- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

The Republican National Convention in Philadelphia was a superb presentation of personalities and issues. It was worthy of a Cecil B. De Mille production a brilliantly choreographed extravaganza designed to arouse the passion of the American people. I was caught up in a wave of proud nostalgia during the tributes to my good friends Presidents Ford and Bush. Both are men of character and integrity who served our nation with honor and distinction. I also was pleased to see my former colleague Richard B. Cheney standing by George W. Bush, providing him with the wisdom and insight necessary to sit in the big chair. However, this splendid display of talent and character was tarnished by the ill-conceived strategy of attacking Vice President Al Gore on character.

I have known the Gore family since I attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University with Al's older sister, Nancy. Later, I came to know Sen. Albert Gore Sr. and Mrs. Gore as neighbors. Our apartments adjoined in the Methodist Building across the street from the Capitol. The Gores are fine, decent people, much like the Bush family.

Al Gore Jr. was elected to Congress in 1976. When he arrived on Capitol Hill, I took him "under my wing." As a member of the House Democratic leadership, I served on the Steering Committee, where I could be helpful to him on such matters as committee assignments.

A young and ambitious politician, Rep.-elect Gore sought an assignment to the powerful Rules Committee. To secure a position on the Rules Committee would give him a jump-start in politics. As a friend of the family, I agreed to help him. The events that followed are important in the ensuing presidential election.

I told Al that he must promise allegiance to the speaker in order to be assigned to the Rules Committee. Even though he coveted this position, he quickly said no.

"I won't do it," he said. "I will not sell my vote in Congress to anyone, even the speaker," he insisted. He missed the post.

Al Gore has integrity, I concluded. He could have had a prestigious job as a freshman member of Congress, but principle meant more than achievement. During the years that followed, I watched Al stand up for his principles time and again. I admire this, and I respect him as I do Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, all men of character who stand for principle.

The calculus of politics has changed during the time I have known these great Americans. It was 1969 when I first met Rep. George H.W. Bush. This was the beginning of the Nixonian era. Since that time, dirty politics, with character assassination as its centerpiece, has become the accepted practice. This is one of the root causes for the degradation of values in America.

And, while I admire and respect Dick Cheney, his acceptance speech implying that Al Gore is indecent is a stretch of the political rhetoric beyond propriety. I don't believe that Dick wrote that speech. It does not reflect the Dick Cheney I have known for two decades. More likely, the smear was the product of political strategists who are attempting to define the opposition candidate with negatives. This is intended to put the vice president on the defensive among those who do not know him. The speech writers forgot that it was Al and Tipper Gore who led the fight against indecency on television and in the music industry.

Attacking Al Gore on the character issue will cost George W. the election. Al Gore has an unblemished record of service to his country as a Vietnam veteran, congressman and vice president. His personal and public record has been under scrutiny for almost four decades the truth shall set you free.

The theme of the Republican convention was "restore the purpose." We have peace and prosperity and want to use our resources for a higher calling. The American people want and deserve a leader who is worthy of our nation.

Bill Alexander, who represented an Arkansas district for two decades, is former chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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