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Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 / 29 Elul, 5760

Tony Snow

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What policies? What risk? -- AL GORE faces a quandary. He wants Americans to view his candidacy as a springboard from the Clinton years, as a chance to add personal probity to our present peace and prosperity --- you know, black ink without blue dresses.

But here's the problem: Bill Clinton left a more lasting impression on the blue dress than he did on the nation's laws and policies. He has prevailed in Washington not by leading, but by misleading; not by proposing, but opposing. He has no legislative legacy because he has risked nothing in his quest for omnipopularity.

Try this out. Name one major Clinton initiative since 1996. Don't spend too much time; it's a trick question. There are no such proposals. The president admitted as much a couple of years ago, when he told reporters he had no intention of submitting to Congress anything visionary or bold. "I learned my lesson in '94," he said -- referring to the health-care debacle engineered by his wife.

Clinton has contented himself with pounding the Republican Congress like baby seals. He seduced Newt Gingrich, then mugged the poor soul without even sending flowers or "Leaves of Grass." While Republicans nibbled on olive branches, Team Clinton brought out the heavy lumber and ambushed the unwary partisans.

The president's exquisite success in outmaneuvering Republicans leaves little for Gore. Bill Clinton's prowess is uniquely his. He cannot deed it to the Prince of Tennessee.

So when Gore tries to warn Americans that a Republican presidency would put our present policies at risk, one naturally is inclined to ask: What policies?

Republicans have been forced to run Congress in a vacuum for nearly six years. They proposed welfare reform, which the president thrice vetoed. He finally signed, the experiment succeeded -- and now Al Gore wants to take credit for something he opposed.

They pushed through the trade pacts that form the president's most lasting foreign-policy accomplishment. They dickered to expand funding for such things as charter schools. They pushed without success to reform Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements.

You can't create a sense of loss -- or even a fear of deprivation -- in a public that has received little in the last eight years from the White House but drama and trivialities, such as sermons about school uniforms.

To make things worse, Gore seems to have decided to model his campaign after the administration's most humiliating defeat --- the health-care plan. He proudly releases tedious, long "blueprints" for Medicare, education, Social Security and so on. The schemes aren't designed to solve a problem now, only to create vast new programs slowly -- so as not to gobble up the entire surplus immediately. The Congressional Budget Office has guessed that Gore will overspend the surplus by a trillion bucks or so within a decade, but it can't say for sure. His budget plan is so convoluted that nobody can figure out precisely what he intends to do, and thus what it all costs.

To top it off, he has begun repeating incantations that frighten even his friends -- such as his assertion, before a bunch of MTV viewers, that the northern polar ice cap would melt within 50 years. The fear is utterly without basis, as are the radical economic steps he would take to deal with it. The New York Times had to retreat from the story upon which Gore's assertion rests because one of the paper's writers was seized by a spasm of imagination, rather than a revelation of science.

But then, what can Gore do?

George Bush won election in 1988 by bearing the banner of Reaganism: tax cuts, robust defense, limited government.

Gore has nothing to lean on. He has to make up everything. Even though he has been blessed with a vivid imagination, he hasn't been able to explain in short declarative sentences what he wants to do, what he intends to build on, how he plans to widen our freedoms, and secure our lasting prosperity and posterity. Bill Clinton left the guy empty-handed.

This may explain Clinton's sudden silence. The president is engrossed in trying again to pull his reputation from the fire -- he wants to save his law license -- and has little to offer in the way of policy advice.

Besides, now that people are beginning to examine the fine print of GoreCare and all the rest, they're beginning to scamper away from Gore. And when was the last time Bill Clinton risked anything for someone in political straits?

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate