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Jewish World Review June 19, 2000 / 16 Sivan, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Consumer Reports

Say yes to Forstmann's offer --
IF YOU WERE A FLY on the wall of George W. Bush's private office while he chatted with his staffers, this is what you might hear:

Faceless Aide Number One: Governor, Ted Forstmann, the brainy billionaire, has as you know, an offer on the table. If you and Gore will agree to debate the subject of education, he'll donate a million bucks to each of your favorite charities.

Faceless Aide Number Two: Don't do it. You're ahead in the polls. The great American middle class won't watch because it's summer. We should have learned from history that the American people do not focus on presidential races until after the last game of the World Series. So all that they will know of your performance will be what they get from the media, and that will inevitably be biased against you. Sit tight.

FANO: I don't agree, sir. There's a tendency around here these days to believe that we blew everybody else away in the primaries. That isn't really true. It's more accurate to say that we were smart enough to profit gracefully from John McCain's self-immolation. He did us many favors, including solidifying your conservative support. But anyway, the big mistake we made back then was ducking debates. The other candidates had a whole preseason to limber up before we came on the scene, and well, our inexperience showed.

Now debating is not our strong suit, that's true. But if it doesn't go well, we still have months to recover before November so the risk isn't very large. Besides, this issue is yours. You are as passionate and informed on this as any politician in America. Preparation will be a cakewalk (we can get Checker Finn and Bill Bennett to coach you). Let's not forget, Reagan wasn't a terrific debater either, and with all due respect, neither was your dad. But they were both able to win elections despite that. You don't need to be William F. Buckley Jr. You just need to reassure the American people where they have doubts.

In the 1980 debates, Reagan reassured a nation ready to toss Jimmy Carter out that he was not the reckless cowboy the press had warned against. And your dad was able to create so many doubts about Dukakis that people felt wary of voting for him.

FANT: Listen, people tell pollsters that they care most about this but that's ridiculous. They have to say something or look foolish in front of the questioner, so they say they're concerned about education. Yet nobody can name a single officeholder who ever won or lost an election on this question.


FANO: Fant (as usual) is looking at this too narrowly. We know what Gore can safely say. The teachers unions would lynch him if he said anything other than that he's for more money for the public schools. We are free to roam the landscape, endorsing constructive reform as we see fit. Vouchers and charter schools are also hugely popular with black Americans. Gore will have trouble dancing away from that particular complication.

Zogby has a new poll out of college students showing that education majors were more likely than any other students to report that they had read no books or only one book not required in course work during the previous semester. They were also less likely than other students to believe in the value of general education, like reading the great books.

Let Gore talk money, we can reply that spending has been increasing faster on education than on any other item in the budget, yet scores continue to decline. We've made classes smaller. It hasn't worked. This Education Department is in thrall to every politically correct fad in the book. Yet it's been able to do its propaganda unnoticed. We can make the Clinton/Gore Education Department the ACLU of the 2000 campaign.

Gore will talk money, and we will talk about everything else. Americans care about content. The Zogby poll showed that eight out of 10 students think we should do a better job of teaching the basic principles of American freedom. We can also address innovation, choice, competition, high standards, accountability and offering the poor the only sure-fire escape from poverty. This debate will not only be good for our campaign, it will be good for the nation.

FANT: Says you.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate