- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

''Ike is running like a dry creek," so ran the headline in the pro-Eisenhower Scripps-Howard newspaper chain back in 1952. Ike was running against the liberal legend, Gov. Adlai Stevenson. This time around the putative Republican presidential nominee, Governor George W. Bush, is also running against another liberal legend, Vice President Al Gore.

So much a part of legend is Mr. Gore that he himself feels impelled to add legends to his legends. In the meantime this year's Republican candidate runs as in 1952, like a dry creek. The time is nigh for Mr. Bush to spring to life lest the electorate conclude that its choice is between two boring candidates, one of whom is at least an amusing liar.

From Capitol Hill to the heartland, Republicans are beginning to sense that this presidential election is approaching 1996 and 1998 all over again. That is to say, an election in which the Republican leadership failed to get out its own Republican base. Gov. Bush's ebullience is already fading. Could this be because his advisers have him boning up on convoluted public policy packages to the neglect of issues that are at once more interesting and dearer to his Republican constituency? If he thinks that constituency can be taken for granted, he need look no farther than back to the defeats of 1998 and 1996. They are defeats that should never have happened, certainly not in 1998. The Democrats were mired in scandal. About the only policies they could take credit for were basically Republican policies.

Mr. Gore is a policy wonk. He would love to run this campaign on abstruse questions about how many economic incentives one can balance on the head of a pin, and "By the way, as a poor young boy growing up in a Tennessee mud puddle I invented the pin. In Congress I appropriated money for the development of the safety pin." Most voters do not trust Mr. Gore, and even Democrats are put off by his pedantry.

Mr. Bush has already rolled out his policies on education, health care and Social Security. They are superior to those of Mr. Gore, but it will do him no great good to play the part of whiz kid in arguing about them with whiz kid Al Gore. Though Democrats are mostly responsible for the present low estate of education and health care and the doubts about Social Security, prejudice favors the Democrats in these areas. Mr. Bush should move on.

He needs to address matters that interest his constituents, such as tax reform. Moreover, tax cuts are what is needed to keep the economy growing. Mr. Gore's policy is to do nothing at all. Address crime: Again Mr. Gore's policy is doing nothing at all. The National Rifle Association has demonstrated that Clinton-Gore are lax on prosecuting criminals, unless one works for a useful American corporation such as Microsoft. Address the turbulence and unreadiness of our military at a time when Clinton-Gore's erratic foreign policy has made the military essential to national security. Indeed, address the administration's erratic foreign policy. Address China, Korea, the failed Middle East policy, the failed policy in Northern Ireland, Russia, and our emerging trade difficulties with Europe.

After raising issues dear to Republicans, however, a revived Mr. Bush should move beyond policy to address actual events, namely, events that took place during the Clinton-Gore cavalcade of scandal. Raise the question of technology transfer to that famous Clinton campaign contributor, the Chinese military. Raise the 1996 campaign. Question why American troops remain in Kosovo, despite the administration's promise to remove them. What about Mr. Gore's oil policy? Why do we have this shortage? What is our energy policy?

What about foreign policy? We sent missiles into Afghanistan and the Sudan during the Lewinsky scandal. What have the consequences been? Did those missiles achieve our ends? Why have we not returned inspectors to Iraq's laboratories for mass destruction? Are we satisfied with the Clinton-Gore policy toward Russia? What is the United States' strategic role in the world?

Returning to domestic events, Clinton-Gore have politicized the Justice Department in ways hitherto unimagined. Mr. Bush might raise questions about Attorney General Janet Reno's many scrapes and suggest policies to put the Justice Department above politics. Mr. Gore is the candidate of such special interests as the trial lawyers. One of Gov. Bush's Texas triumphs is tort reform. He should make that an issue.

And what about the possible composition of the Supreme Court if the Democrats get four more years in the White House?

Politics is an action sport. Unless one is on the offensive, one ends being on the defensive. All is quiet on the campaign trail now. But unless Gov. Bush tries offense soon he is going to be on defense right up to Election Day. Two defeats in a row have shown us how Republicans fare on defense, which is quite pitiable. In both 1998 and 1996, they had plenty to go on offense with.



R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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