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Jewish World Review August 28, 2000 /27 Menachem-Av, 5760

Tony Snow

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Politics as amusement -- THIS WILL BE FUN. We stand on the brink of the most entertaining American political campaign in eons.

Never in recent history have two major presidential candidates seemed so dispensable. Little in the character of demeanor of Al Gore or George Bush makes us say to ourselves: Now, this man is truly special! Little in our present peace and prosperity impels us to say: Give us a great man!

On one side stands Gore, who envisions an America where every day is Halloween and every tree conceals an ogre from Big Something. He is fidgety and full of vigor. At any given moment, he could be smiling, glowering, yelling or making out with his brave and bouncy wife, who is becoming resigned to his impromptu throat cultures.

George W. Bush, meanwhile, talks of a pillowy America, full of niceness and goodwill. Bush has inherited his mother's attractive feistiness, but he also got his father's syntax. At one point last week, he stunned a friendly audience by barking out absurd and inappropriate words, like a soul tortured with Tourette's. He vowed to rip into "terrors" -- his shorthand for "tariffs and barriers" -- in order to secure our economic well-being. He predicted victory, "because we speak in a language people understand."

We thus find ourselves having to choose between two men who are searching for gravity -- not "gravitas," which has come to mean "intellectual pretension," but actual anchorage on the Planet Earth.

Gore has more difficulty in this regard. For all his talk of fighting Special Interests in the name of "working families," he lives for interest groups. Big business decamped at his party's convention. Oil companies spent lavishly. So did pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, medical companies, law firms, accounting firms, cyber-retailing empires and Hollywood entertainment conglomerates.

He did not spurn even one of these advances. He snubbed only Hugh Hefner, the saggy bag of flesh who has an eerie and inexplicable appeal to some nubile lasses -- and whose family and company have contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats during the Age of Clinton.

Gore's Democratic Party has emerged as the sentinel of sex and spending. Its rulemakers require states to reserve delegate slots for individuals who achieve sexual transport in specified ways. It also regards abortion as the most fundamental of all "rights."

The Gore Democrats believe every faction deserves some dough. Gore dutifully proposed an unprecedented spending spree -- as much as $2 trillion in new stuff over the next decade. He has programs for virtually everything. But nobody in his entourage seems to have asked the pertinent question: Has any federal program ever solved a problem and then closed its doors? (The wartime military doesn't count.)

On the tax side, Gore has defined as "rich" anybody who has a job and a mortgage. It would surprise most "working families" that he considers them deserving of a good fleecing.

Bush has a different sort of problem. He has to persuade people he's smart. He recently tried to dazzle reporters by discussing the vagaries of Congressional Budget Office economic forecasts, but his recitation of numbers proved so bewildering that not even his aides could produce a comprehensible translation.

The English Language has become a minefield for the man, whose malaprops make him the political heir not of Ronald Reagan, but Norm Crosby. Who can forget the time he vowed defiantly not to let the opposition put him in cufflinks? (He meant "handcuffs.")

On the policy side, he has become a classical dime-store Democrat. He gladly will shovel money into programs that enjoy undeserved prestige, such as Head Start. He seems to consider it mean-spirited to shut down programs that rip-off taxpayers and mislead supposed beneficiaries.

Yes, he proposes an across-the-board tax cut. Yes, he wants to privatize some of Social Security. Yes, he promises to appoint more conservative judges than would Gore. But where do these items stand on his list of priorities?

Bush's advisers have swaddled their guy in so many cloying alliterations -- he's a "compassionate conservative" and a "reformer with results" -- that he has become a living cartoon. One would never guess that he has assembled possibly the best policy team in Republican history.

So off we go: Two baby boomers trying to fulfill the promise of adulthood, squaring off in the most ideological election since 1980. They both insist that we think about ideas -- and for once, we might actually follow the advice. It would sure beat watching them on the stump.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate