George Bush has been baiting Bill Clinton to inject himself into the presidential race, knowing that Clinton’s heightened visibility will damage Gore. Polls bear this out. I have a better idea. Bush should encourage Gore to make himself more visible. That would hurt Gore even more.
Why? Because the dirty little secret of the Gore campaign is that it has finally discovered that most voters don’t much like Al Gore, especially when he’s in attack mode. So his handlers are doing everything they can to keep him in the closet. To have any chance of winning they have to keep the focus on Bush; keep the ball in his possession. How do they do that?
First, they minimize Gore’s chances to extemporize — when he’s left to his own devices and without a script, more likely than not he’ll descend into embellishment, fabrication and prevarication. Even though the media is not likely to call him on his lies this late in the game, his campaign quarterbacks don’t want to take unnecessary chances.
Next, they focus on Bush’s record in Texas through “independent” groups who can plausibly deny their connection to Gore. With this strategy, Gore’s campaign tries for two separate twofers. Let me explain.
By assigning surrogates the task of undercutting Bush’s record and his proposals, they simultaneously 1) minimize Gore’s personal negatives and 2) foster the perception that truly objective sources are criticizing Bush’s record and policies. We see less negative Gore and more negative Bush.
What about these “independent” surrogates? Are we to believe that the Rand Corporation just happened to reverse itself on Bush’s Texas education record two weeks before the election? Are we to believe that Hillary’s friend, Dr. Irwin Redlener, is acting in his professional capacity when he writes in the New York Post that Bush’s Texas record has been harmful to children’s health and education? (Redlener is the New York pediatrician who, without ever having met Elian Gonzalez, concluded that his Miami relatives were abusive to him.)
By attacking Bush’s Texas record, they simultaneously undermine 1) Bush’s record and 2) his credibility, by implying that he has been distorting his record to make himself look better.
Before you start to feel sorry for Gore because he is the most unlikable presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, remember that the feeling’s mutual. He apparently doesn’t like voters either.
Gore, like many of his media cheerleaders, has contempt for the average person he holds himself out as championing. If he liked, respected and trusted people would he constantly lie to them about his record and that of Governor Bush? Didn’t the media assure us that Gore’s issues were overwhelmingly popular with the American people? If so, then why can’t he come clean on his and Bush’s respective positions on taxes, guns, Social Security, prescription drugs, Medicare, education, charter schools, partial-birth abortion, the death penalty, health care and energy?
Gore’s press colleagues are every bit as disdainful of Bush and the average voter. Salon’s Tod Gitlin writes, “Bush gives ample evidence that he does not reason.” The International Herald Tribune’s Hope Keller says that Bush is unfit to be president. The New Republic’s Martin Peretz asks, “Doesn’t a man who asks for public power and public trust have a moral obligation to be intelligent about public issues?” The arrogance drips from their pens.
In the minds of Gore and the media elite, George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan, is a simpleton — and so are people who are inclined to vote for him. In their view, Bush is an imbecile, not because he isn’t eloquent, but because he’s conservative. Smart people, with the possible exceptions of Bill Buckley, George Will and Rush Limbaugh, are not conservative.
A public that would elect such dimwits as Bush and Reagan is not to be trusted with all the facts. That’s why they tell us only what they think we can handle. That’s why Hillary directed her health care task force to meet in private in violation of sunshine laws. That’s why Al Gore made a secret, illegal deal with Russia to allow her to sell weapons to Iran.
I believe the wisest course for the Bush campaign is to throw an interception to get the ball back in Gore’s hands and let him run it in reverse. Neither he nor his issues can stand the light of day.