- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

If John McCain raised a few eyebrows by likening himself to Ronald Reagan in his unsuccessful bid for Republican voters, Al Gore comparing himself to John McCain to woo moderates should make people's hair stand on end. Lately, the vice president has taken to revving up his rhetoric with the words, "Like John McCain, I … ." The subject, of course, is campaign-finance reform, and the object of Mr. Gore's me-and-McCain ploy is not just to connect with centrist voters who have supported Mr. McCain. Mr. Gore seems to be running for cover, or at least looking for a little camouflage by summoning the image of John McCain to the stump with him.

"Like John McCain, I bring the lessons from personal experience to a strong commitment to change this system," Mr. Gore told NBC. "And like John McCain, I bring the passionate commitment born of personal experience to the cause of campaign-finance reform," he said to CNN. While Mr. McCain has had his own campaign-finance troubles (he was reprimanded by the Senate for having met in 1987 with crooked Charles Keating, a McCain contributor then seeking assistance against federal regulators coming after his failing savings-and-loan), the Arizona senator hasn't raised money at a temple from Buddhist nuns under vows of poverty. Or, to take another page from the Al Gore book of fund-raising, Mr. McCain hasn't made 82 illegal fund-raising calls from the White House for which, as Mr. Gore so picturesquely put it, "there was no controlling legal authority."

Still, it looks as if Mr. Gore is hoping that the I' •-with-him strategy will make voters forget with whom the vice president has been all these years (Bill Clinton), and what he did to get himself so deep in the muck.

It just might work. One reason is the remarkable, poker-faced audacity of the man. Days after Maria Hsia, Mr. Gore's long-time fund-raiser with ties to Beijing, was convicted of five felony counts for illegally funneling more than $100,000 from the Buddhist temple to Democratic candidates in 1996 (including the Clinton-Gore campaign), Mr. Gore claimed victory on Super Tuesday by calling for "tough, uncompromising campaign-finance reform." He said it was "time to change a broken system" and there were no snickers, either from Mr. Gore himself, or from anyone else.

Which brings us to the second reason why Mr. Gore's ploy may pay off. Consider Maria Hsia's conviction. Although it stands as a concrete, timely reminder of the hypocrisy in Mr. Gore's avowal of campaign-finance reform despite a White House career of flouting campaign-finance law, the Hsia conviction was barely reported in the mainstream media. Both US News and Time gave it only grudging mentions, as did ABC and CBS, while Newsweek ignored it altogether. To put that in some perspective, imagine the media furor make that hysteria if a Reagan or Bush fund-raiser were now facing as much as 25 years in jail. With so little attention directed at Mr. Gore's recent past, what chance will voters have for judging his promises for the future?

So far, Mr. Gore's strategy seems successful. The New York Times recently reported that Mr. Gore " •oved quickly to stake out the high ground on overhauling the campaign finance system." It didn't mention that he had to pick his way over some of the all-time muckiest campaign-finance practices to get there. When asked if the vice president "would not rather have voters forget" the bad old days of Clinton-Gore fund-raising what a way to frame the question he replied (without replying), "No. I want them to remember what happened in both political parties, and I want them to look to the future and ask the question, how can we protect our democracy against undue influence from the kind of secretive, special-interest, sneak attack George W. Bush deployed against John McCain." Mr. Gore added, "John McCain was right to denounce that practice." Note: One has to wonder why, before "suspending" his candidacy, John McCain failed to denounce Mr. Gore's Hsia associations also.

If Mr. Gore is capable of saying anything and he is and the media are capable of ignoring anything and they are it is left to George W. Bush to make the case for Al Gore's campaign-finance corruptions to the public.

No wonder Mr. Bush refused to take on Mr. Gore's challenge to renounce "soft money" (a challenge made while Mr. Gore was planning his own $35 million "soft money" drive this spring). "What's important is to be able to encourage individuals to participate in the process so I can get my message out, so I can fight through the filter," said Mr. Bush, explaining his refusal. Well, viva "soft money" if it can do the trick.

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