- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

Regrets? Al Gore's had a few. But as election night retreated before the dawn without any announced winner in the presidential race, one may trouble the vice president most of all. So says CBS' Dan Rather.
"The question that could well haunt Gore for years to come is why he chose to throw out the baby with the bath water," Mr. Rather wondered aloud in his on-line network "Notebook." "Policies initiated in the Clinton White House helped to produce the greatest economic boom in U.S. history. And there were notable successes in other areas as well, and in many of them Gore played an active and critical role. Should he lose, many Democrats would never forgive him for not running vigorously on the record he helped to build and for failing to draw a strong contrast between that record and the one he and Bill Clinton inherited eight years ago."
Sure there were other minor disappointments along the way. There was all that sighing in the first debate that made those darn viewers in fly-over country so receptive to the entreaties of the amiable Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the veteran newsman says. And with all those Green Party Naderites stealing votes from the Gore column, the vice president should have come out, well, fighting to blunt Mr. Nader's appeal. All Mr. Gore's attacks on Big Oil, Big Insurance, Big Drug Makers in fact on anything "big" but Big Government apparently weren't enough.
Nowhere did Mr. Rather suggest there was any obligation on Mr. Gore's part to regret his participation in those awkward fund-raising conversations he had in the White House or to withdraw the excuses he offered ice tea breaks, he called them to defend himself against charges of what the media typically refer to as campaign-finance "irregularities." No need to explain his friendly agreements with the Russians allowing them to sell arms to Iran, a country that regards the United States as the "Great Satan." That's the sort of language one uses rather carefully, unless, like Mr. Gore, you are trying to rally minority voters to the polls in recent days to join in the war between good that would be the vice president and "evil" that would be the Texas governor. Again no regrets for such hyperbolic language or any suggestion that voters may have had some even if Mr. Gore didn't.
No, Mr. Gore's problem is that much like Mr. Clinton's own wife he was insufficiently enthusiastic about sharing the campaign trail with President Clinton. He thus denied himself the opportunity to claim a share of the credit for the booming economy. But what share of economic glory does Mr. Clinton himself really deserve? The recession that helped encourage voters to turn out George W. Bush's father after a one-term presidency was already finished by the time Mr. Clinton took over. Mr. Clinton did successfully push for an increase in the gasoline tax over the opposition of the Republican Congress, but there's no evidence that the increase led to the deluge of revenues that turned budgetary red ink to black. The administration itself was still projecting budget deficits as far as green-eyeshades could see. Rather it was the high-tech boom in this country that led to these flush times, leaving American companies so hungry for tax-paying workers that firms had to import them as though they were some kind of priceless foreign antiques.
Indeed, the irony is that it is Mr. Clinton who threatens that boom by sending government antitrust lawyers after the company, Microsoft, whose success has helped bring that boom home to countless Americans in the form of a computer. Given the government's success in managing such enterprises as "public" (read: government) education, the U.S. Postal Service and departments of motor vehicles, this country could hardly afford the blessings of a government-managed tech industry. Do give the Republican Congress credit for holding the line on federal spending at least until recently and for restraining the efforts of some in Washington to impose new regulations and taxes on the high-tech industry, which is how the nation's capital tends to reward successful companies.
The wonder right now is that a man who features high on his political resume this economic prosperity he may even have invented it should find himself in the current standoff both in Florida and on the nation's electoral map.
Mr. Gore had so many things going for him, power smooching and all, and yet he is on the verge of snatching defeat from seemingly sure victory. One can blame many things for his current state including possibly the Democrat overseeing the layout of confusing ballots in a key Florida county. Blame his underestimation of Mr. Bush as a candidate as other Democrats have to their own chagrin. Blame Mr. Gore for his haughty, vaguely threatening debating style. But don't blame him for failing to welcome Mr. Clinton back into the spotlight. That's one mistake he won't have to regret.
E-mail: smithk@twtmail.com

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