PITTSBURGH George W. Bush yesterday hammered the Clinton-Gore administration, saying it has lived by the credo “if it feels good, do it” in a “fruitless search for a legacy.”
“I believe that when all is said and done, Americans will realize my opponent’s campaign is a fitting close to the Clinton-Gore years,” Mr. Bush said at a speech at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.
“They are going out as they came in their guide, the nightly polls; their goal, the morning headlines; their legacy, the fruitless search for a legacy.”
Touting himself as the only candidate who can bridge political divides, Mr. Bush ripped the administration for its divisive tactics.
“For too long, our culture has sent the message, if it feels good, do it; if you’ve got a problem, blame someone else,” he said. “Each of us must understand that we are responsible for the choices we make in life.”
Mr. Bush pointedly derided his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, saying his legendarily hard campaign tactics are “a sample of what we could expect from a Gore administration a bitter, negative tone that has nearly destroyed bipartisanship in Washington.”
“My opponent has set a tone that shows what he is going to be should he win,” he said. “He talked of ‘ripping the lungs out’ of political opponents. Part of his campaign headquarters is called, unbelievably enough, ‘the slaughterhouse,’ and his staff proudly calls itself ‘the killers.’ ”
Mr. Bush also mocked Mr. Gore’s education and Social Security proposals, drawing a clear line between what he sees as President Clinton’s deficiencies and a prospective Gore administration.
“On both of these issues, my opponent would add four years of drift to eight years of failed leadership.”
Mr. Bush then went on to train a spotlight on the character of Mr. Gore, mocking his performance in the three presidential debates, which Republicans say exposed flaws in the vice president’s personality.
“A good leader is predictable. He doesn’t try to be all things to all people, or change personalities say, for different debates.”
Mr. Bush has been indirect in his criticism of Mr. Gore’s character up to this point. He has mocked the vice president’s self-admitted tendency to get details wrong in stories, but he has based his discussion largely on issue disagreements until yesterday.
Mr. Bush has also been cryptic in his attacks on President Clinton, talking abut “restoring honor and dignity” to the White House, but refusing to name Mr. Clinton’s scandals. At a rally Tuesday, he specifically said he is “not running against President Clinton.”
But yesterday’s speech marks a clear decision by the Bush campaign to focus increased attention on the ethical lapses of Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton, and to raise the “character issue,” which polls have consistently shown is a problem for Mr. Gore.
“In my administration, we will ask not what is legal, but what is right; not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves,” he said.
In a poke at Mr. Gore’s now famous explanation for his questionable fund-raising calls made from his government office in 1996, Mr. Bush promised “in my administration, we will make clear there is the controlling legal authority of conscience.”
Calling Mr. Gore a promoter of big government whose philosophy was rooted in the failed policies of the past, he said even if the country could afford to pay for the vice president’s ideas, they would still be “the wrong ideas … more spending, more programs, more of Washington talking down to us and thinking on our behalf.”
The campaign has been hinting at the change for several days. Mr. Bush and his surrogates have made a noticeable effort to talk about Mr. Bush’s commitment to his wife and family a reference to Mr. Clinton’s marital difficulties and to talk about restoring honor to the Oval Office.
“The full potential of America has never been reached because our leadership has not been able to lift the nation’s spirit as it should,” Mr. Bush told voters at a rally in Florida late Wednesday.
To hammer home the message of integrity, Mr. Bush was introduced yesterday by retired Gen. Colin Powell, who is widely popular with voters of both parties and has an unsullied record of public service.
Mr. Bush “will show us that what we have been doing in recent years has not been adequate, not good enough,” said Mr. Powell, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first year of the Clinton administration.
In his speech yesterday, Mr. Bush promised to usher in a “responsibility era.”
He said he recognized that it is impossible for the president to live up to such a promise alone, or “Take the politics out of politics.”
“I’m from Texas, I’m a realist,” he said.
“But I’m convinced that our government can show more courage in confronting hard problems, more good will toward the other side, more integrity in the exercise of power,” he said.
Mr. Bush is looking increasingly confident in recent days, with polls showing him with a solid lead in key states such as Ohio and fending off strong challenges from Mr. Gore in states such as Florida. Mr. Bush is even hoping he might contest California, long thought to be a Democratic lock, after recent polls showing him down by only five points.
“I think the shoe may be on the other foot this time,” campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters yesterday as she announced that Mr. Bush would campaign in California, Washington and Oregon also Democratic strongholds where Mr. Bush is making a strong showing next week.