically and politically. Expect him to enter the Tuesday debate room loaded for bear. As always in his career, Al Gore will arrive knowing what he needs to know. And that includes a clearly developed strategy.

Who will emerge the recognized winner in this first debate of 2000?

Answer: The candidate who deploys his assets to greatest advantage.

If Bush ignores Gore and talks to the American voter about his upbeat philosophy and commitment to a full-opportunity society, as he did in his Philadelphia acceptance speech, he will do well.

If Gore avoids trying to show up Bush, but focuses instead on the real-life concerns of people, as he did in his Los Angeles acceptance speech, he will do well.

If both men do what I've suggested, this first debate will be a contest, not of words, but of purpose.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


09/26/00: Candidates' night and day sides
09/19/00: Hillary goes legit
09/12/00: AlGore's silent partner
08/23/00: Truth and beauty in Bubba's farewell
08/16/00: The nation's prom king
08/07/00: The good soldier
08/02/00: Welcome to Philadelphia --- we had the first...
07/31/00: Bush-Cheney ticket: A constitutional problem
07/26/00: If Bush is an IPO, Gore is a store
07/24/00: Will being 'better' sink Hillary?
07/19/00: Pre-convention calm?
07/17/00: AlGore is executing a double dose of imitation 07/10/00: Mexicans elect a Bush Republican
07/10/00:Another kind of McCarthyism
07/06/00: How Bubba's teapots clang
07/03/00: AlGore's latest hazard
06/29/00: No echoes in this presidential choice
06/26/00: Death joins the debate
06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
06/05/00: Clinton's odd silence on his achievements
06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

© 2000, NEA