- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

MONROE, Mich. President Clinton yesterday deputized his grateful protege, Vice President Al Gore, to continue his legacy and urged Americans to make the November election merely the midway point in a 16-year Clinton-Gore era.
"The things that have happened in the last eight years the good things are nothing compared to the good things that can happen in the next eight years," Mr. Clinton said at a carefully choreographed rally set in small-town Americana. "Every good thing that has happened, that came out of our administration in the last eight years, Al Gore was at the heart of it."
In a ceremony hyped by Clinton and Gore aides as the symbolic passing of the torch from the master politician to his eager apprentice, the president hugged Mr. Gore after introducing him to a crowd of more than 10,000 people. The vice president responded with effusive praise for his boss, thanking and crediting him no fewer than eight times and vowing to erect a Gore presidency on a Clinton foundation.
"I want to thank President Clinton for his generous words today and didn't he give a great speech last night in Los Angeles?" said Mr. Gore, referring to the president's convention swan song. "More importantly, I want to thank you, President Clinton, for giving me a chance to serve my country for the last eight years by working to help strengthen your hand. Thank you.
"I'm so happy to be here with our terrific first lady, the next great senator from the state of New York, Hillary Clinton," he continued. "And didn't she give a great speech last night?"
In case anyone missed the overt symbolism, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton made a point of walking dutifully offstage with their daughter, Chelsea, after Mr. Gore finished speaking. That left Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper, alone onstage, where they lingered with a trace of awkwardness before descending into the sweltering crowd to shake hands.
Vowing to cede the spotlight to his understudy, Mr. Clinton instructed his limousine driver to take him directly to McDonald's, where he ordered a crispy chicken sandwich and french fries, tipped a waitress $20, and joined employees behind the counter to pose for pictures as patrons gaped in amazement.
"Hillary, come here we're going to take a picture," he commanded his wife. "If I'm going to be a citizen again, I'm going to have to start getting used to it."
Chelsea Clinton, a vegetarian, ordered only an ice cream cone and insisted she had not been in a McDonald's in eight years. Turning to a patron at her side, she confided: "I'm a big health-food freak and vegetarian devotee." Another patron mistakenly called her "Hillary."
Gore aides hoped the McDonald's incident, which amused the traveling press corps, is Mr. Clinton's last public splash for a few days. They want the vice president to command the spotlight as he arrives in Los Angeles today and delivers his nomination acceptance speech tomorrow. Clinton aides agreed to keep their boss under wraps.
"Today is the vice president's day," said White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. "We're really looking forward to the rest of this convention, to lay back a little bit and watch Al lay out his plans for the American people."
Still, most Democrats acknowledge it will take more than a symbolic torch-passing ceremony for the vice president to truly step out of Mr. Clinton's considerable shadow. Even during their joint appearance yesterday, the president's superior oratory had Gore aides wincing.
"Miraculously for us, the people of Michigan and the people of Ohio twice gave us a chance to serve," the president said. "Al Gore and I have worked for nearly eight years now to put you first, never to forget about you, to get the economy going again and to get our society moving in the right direction to make us a more united nation, a stronger, a better nation."
Mr. Clinton even did a bit of bragging about his speech the night before, saying he had told the truth while Republicans spewed falsehoods at their convention in Philadelphia.
"I just gave you the facts last night," the president said. "I imagine there were some people out there in the country that didn't like it because when they met a couple of weeks before, they didn't follow that old Joe Friday maxim."
Clearly relishing his new role as cheerleader in chief, the president spoke without notes, looking cool and comfortable despite his suit coat in the heat and humidity.
By contrast, Mr. Gore sweat through his white shirt and removed his suit coat before he delivered his remarks. He spoke somewhat ploddingly from a prepared text and uttered more than twice as many words as his boss.
"Mr. President, when I think of the successes of the past eight years, I don't think so much of the programs and legislation, as I think of the people and the communities that have been changed and helped by what you have done," said the vice president.
Mr. Gore denounced "the 1980s, when we had all those recessions." He hailed the 1990s because "the Clinton program came into effect and the economic situation began to turn around."
"I say thank you, President Clinton, and I say we're just getting started we're not going to turn back," the vice president said. "Now I say to all of you, as Americans and as Democrats, we've always looked to the future. And that's exactly what we're going to do in Los Angeles at the convention.
"I do think it makes sense to pause for just a moment to acknowledge the strong foundation that we've built over the last eight years, along with the American people, and the great possibility that it brings to us," Mr. Gore added. "The question in this election is whether we are going to erode that foundation, or instead build upon it."
The vice president also vowed to fight "special interests" like "insurance companies," even though his new running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, takes more money from insurance companies than any other senator.
Mr. Gore also made a point yesterday of criticizing school vouchers, an idea that has been embraced by Mr. Lieberman.
"I will fight against any plan that drains money away from the public schools toward private-school vouchers, because we need to support our public schools," he said.

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