- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Early this morning, you could find my husband and me at our local polling place with our three sons. Each of us recalls being taken to the voting booth when we were too young to have opinions. Pulling the lever our parents pointed at was a thrill nonetheless an early taste of our inheritance.

What is the election of 2000 about? Though daily polls have carpet-bombed us with who is up a by how much, analysis has been thin. Was Al Gore's lead following the Democratic Convention attributable to his left/liberal speech, his declaration of independence from Bill Clinton or The Kiss? What did voters like about George Bush's debate performance?

We cannot be sure. Only after voters emerge from the booth to answer questions put by exit pollsters will we get a clearer picture of what truly moved people.

But in the final hours of the campaign, we could see the first stirrings of what postelection spin may look like. The Democrats, who frankly expect to lose, are starting to say unkind things about the electorate. This is understandable. After losing the New Hampshire primary, the late Mo Udall called a press conference. "The people have spoken," he intoned. "The bastards."

In that spirit, though minus the humor, Gore supporters are beginning to say George W. Bush's pleasing personality turned voters' heads. Sound familiar? That's what they said about Ronald Reagan's appeal, too. And just as they denigrated Mr. Reagan's intelligence, they scorn George Bush's gray matter.

While Mr. Gore is clearly the more fluent and articulate candidate, it is not at all clear he is smarter. And even if he were, it is far from clear, looking at history, that there is any correspondence between intelligence and successful presidencies (think of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon B. Johnson). What is most needed in a president is exactly what Mr. Bush claims (very plausibly) to have: judgment. Clearly, intelligence is part of judgment but so is a balanced nature, an open spirit and a strong ego. Bill Clinton is highly intelligent, but his character flaws constantly impede his judgment. Former Sen. Warren Rudman, not someone with whom I tend to agree politically but a senator who arguably enjoyed two successful terms, once noted that the most effective members of Congress were those (he was being modest) not afraid to hire staffers smarter than they.

Besides, the notion that intelligence is the key rests on the idea that leadership is like solving math problems the smarter guy gets to the right answer first. But of course political philosophy, values and temperament all affect the choices leaders make to say nothing of their capacity to persuade others.

Modesty is important part of judgment, too knowing when to hold back, when not to substitute your opinion for that of people closer to the problem. Mr. Bush's embrace of federalism embodies that wisdom.

In choosing the distinguished Dick Cheney as his running mate, and by surrounding himself with highly intelligent and eminent advisers, Mr. Bush has given hints both of good judgment and of solid self-confidence.

But of course, elections are not just personality contests (though voters are correct to weigh character in the mix). They are always about issues, and in 2000 it seems Al Gore miscalculated about where the electorate really is on the important questions of the day. For while Mr. Gore hammered away at Mr. Bush about the "top 1 percent" of earners and promised (ad nauseum) to keep Social Security in an impregnable lockbox, voters seemed more in tune with Mr. Bush's limited government message.

Despite Mr. Gore's fulminations about "fighting for you" against the powerful, an equal number of voters told Gallup that Mr. Bush "cares about the needs of people like you." And more voters think Mr. Bush "generally agrees with you on issues you care about." Though liberals fondly imagined that the gun control issue would prove damaging to Mr. Bush, sizable majorities agreed with the Republican, not the Democrat, on that wedge issue, forcing Mr. Gore to backpedal and reassure voters that "hunters and sportsmen" would be untouched by his proposals.

Throughout the campaign, at every crucial juncture, Mr. Gore has been the more nimble candidate. But Mr. Bush was wiser.

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