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Jewish World Review Sept 1, 2000 / 1 Elul, 5760

Roger Simon

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AlGore: 'We're ordinary people' -- CHICAGO | Al Gore sat in a very weird holding room in the bowels of McCormick Place. It really wasn't a room at all. On a vast concrete floor -- so vast it could have swallowed up several football fields -- four temporary walls had been thrown up, a carpet thrown down, a few couches dragged in and a couple of lamps plugged into sockets on the floor.

In a few minutes, he would give a speech to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America about his favorite subject: protecting working families from the evil forces of wealth and power.

But before he did, he spent about 20 minutes talking with me. The following is from that interview:

Q: Is your family a working family?

A: Yes, we are ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. We face the challenges that many of America's families do, including balancing work and family, dealing with our parents' long-term health-care issues and raising our children in an increasing complex world.

Q: Is there something about wealth and power that's intrinsically bad or that we should automatically be suspicious of?

A: Yeah! Read the Federalist papers. Our Founders were keen students of human nature, and they knew that even the best people you can find are inherently vulnerable because of human nature to the temptations to abuse power if too much power is concentrated in too few hands.

Q: Can you expand on that a little for those of our readers who not read the Federalist papers recently?

A: Our Founders were keen students of human nature, and they knew that even the best people you can find are inherently vulnerable because of human nature to the temptations to abuse power if too much power is concentrated in too few hands. That is why they designed a republic with a separation of power. That is why they imbued our Constitution with checks and balances.

That is why a hundred years later, the Progressives began to establish those same principles in the commercial and economic spheres to prevent monopolies from having too much concentrated power in particular areas of commerce to the point where new entrants like entrepreneurs, family-owned small businesses and others would die off because that's what the most powerful wanted.

Now, if you look at the potential for that kind of distortion in our economy today, you can see that it's still there. I'll give you an example.

I fought for telecommunications reform, and I was the point person for the administration in helping to bring about the act in '96. The most powerful actors in the communications field had a lot of opposition to that. But we pushed it through. And look at what's happened. The dynamism in the new telecommunications and computing start-ups has been sustained partly because of a new respect for competition in the marketplace and new safeguards against abuses by the giants.

Q: Let's say me and my spouse are making six-figure salaries and we put all our money into growth stocks five years ago. Why do we need you as a champion against the rich and powerful?

A: Because you're a working family. ... If you live in a community that is trying to make sense of itself with lower crime rates and a cleaner environment, you have a stake in not letting polluters destroy your air and letting a misguided devotion to what's called states' rights cancel the Cops Program and reverse the decline in crime rates in urban and suburban communities and rural areas. I could go on. These are issues where some powerful interests, which include drug companies and HMOs and insurance companies, etc., have a specific agenda that works for them but works to the disadvantage of the vast majority of families in the country. And I have declared forthrightly which side I'm on.

Q: Is the American public ready for some tough warnings during good times?

A: I think so. ... The point of my agenda is that if we make the right choices, we really can head in the right direction. We can have more prosperity and more time with our families. We can have higher incomes and a higher quality of life. There's just no question about it.

Q: Do you feel that the bar has been set so low regarding George W. Bush's debate abilities that it gives him an advantage?

A: I think that he is a much better debater than the conventional wisdom would have it. He was seen as the clear winner of debates in the Republican primaries with some extremely capable people like John McCain. He is a very able debater, and I think that, as they have acknowledged, he has been practicing almost every day, which means that he'll be extremely good in the debates. There's no question about that -- no question.

Q: But do you think you'll win the debates?

A: You know, it's for the American people to decide. ... I think that the gladiatorial elements of these things are way overdrawn. Their real value is in their unique ability to provide the American people with a chance to learn more about the positions of the candidates on the issues and the kind of individuals the candidate are.

Q: According to the polls, the whole world now knows you're not wooden.

A: (Laughing) Well, that may be an over-optimistic reading.

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