- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES.President Clinton should have checked the polls before saying that it was "absurd" for George W. Bush to charge that he and Al Gore deserve little if any credit for the U.S. go-go economy. The American people know who is really responsible for this powerful free-market expansion, and the majority of them say it isn't either Mr. Clinton or Mr. Gore.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times the day before he delivered his last address as president to the Democratic National Convention here, Mr. Clinton said "Their strategy seems to be, to hope people think it all happened by accident."

But Mr. Bush, and Mr. Clinton's other critics, do not say it happened by accident. They say that the people who get up and go to work each day deserve the credit for the longest expansion in our history. They are the ones creating the $10 trillion in goods and services that we produce each year, boosting productivity to new highs, innovating, inventing, outhustling and outperforming the competition.

When the USA Today/CNN/ Gallup poll asked Americans who they thought was the most responsible for this unparalleled economic expansion we are enjoying, a whopping 62 percent pointed to three central institutions in our society: Congress, the Federal Reserve and American entrepreneurs.

That says a lot about the self-effacing quality of most Americans, who are more interested in getting the job done than in bragging about it. But it also says a lot about the economic sophistication of Americans today, and why poor Mr. Gore isn't getting much credit for this economy credit that, of course, he does not deserve.

The Clinton economy, struggling under the 1993 Clinton-Gore tax increases, was anemic and wobbly until 1994, when Republicans took full control of Congress and slowed spending, stalled federal regulations in their tracks, expanded free trade and cut taxes, including capital-gains tax rates. That's when investment capital began to pour into the stock market and we saw the economy begin to soar.

Alan Greenspan and the Fed kept a steady hand on the tiller, keeping the economy from overheating and inflation at bay. But it was the American entrepreneur who gave us an explosion of new companies, expanded and improved existing ones, and found ways to make products and services faster, cheaper and better. They are the ones, using the efficiencies of new technologies and the Internet, who really slew the inflation monster, made labor shortages the economy's No. 1 problem and boosted incomes.

It is absurd for Mr. Clinton to suggest that he and Mr. Gore had anything to do with this.

So, as Mr. Gore prepares to give the most important political address of his life, it is clear that he and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman are not going to get much of a lift from this economy. But what else do they have going for them? Not much, it appears.

It was hard to imagine that things could possibly get much worse for Mr. Gore as he began the week of the convention. Mr. Clinton had given another confessional to a religious gathering on his trials and tribulations in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, reminding the country again of one of the most embarrassing and shameful periods in presidential history and why so many want to sweep the whole lot out of the White House and start over again with a new team.

The president came here three days before his address. In a whirlwind of ego-driven interviews, appearances and fund-raising events, he dominated the news and blocked out whatever Mr. Gore's campaign was trying to say about his candidacy.

By choosing Mr. Lieberman a decent, deeply religious senator from Connecticut as his running mate, Mr. Gore made history by picking the first Jew on a presidential ticket. But it did not shake things up and boost his polls as the vice president had hoped. The country seems to have reacted to it with a collective yawn.

In the end, we have two liberal Democrats who are longtime Washington insiders, two men who have been on the public payroll for years, running a largely status quo campaign that seems themeless and without a sense of purpose, without any grand national goals.

They are running against two outsiders who say they want to make sweeping changes in Washington by ending the poisonous political bickering that has paralyzed government, by undertaking needed market-oriented reforms in Social Security, Medicare, defense, tax policy, education and health care.

In a battle between Washington insiders pledged to protect the status quo and outsiders running on change, the outsiders almost always win.

Forget all of the overheated analysis you've been hearing from the pundits and other talking heads. There is a national mood in the land for change and stability after eight years of a roller-coaster presidency. There have been too many scandals, too many investigations, too many confessionals. The national desire for a clean sweep may be the most powerful political force in the country right now.

Mr. Gore will undoubtedly get a bounce out of his convention. But he was trailing Mr. Bush by 16 percentage points in a Gallup poll at the beginning of this week, with an awesome 47 percent of likely voters saying that there was "no chance whatsoever" that they would vote for him.

"The numbers are beginning to harden much earlier than we expected," a Democratic pollster told me.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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