- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Sherlock Holmes once explained to Doctor Watson that circumstantial evidence can point, depending on where one stands while observing it, to several different conclusions. The aftermath of the Democratic convention is just such a circumstance. Hopeful Republicans see Al Gore's inability even to get to 50 percent support in the polls after a full week of unrebutted infomercials as evidence of his political weakness.

But Democrats (and some nervous Republicans) see unsuspected political strength in Mr. Gore's ability to move from over half-a-dozen points down to two-four points up merely by giving one pretty good speech. On this theory, George W. Bush's hold on the electorate is dangerously tenuous. Put me, decisively, somewhere between those two points of view.

I must confess, as I watched his speech from near the top of the Staple Center in Los Angeles last Thursday, I wasn't impressed. I thought: (1) The kiss was hokey and obviously planned; (2) Mr. Gore's rhetoric was a cartoonish version of 1930s populism I'm for the little guy while Mr. Bush is for the big bad corporation; (3) his policy prescriptions were all windup and no pitch I'm going to radically improve education in America by … increasing funding for teacher's professional development; and (4) he substituted for his usually painfully slow delivery, a rushed delivery that talked right through his applause lines.

But for some registered voters, this thin gruel was enough to change their support from Mr. Bush to Mr. Gore at least for the time being. According to a Washington Post-ABC poll, many of those surveyed a full 56 percent of the public, up 9 percent have changed their minds and now believe on the strength of that one modest speech that Mr. Gore is a strong leader. And, stunningly, more respondents 51 percent, up from 45 percent say Mr. Gore now has "an appealing personality."

All these findings remind one, yet again, that the 20-30 percent of the electorate that will be changing and re-changing its mind between now and November really can't be trusted to hold sharp objects, operate heavy machinery or recommend a good restaurant. Such voters are the people Jay Leno finds on the street who aren't quite sure when July 4th is celebrated, or which century World War II was fought in. They are the sort of people who would have to be sharpshooters to blow their brains out. But, God bless them, they emerge from their stupor and stumble into a voting booth and except in landslides they decide who wins America's elections.

How futile, thus, it must be for the Bush camp to accuse Mr. Gore of encouraging class envy or economic populism. Those are meaningless phrases to the remaining undecided. These are the sort of people who are more likely to understand the phrase, "me good, him bad." In fact, when you think about it, that pretty well summarizes Mr. Gore's speech.

One of Mr. Gore's most applauded lines was: "Big oil companies, big tobacco, pharmaceutical companies, big polluters." Apparently the chronically undecided voter cannot even be trusted with a verb.

But two can play this game. Mr. Bush should start repeating the word "reform." He need not be any more specific. He need not say what he is planning to reform, or how or why. Reform is a good word. Undecideds like the sound of the word. If he wants to get fancy, Mr. Bush can go so far as to say he is for reform. Or, he can just repeat the word, like a primitive chant.

In the land of the undecideds, mere assertions pass for argument. Mr. Bush should learn this from Mr. Gore. He should start saying that he is for free health care and prescription drugs for everybody. That's what Mr. Gore said. Heck, everybody is for that. It won't happen. It can't happen. There's no such thing as a free lunch, let alone free drugs. But, Mr. Bush can still be for it. I'm for free Ferraris. Why not? Let them know we care.

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