vs. Bush - A Lesson for John Kerry
By Brad Peachy
October 3, 2000, Vice-President Gore stepped up to the podium
for a debate against then Governor George Bush. If ever the
American people could see a razor-sharp intellect with a deep
grasp of fact and policy contrasted with a frat boy who majored
in beer drinking, this would be it.
Bush was already notorious for using words such as "misunderestimate"
and phrases such as "is our children learning." His stump
speeches were a hodgepodge of one sentence bumper stickers
that actually included "don't mess with Texas," whatever the
heck that means.
Gore on the other hand had already proven his dead-on debating
skills. The Vice-President elect had reduced the normally
combative and fast-talking Ross Perot to humiliating outbursts
of "can I talk . . . can I finish?" in the NAFTA debate on
"Larry King Live." In the 1996 campaign, Gore sacked former
pro quarterback Jack Kemp in the Vice Presidential debates,
neutralizing Dole's most effective ally to take the White
An Atlantic Monthly cover story just months before
the debates (July 2000) opined that "Al Gore is the most lethal
debater in politics, a ruthless combatant who will say whatever
it takes to win, and who leaves opponents not just beaten
but brutalized." That Mr. Gore didn't annihilate this poster
boy for dyslexia and faith-based facts meant in essence that
Bush won. How could it happen?
Like reading old magazines that predict a 30,000 Dow Jones
average, returning to the Presidential debates of four years
ago is an elucidating experience. Mr. Gore's fundamental mistake
is illustrated in this telling exchange: Moderator Jim Lehrer
asked Gore to explain his claim that Bush didn't have the
experience to be President. Gore responded with, "I've actually
not questioned Gov. Bush's experience; I've questioned his
proposals. And here's why..."
Later the moderator pressed Gore on the question saying,
"so I take it by your answer then, Mr. Vice President, that
in a interview recently with the New York Times, when you
said that you question whether Governor Bush was experienced
enough to be President, you were talking about strictly policy
differences?" Al Gore's response: "Yes, Jim," and then he
launched into another statistics-heavy discussion of Bush's
Lehrer was tossing Gore a soft pitch of which he should
have torn the cover off, instead he bunted at tax policy.
When Gore attacked Bush's experience, he was absolutely right
to have done so - why did he back away?
Under Gov. George W. Bush, Houston took first place as the
most polluted city in the U.S. Texas under Bush executed 152
inmates, more than all the other states combined. Under Gov.
Bush, one of the countries' most regressive tax systems became
even more regressive, mentally retarded convicts could be
executed, half a million poor children were kept off Medicaid,
hate crimes bills were quashed, and polluters wrote their
own rules and "voluntarily" complied.
A precursor of the economic devastation he would wreak on
the national economy, Gov. Bush pushed through 2.9 billion
in tax cuts that left the state with a huge deficit, forcing
it to forego more and more of its traditional services, such
as school and road maintenance. Texas under Bush - out of
50 states - ranked numero uno in greenhouse gas emissions,
pollution from manufacturing plants, home insurance rates,
and percentage of children without health insurance.
George Bush's Texas ranked 5th highest in teen birth rates,
44th in home ownership, 44th in SAT scores, 45th in child
support collections and mothers receiving prenatal care, 46th
in libraries, 47th in spending for social services and for
police, 48th in spending on the arts, parks and recreation,
and public health. Despite his much ballyhooed support for
"no child left behind," George Bush left Texas ranked 48th
in high school completion rates. Not surprisingly, Texas ranked
dead last in teacher salaries. (source: pearly-abraham.tripod.com/htmls/texas-issues.html)
In his debate with Gore, Gov. Bush threw his record, such
as it was, out on the table. In answering the question, "how
would you advise voters to make a decision [between you or
Gore]," Bush responded with, "I think you've got to look at
how one has handled responsibility in office... whether you've
got the capacity to convince people to follow, whether or
not one makes decisions based on sound principles or whether
you rely on polls and focus groups. I've been the governor
of a big state... So the fundamental answer to your question:
'Who can lead, and who has shown the ability to get things
When Gore was asked how voters should decide "which one
of you is better suited to make the kind of decisions in military
and foreign policy [we've been discussing], he answered, "Well,
they should look at our proposals..."
No, Al, please, no. Plans, proposals, abstract possibilities
in the future tense - these were the things that float Al's
boat, but they are not what lifts a person to the highest
office of the land.
Gore spoke as though Bill Clinton had never been President,
that the country hadn't experienced eight years of unprecedented
economic growth, that unemployment wasn't at a near-record
low, that the stock market wasn't at an all-time high, that
the budget didn't stand at a historic surplus, that wealth
inequality for the first time in decades hadn't narrowed.
When Bush viciously attacked Gore on not getting a prescription
drug plan despite eight years of trying, Gore felt no need
to point out that it was Mr. Bush's party who made sure the
plans would never pass.
When Bush accused Gore of moving the sign "the buck stops
here" from the Oval office to the Lincoln bedroom and capping
that observation with a disingenuous "it's time for a fresh
start after a season of cynicism," Mr. Gore felt no need to
give voice to the angry and embittered Americans who were
seething after eight years of Republican witch-hunts culminating
in the partisan farce of impeachment. His response was, "we
ought to attack our country's problems, not attack each other."
All high-minded, good and fine. But what if our country's
biggest problem IS the Republican running for office?
So Bush beat Gore because Bush ran on his record - and Gore
let him get away with it, acting as if Bush's record in Texas
had nothing worthy of criticism and the man was a bipartisan
statesman. In fact, the one comment Mr. Gore did make about
Bush's tenure was to commend him on his quick response to
fires and floods in the state. On the other hand, Gore, instead
of running on his and Bill Clinton's stellar record, couldn't
stop talking about future plans, proposals, and provisions,
as if he hadn't held the second highest office in the land
for the last eight years.
If we could have seen a little bit more of that "lethal
debater" and a little less of Mr. Policy Wonk, our beloved
country might not be facing another four years of welfare
for the rich and wars without end. Perhaps it is a lesson
that John Kerry, the current Democratic candidate will not