- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

DURHAM, N.H. Republican rivals of presidential front-runner George W. Bush attacked his commitment to conservative values on several fronts last night, while the debate over a pro-homosexuality “litmus test” for Pentagon leaders spilled over into the Republican contest.
The Texas governor, on the defensive much of the night, even found himself going one better than his father’s “no new taxes” pledge, a dark episode from President Bush’s administration in which he angered conservatives by breaking his “read my lips” promise at the 1988 convention.
Mr. Bush was accused by conservative pro-life candidate Gary Bauer of ignoring “every values issue at stake,” including his refusal to promise to select a pro-life running mate.
Mr. Bauer told Mr. Bush: “I’m getting more and more worried about whether you are serious about defending conservative values. You’ve rejected fundamental tax reform. You won’t agree to put pro-life judges on the court. And your China policy, just like [President] Clinton’s, puts trade ahead of national security and human rights.”
Mr. Bush replied, “Unlike other people on the stage who talk the talk, I have walked the walk. I signed the two largest tax cuts in my state’s history. I fought for charter schools and public school choice. I fought for tort reform. I’ve got a record of accomplishment, Gary.”
The debate at the University of New Hampshire erupted into heated cross-discussion when Mr. Bauer criticized Vice President Al Gore for pledging one night earlier that he would appoint to the Joint Chiefs of Staff only those officers who agree to overturn the Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for homosexuals serving in the armed forces.
Mr. Bauer said he encountered Mr. Gore earlier Thursday and told the vice president the idea was “one of the most idiotic I’ve ever heard.”
“We don’t have a missile-defense system, we’re cutting veterans’ benefits, and what [are] Clinton and Gore worried about? Making sure the gay-rights movement is satisfied with who the Joint Chiefs of Staff are,” Mr. Bauer said.
Mr. Bush said he would not appoint an officer to the panel who advocated open homosexuals serving in the military, but said he supports the current policy.
“Somebody’s sexual orientation is their personal business,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ man.”
His closest rival in New Hampshire, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also said he believes the current policy is working.
That prompted ex-diplomat Alan Keyes to retort, “I keep asking myself where all the conservatives have gone.”
“If we accept the radical homosexual agenda, be it in the military, or in marriage, or in other areas of our lives, we are destroying the concept of family and sexual responsibility without which the traditional family cannot survive,” Mr. Keyes said.
And Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said the issue typifies the Clinton administration’s responsibility for the military having “fallen apart.”
“We’ve got a lot of problems and it’s because of a lack of leadership in the White House,” Mr. Hatch said.
The discussion on this and other issues became so spirited for a group once accused of being too boring that moderator Tim Russert of NBC several times lost control of the debate’s rules for time limits.
Mr. Bush was on the defensive much of the evening, as when Mr. Russert asked if he would make the “no new taxes” pledge that came back to haunt his father’s 1992 re-election campaign after abandoning the promise.
“This is not only ‘no new taxes,’ this is ‘tax cuts, so help me God,’ ” Mr. Bush said.
Besides the oath, Mr. Bush’s tax-cut pledge seemed to cover every contingency.
“If there’s a recession it’s important to cut taxes to make sure the economy grows,” he said. “It’s also important to cut the taxes where there’s times of plenty… . It’s important to cut the taxes to make sure Washington, D.C., does not spend the surplus.”
When Mr. Bauer moments later criticized President Bush for appointing New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Bush replied, “My dad can defend himself.”
Mr. Russert also scrutinized Mr. Bush’s comment in an earlier debate that the most influential person in his life was Jesus Christ, asking the candidate if he would take a “What Would Jesus Do?” philosophy into the Oval Office.
“I would take an expression into the Oval Office of ‘dear God, help me,’ ” Mr. Bush replied.
To which Mr. Bauer quipped, “So would we, governor.”
Conservative publisher Steve Forbes, polling about 10 percent in New Hampshire, insisted that his campaign is “catching on.”
“The special interests and lobbyists have no hooks in me,” Mr. Forbes said. “I’m the one Republican who’s talking like [President] Reagan on the tax issue.”
Mr. Forbes supports a 17 percent flat tax.
Most polls in New Hampshire, site of the nation’s first presidential primary on Feb. 1, have showed Mr. McCain leading Mr. Bush, although a survey released this week had the two candidates in a virtual tie. Mr. McCain has held more than 70 town meetings in the state with only 740,000 registered voters. Mr. Bush plans to spend 16 days here this month.
The debate was sponsored by New England Cable News, New Hampshire Public Television and the Union Leader newspaper of Manchester.
The six Republican candidates will debate again Friday in South Carolina, which holds its primary Feb. 19. Mr. McCain has said he “must win” South Carolina to stay in the race, but he trails Mr. Bush in polls there by double-digit margins.
Mr. McCain, who has campaigned on eliminating the influence of money in politics, denied wrongdoing in intervening with a regulatory agency for a broadcaster that contributed $20,000 to his presidential campaign.
The Boston Globe reported that Mr. McCain wrote the letters after he and aides met with Paxson Communications representatives and received the campaign donations. The company’s head also lent Mr. McCain his corporate jet four times last year for campaign travel.
Mr. Bush said this week that Mr. McCain’s actions bordered on hypocrisy and that the senator should “walk the walk” of his campaign promises. But Mr. McCain told reporters Thursday at a town meeting in Bow, N.H., that he’d done nothing wrong.
Mr. McCain said at the debate that he only tried “to make bureaucrats work for the people.” He said the Federal Communications Commission normally acts on license applications in 418 days, but had not done so in 700 days when he wrote his first letter.

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