Who, in his right mind, can even begin to call this system fair? Texas Gov. George W. Bush took the second round in the presidential debate contest. Many pundits agreed that Vice President Gore failed to meet expectations in Wednesday’s debate. Conversely, Mr. Bush has exceeded those same expectations.
In a lengthy discussion of foreign policy, Mr. Bush not only held his own, but put Mr. Gore on the defensive by criticizing the vice president’s use of American troops in nation-building exercises. His familiarity with obscure nations like East Timor and Rwanda and Burundi surprised Mr. Gore. Mr. Bush’s stance that American troops are not social workers offers a glimmer of hope for those Americans longing to come home. Mr. Gore agreed with the governor on many foreign policy issues, an area the Gore campaign had hoped to exploit.
When asked about racial profiling, Mr. Bush went on the offensive. While Mr. Gore focused on racial profiling in African-American communities, Mr. Bush highlighted the disturbing plight of Arab-Americans. Mr. Bush cited Sen. Spencer Abraham’s “Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 2000” that seeks to end federal discrimination against Arab-Americans. By discussing secret evidence Mr. Bush highlighted the hidden persecution of American citizens. The governor then turned the discussion to the discrimination in our nations school system and praised bipartisan efforts in Texas to make sure “no child is left behind.”
Mr. Gore seized the opportunity to attack Mr. Bush on his record in Texas. The Gore campaign feels this is an area that they can put the governor on the defensive. The irony of this strategy is that this position stands in stark contrast to the near 70 percent majority of Texans who reelected the governor. It seems the Gore campaign is either ignoring, or it has not noticed, the remarkable number of prominent Democrats supporting the governor in his home state. He received endorsements from former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Rep. Ralph hall, and from the contingent of Texas Democrats who have traveled to the debates in support of Mr. Bush. Mr. Gore’s attack on Texas demonstrates his typical Washington arrogance. He assumes that he knows what is best for Texas, despite the overwhelming evidence that Texans support what the governor has done for their state.
Gore shied away from his earlier pro-taxpayer position, apparently worried about alienating his liberal base and explaining why 50 million Americans would not qualify for his targeted tax cuts. However, he continued to characterize the Bush tax cut as a tax cut for the wealthy. Despite the Gore campaign’s insinuation that Bush cannot explain his tax cut, Americans understand that the Bush plan is a tax cut for all taxpayers.
While he accused Mr. Bush of having a difficult time defending his tax plan, it was the vice president who was forced to resort to outright lies to defend his environmental record. The vice president claimed that he opposed higher energy prices, but time and again his record and his writing reveal that he favors higher energy prices. In the wake of the recent public outcry over skyrocketing fuel prices, the vice president has tried to recant and modify his position, even going so far as to release strategic oil reserves. However, we see today that Americans are more dependent on foreign oil than we were eight years ago. Gov. Bush had the right answers to the energy questions. We need to make America lest dependent on foreign sources of energy, and we need a sound energy and environmental policy that looks at all the facts before making monumental decisions that will impact generations of American citizens.
On gun control the vice president tried to blur the differences between himself and the governor, not surprising given the strong support of the Second Amendment in battlegrounds states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oregon. The vice president was quick to point out last night that he would protect the rights of hunters, homeowners and law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. However, this is in direct contrast to a recent letter sent out by Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who, when asked to comment on a recent court case, said, “I am informed, however, that council for the United States in United States vs. Emerson, Assistant United States Attorney William Matedja did indeed take the position that the Second Amendment does not extend an individual right to keep and bear arms.”
One of the interesting exchanges of the evening centered on hate crimes legislation. Apparently the death penalty is not enough for Mr. Gore, as he again attacked the governor’s record in Texas, by suggesting that Texas needed a hate crimes law in the wake of the James Byrd death. Obviously confused, the governor informed the the vice president that Texas already has a hate crimes law. The governor went on to explain that in Texas, murder is a capital crime and that James Byrd’s killers would face the maximum penalty. Apparently Mr. Gore is seeking a fate worse than death for certain types of killers. The governor pointed out that any murder is a hate crime and that murderers should not be given preferential treatment based on whim they choose to kill.
Despite the high expectations, Mr. Gore has consistently stumbled and failed to take the commanding lead expected following the first two debates. With one debate left the governor has pulled ahead in virtually every major poll, leaving the vice president with one more shot to prove his debating prowess.
Damon Ansell is vice president for policy at Americans for Tax Reform.