- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

Al Gore yesterday offered to stop airing TV and radio ads if Bill Bradley did the same, but the former senator dismissed it as a stunt that typified the vice president’s lack of leadership in the most acrimonious debate of the presidential campaign.
Squaring off on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the two Democrats clashed over health care, education, campaign finance reform and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Sitting side-by-side in almost identical navy suits, blue shirts and maroon ties, they looked like political twins but sounded like feuding cousins.
Gone was the gentility that the two men exhibited during Friday’s debate before a live audience in New Hampshire. Faced only by host Tim Russert, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley argued, interrupted and even grew testy during some of yesterday’s exchanges in Washington.
It was the first time in three debates that Mr. Bradley seemed more aggressive than the vice president. After the first debate in October, the former New Jersey senator was criticized for failing to engage Mr. Gore, who was faulted by some for being overly negative. On Friday, Mr. Bradley heightened the attacks while Mr. Gore eased off some, bringing them into a kind of aggression parity.
But yesterday, it was Mr. Bradley who took the gloves off after the vice president challenged him in the second half of the hourlong debate.
“If you will agree, I will stop running all television and radio commercials until this nomination is decided,” Mr. Gore said. “That can get a lot of the money out of the presidential campaign and accomplish one of the best reforms. What about it?”
“Sounds to me like you’re having trouble raising money,” said Mr. Bradley, who is believed to have more campaign cash on hand than Mr. Gore.
“No, as a matter of fact, I’m not,” the vice president shot back.
“This is a ridiculous proposal,” Mr. Bradley said dismissively. “The way you communicate with people is when you talk to them. I love to talk to them in town meetings… . But I also love to talk to them over television in their living rooms.”
He added: “And I love to talk to them about … who I am, where I’m from, what I believe and where I want to take the country.”
“In 30-second commercials?” Mr. Gore said incredulously.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Bradley replied. “The point is, that’s not so difficult to do if you know what you believe and if you know where you want to take the country, if you have a positive vision.
“If you’re involved only in trying to go against someone, trying to hammer someone about, This is wrong, that’s wrong’ whether it’s my health care plan or what then you only have a negative message.”
The vice president pressed forward with his proposal.
“Let’s debate twice a week from now until the nomination is decided and just go face-to-face about the issues and get rid of all these television and radio commercials,” Mr. Gore said. “Why not do that?”
“You know something?” said Mr. Bradley, with a note of irritation creeping into his voice. “For 10 months that I was running for president, you ignored me. You pretended I didn’t exist. Suddenly I started to do better and you want to debate every day. It’s ridiculous.
“We’re having debates,” insisted Mr. Bradley, warming to his theme with a passion that has been largely absent from his campaign until now. “The point is, Al and I don’t know if you get this but a political campaign is not just a performance for people, which is what this is. But it is rather a dialogue.”
Mr. Gore protested that a performance is “not what I’m doing.”
“It’s a dialogue with people, where you listen to their stories, where you listen to what they have to say about their country’s future,” said Mr. Bradley as the vice president sighed. “Where you seek to engage them and convince them that the direction you want to take the country is the right way. That’s what a campaign is about.”
Undeterred, Mr. Gore pressed on.
“We could call this the Meet-the-Press Agreement,’ ” the vice president said as his opponent flashed an exasperated smile. “We could have two debates every single week and get rid of all of the television and radio commercials. I’m willing to do it right now if you’ll shake on it.”
The vice president thrust his hand at Mr. Bradley, who looked down at it and refused to shake.
“Al, that’s good, I like that hand, but the answer’s no,” Mr. Bradley said. “I’m not someone who’s interested in tactics, Al.”
“Debates aren’t tactics,” Mr. Gore said. “It’s how we discuss issues.”
Growing agitated, Mr. Bradley dismissed the vice president’s offer as “nothing but a ploy.”
“Debates aren’t ploys,” Mr. Gore said. “If we debate twice a week, the American people are going to find out a lot more about what we believe and what we’re proposing… . These 30-second commercials are part of what’s wrong with American politics. You have these little attack ads, you have these little fuzzy images.”
Mr. Gore was then asked by Mr. Russert if he would “admit that in 1996, the Clinton-Gore fund-raising apparatus was overly aggressive, perhaps unethical?”
“I’m not going to use those words,” the vice president said. “Obviously, we would do things differently if we had it to do over again. The point is, do you learn from mistakes? And I certainly have.”
Mr. Gore acknowledged the Clinton-Gore campaign’s biggest mistake was “pushing the limits” of fund-raising. But he added, “No charges were brought.”
For his part, Mr. Bradley admitted he had raised “too much money” in his 1990 Senate race. He said Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, will ultimately come to realize that the $60 million he has raised so far is also excessive.
The debate was held exactly one year after the impeachment of President Clinton, whom Mr. Gore praised as one of history’s “greatest” presidents just hours after the historic House vote. Yesterday, the vice president stood by his assessment and added that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were also among the greatest presidents.
“So, you put Bill Clinton in the same company as Washington and Lincoln?” Mr. Russert asked.
“No, of course not,” Mr. Gore said. “Of course not. But I think that his accomplishments are going to be regarded by the history books as far more significant than his personal mistakes.”

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