- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

ST. LOUIS Vice President Al Gore shelved his passive persona last night and came out swinging at George W. Bush in their final presidential debate, seeking to blunt the Texas governor's momentum of the past fortnight.
Mr. Bush counterpunched, accusing the vice president of failing to tell the truth, embracing bloated bureaucracy and choosing partisanship over effective governance.
"You need somebody in office who will tell the truth," Mr. Bush said.
Early in the debate, Mr. Gore charged that Mr. Bush had failed to provide adequate health care for Texans as the state's governor.
"You need to know the record here," Mr. Gore told the audience at a town-hall-style debate.
After Mr. Bush answered a question about health care, Mr. Gore snapped, "Here we go again." He derided Texas as ranking "50th out of 50" on health care insurance for children.
Pointing a finger at Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore told the audience that if they wanted a candidate who would roll over for drug manufacturers and insurance companies, "This is your man."
Mr. Bush said the vice president has had eight years to make good on the promises he made to Americans.
"You were promised that Medicare would be reformed," Mr. Bush said. "And that Social Security would be reformed. You were promised a middle-class tax cut in 1992. It didn't happen too much bitterness in Washington. It's time to have a fresh start."
Last week, the candidates went out of their way to agree with each other, but last night both men seemed eager to spar from the moment the third debate began at Washington University.
Mr. Gore was admonished by both Jim Lehrer, the moderator, and Mr. Bush for violating the rules of the debate with his interruptions and direct questioning of the audience. At one point, when Mr. Gore directly asked Mr. Bush a question, the governor snapped: "The rules don't mean anything to him."
The two men clashed on prescription drugs, tax cuts, federal spending, education, gun control and the use of the U.S. military. Mr. Bush was particularly critical of the vice president's complex plan for "targeted" tax cuts and support of the "death tax" on estates.
"There's a lot of fine print in your plan, Mr. Vice President, with all due respect," Mr. Bush said. "I don't think it's fair to tax people's assets twice."
He also said Mr. Gore has made a career of promising anything to get elected, only to break those promises once in office.
Mr. Bush once more portrayed Mr. Gore as a good talker who has accomplished almost nothing on health care and education in eight years in Washington.
"You have to put partisanship aside," Mr. Bush said. "The difference is I can get it done. For those who have not made up their mind, I'd like to conclude by this promise: Should I be fortunate enough to become your president, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of the land, but I will also swear to uphold the honor and the dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.
"We're providing health care for our people. We've got a strong safety net."
From the opening bell, the tone was acrimonious.
"I support a strong national patients' bill of rights," Mr. Gore said. "The governor does not."
The governor replied, quietly: "Actually, Mr. Vice President, it's not true I do support a national patients' bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas to get a patients' bill of rights through.
"It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it, though. You see, in order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside, and that's what we did in my state."
Mr. Gore, who was scolded for being too passive in last week's debate, was aggressive all through the debate. When moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS asked the vice president if Mr. Bush had correctly characterized their differences on tax cuts, Mr. Gore replied:
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm so glad I have the chance to knock that down."
Mr. Gore repeatedly tried to interrupt Mr. Bush, who at one point said "My turn," drawing chuckles from the audience. As if to match the Texas governor, Mr. Gore later said "My turn" after Mr. Bush's time ran out in answering a question on Hollywood's coarsening of popular culture.
Mr. Gore, earlier criticized for taking millions of dollars from the entertainment industry and and vowing not to punish it with legislation, last night said he would "help you raise your kids without that garbage."
Mr. Bush, who has criticized the vice president for talking tough with entertainment industry leaders while accepting their campaign cash, said a president should "talk plainly to the Hollywood moguls."
But, he said, "the best weapon is the on/off button and paying attention to your children and eating dinner with them."
Mr. Gore used the discussion on Hollywood as an occasion to obliquely remind the audience that Mr. Bush's twin 18-year-old daughters have deliberately avoided the campaign spotlight.
"Tipper and I have four children and, God bless every one of them, they decided on their own to come here this evening," Mr. Gore said.
When the Texas governor said the Gore tax plan left 50 million Americans without any tax relief, Mr. Gore interjected: "That's not right."
The combative exchanges stood in stark contrast to the opening moments of the debate, when Mr. Lehrer called for a moment of silence to remember Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, who was killed in a plane crash Monday. After making brief remarks praising Mr. Carnahan, both candidates promptly took off the gloves.
On the issue of Medicare reform, Mr. Bush sought to cast his differences with Mr. Gore in the context of effectiveness.
"Well, the difference is, is that I can get it done," Mr. Bush said. "It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can."
"All right, here we go again," Mr. Gore replied. "Now look, if you want someone who will spend a lot of words describing a whole convoluted process and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this is your man.
"If you want someone who will fight for you and who will fight for the middle-class families and working men and women who are sick and tired of having their parents and grandparents pay higher prices for prescription drugs than anybody else, then I want to fight for you."
Mr. Bush continued to cast Mr. Gore as a friend of bigger government.
"I'm absolutely opposed to a national health care plan," he said. "I don't want the federal government making decisions for consumers or for providers.
"I remember what the administration tried to do in 1993. They tried to have a national health care plan, and fortunately it failed. I trust people; I don't trust the federal government."
This time around, instead of heavy sighs, Mr. Gore often strode right up to the edge of the audience when answering a question, reminding them at least three times in the first half of the debate that he is a "fighter."
"I care a lot about this," Mr. Gore said of the morality issue.
At times, he even seemed to be trying to stare down Mr. Bush in the arena. Mr. Bush seemed to particularly rankle the vice president with his oft-repeated claim that Mr. Gore intends to take the federal government on an unprecedented spending spree.
"If this were a spending contest, I'd be in second," Mr. Bush said.
Moments later, Mr. Gore digressed from another question, wheeled on Mr. Bush and addressed him directly. "The governor has said I am for a bigger government," Mr. Gore said. "Governor, I am not."
Perhaps the most pointed question of the evening came from a black man who suggested Mr. Bush had seemed overly proud in last week's debate of his record in Texas of executing criminals. Mr. Bush adopted a somber tone and gently told the man he had misinterpreted the Texas governor's feelings.
"But my job is to ask two questions, sir. Is the person guilty of the crime? And did the person have full access to the courts of law? And I can tell you, looking at you right now, in all cases those answers were affirmative," he said.
The debate's lightest moment came at the end.
"I'm asking for your vote," Mr. Bush said. "For those of you for me, thanks for your help. For those of you for my opponent, please only vote once."

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