- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Now, at harvest time, our family is particularly blessed to have generous neighbors who share their bountiful tomato harvest. Last weekend, we had them over for a tomato-fest dinner, which I cooked with a bushel of their tomatoes. For an hors d'oeuvre I made a tomato tapenade with chopped tomato and black olives, minced capers and garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil and herbes de Provence. We followed that with a cold tomato and veal stock soup. The main course was medallion of lamb loin in a tomato, basil and shallot reduction sauce. The key to such a menu is fresh, homegrown tomatoes from seeds that yield thin-skinned, magnificently flavored almost perfumed tomatoes.

But beware: The tomatoes you get at the store are grown to be thick skinned for non-bruised shipping. A side effect of the thick skin is thin flavor. Don't waste your best cooking effort on such flat and boring, cardboard tasting tomatoes.

There, I've done it. I have violated the Bush campaign's first principle. I went negative on supermarket tomatoes. But it was necessary. If I was to persuade you to grow your own tomatoes (or live next door to someone who does) it was not enough to describe why they are good. I had to explain why you wouldn't want the store-bought tomatoes. But the Bush campaign apparently believes that it is unethical to point out the other fellow's shortcomings.

Just last weekend, Richard B. Cheney was on "Meet The Press," where Tim Russert asked him what was wrong with Al Gore's prescription drug plan. Rather than criticize the policy of his opponent, "Gentleman" Cheney simply said that when Mr. Bush came out with his plan, the public could compare them. The Bush campaign apparently believes that it would have been a crime against humanity to have responded that Mr. Gore's plan would subsidize not only the needy 25 percent but the already covered 75 percent, thereby causing inflation in drug prices which will inevitably result in price controls. That risks undercapitalizing the drug industry which would then no longer be able to develop at great research cost all those lifesaving drugs.

Team Bush's self-restraint is mistaken, both historically and tactically. Let me quote from one of the most effective negative attack ads in our political history: "He has obstructed the Administration of Justice … He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People … He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution …" Yes, I'm quoting from the Declaration of Independence. After a few positive messages at the beginning ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal … ") our founding fathers got on with the business of going negative. They knew, as Team Bush does not, that the public needs to understand why the other fellow's policy is bad for them.

Mr. Gore knows his history. He doesn't believe in the fairy tale that the public penalizes the candidate who goes negative. The public will believe it. They may not like the attacker for it, but as long as the attack is persuasive, it will be effective. Mr. Gore is cheerfully going about the traditional business of eye-gouging, rabbit-punching, groin-kneeing and stilettoing George Bush who, Dukakis-like, is standing still, oblivious to the lifeblood that is flowing from his wounds. It seems that Team Bush is conflating going negative with personal insults and straight out lying. Mr. Bush need not, indeed should not, accuse Mr. Gore of being a toad-licking, deranged varmint. That would be inaccurate. But he must start explaining why Mr. Gore's policies would not well-serve the people.

At least Mr. Bush's misjudgment flows from his admirable personal decency. The same cannot be said for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In the last few weeks DCCC television ads targeting three Republican candidates for Congress were pulled by local television stations after the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) demonstrated to the local television stations that the Democratic ads were willfully fraudulent misrepresentations of the Republicans' records.

It is rare for television stations to pull political ads, but these cases were flagrant. For example in New Jersey the Democratic ad accused Republican Dick Zimmer of never voting "for a single education spending budget not one." The official Congressional Record, however, showed that Mr. Zimmer had so voted six times. Similar outrages were carried out by the DCCC against Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, Rep. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky and Rep. Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania. This is not negative advertising it is straight out lying, sanctioned by the national Democratic Party.

These are dirty tricks that soil the political process. It was a well-deserved tactical triumph that the NRCC was able to get the ads pulled. But if Mr. Bush wants to win, he should not confuse these dirty trick lies with the honorable and necessary didactic device of going honestly negative.

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