Predictably self-righteous whenever his honor and truthfulness are questioned, Vice President Al Gore sanctimoniously slammed Texas Gov. George W. Bush for telling the truth at the end of Tuesday’s presidential debate. “Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility,” intoned the vice president, whose veracity has been questioned by the director of the FBI and two chiefs of the Justice Department’s campaign-finance task force, among others, “and I am not going to respond in kind.” As it happened, not surprisingly, Mr. Gore had started the debate with a flat-out lie.
Moderator Jim Lehrer asked Mr. Gore what he meant when he had previously questioned Mr. Bush’s experience to be president. With virtually the first words out of his mouth, Mr. Gore denied ever having done so, asserting, “I have actually not questioned Governor Bush’s experience.” In fact, at an April 12 Washington fund-raiser, Mr. Gore declared that Mr. Bush’s proposed tax cut “raises the question, ‘Does he have the experience to be president?’ ”
Nor was this the only lie to flow from the vice president’s lips, in between rudely sighing, clucking and rolling his eyes whenever Mr. Bush had the floor. There was the vice president’s trip to Texas with Federal Emergency Agency Director James Lee Witt, which it turned out he had only imagined. There was the story of the woman from Des Moines who collects empty cans allegedly to pay for her prescription drug bills, but can afford to travel to Massachusetts to attend the debate. And let’s not forget the blatantly distorted example of the girl from Sarasota High who had no desk for one day. As it turns out, her classroom was being refurbished and the school had just bought $100,000 worth of new equipment. Some sob story.
Apart from differences on the important character issue, the debate illuminated the principal differences in governing philosophy between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, between someone who believes in the ability of Americans to decide what’s best for their families and someone who believes the government knows best. Referring to a 50-percent, $2,000 reduction in federal income taxes his plan would provide to a family of four earning $50,000, Mr. Bush pointedly explained to the audience, “The difference in our plans is I want that $2,000 to go to you, and the vice president would like to be spending the $2,000 on your behalf.”
Mr. Gore repeatedly engaged in class warfare, attacking on all fronts Mr. Bush’s broad-based tax-reduction proposal, which, in the end, would reduce federal taxes by about 5 percent over the next decade. After Mr. Bush’s cuts were fully implemented, however, the wealthy would actually pay a higher proportion of total federal income taxes than they currently pay. Meanwhile, on the issue of prescription drug coverage for the elderly, more than 60 percent of whom already have some form of drug insurance, it remains true that Mr. Gore’s costly plan would inexplicably subsidize prescription drug purchases by Warren Buffett and other billionaires.
The debate clearly defined the differences in the candidates’ constitutional philosophies. Mr. Bush promised to appoint judges who were “strict constructionists.” Confirming that he would appoint liberal, activist judges, Mr. Gore explained, “[T]he Constitution ought to be interpreted as a document that grows with … our country and our history.” The Founding Fathers established the amendment process, not ideologically induced reinterpretations, to specifically deal with any needed changes in the Constitution. In identifying former Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall as his ideal models, Mr. Gore has signaled that his Supreme Court nominees will be regularly subverting the nation’s legislatures.
An important purpose of presidential debates is to define major differences in the candidates’ character and governing philosophy. The first debate of 2000 achieved this goal.