Jewish World Review May 9, 2000 /3 Iyar, 5760
The puncher is Vice President Al Gore, relentlessly accusing Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R, of everything from fiscal recklessness and social callousness to a strange foreign-policy combination of Cold War thinking and isolationism.
Bush is the counterpuncher. He claims that Gore is a savage, say-anything partisan who is constantly distorting the governor's ideas. In contrast, Bush promises to be a "uniter, not a divider" and to restore comity to American politics.
Gore may succeed in his effort to drive up Bush's unfavorability ratings, but there's also a danger that he will be seen as going over the top and of being unable to get anything done with Republicans if he's elected.
Certainly, polls indicate that Gore's attack strategy is not working so far. In March, as he was securing the nomination, Gore had caught up with Bush in most national surveys. Now Bush leads in practically every one, by margins averaging about 5 points.
According to the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, Gore's favorable rating has dropped from 51 percent to 43 percent since mid-March. Bush's rating went from 53 percent to 51 percent. Gore's unfavorable rating is 41, Bush's is 33.
The Pew Research Center poll shows that 68 percent of voters think that Republicans and Democrats in Washington are "bickering and opposing each other more than usual" -- that percentage is almost as high as it was during the federal government shutdown in 1995.
Pew's director, Andrew Kohut, thinks that "partisanship is a turnoff to people" and that "any candidate would do well by striking a pose indicating he'd try to increase cooperation and bipartisanship."
That's obviously what Bush is calculating. He's spent his time since the end of the primaries repairing his image as a "compassionate conservative," and last week he promised to try reaching across party lines.
This is a one-sided view of history, of course, underplaying the radical-revolutionary influence of ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. But at least Bush promised to try to counter the "legacy of cynicism and generic disgust."
Bush has a record of bipartisanship in Texas, and he indicated that he would apply the principle in trying to reform Social Security.
On Monday, he plans to lay out guidelines for partial privatization of the retirement system that will track ideas previously advanced by Democratic Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, N.Y.; Bob Kerrey, Neb.; John Breaux, La.; Chuck Robb, Va.; and the New Democrats' Progressive Policy Institute.
Moreover, Bush aides say that the plan will be put forward as an outline to be filled in through negotiation with Congress. This approach indicates flexibility and also saves Bush from having to specify details that can be attacked.
Politically, aides say that Bush's bipartisan initiatives are designed partly to "highlight an image of Gore as ruthless." And, they say, "Gore is doing everything he can to make it easier for us."
Indeed, he is. Gore scarcely lets a day go by without an attack on Bush, his Texas record or his 2000 proposals -- often in extravagant terms.
In the past two weeks, Gore has charged that Bush's tax cut would "shatter confidence in our economy, sending a message... that the era of fiscal responsibility is over."
Gore persists in estimating Bush's tax cut as costing $2.1 trillion over 10 years, though Bush puts it at $1.3 trillion, a figure supported this week by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. Gore also claimed that Bush, as Texas governor, has never prepared a budget -- a false statement.
This week, Gore denounced the idea of partially privatizing Social Security as "casino economics" and a policy of "survival of the fittest." In an interview with the Washington Post, he denied that the Clinton administration had ever proposed such a thing -- which it did, twice, and then dropped.
Even though both he and Bush are moderate internationalists, Gore claimed in one speech that Bush aligns himself with isolationists and "dangerously fixates on the Cold War past when speaking of the use of force."
Gore does not even tip his hat in the direction of bipartisanship. This failure opens Gore up to the charge that he could never work with Congress if it remains under GOP control.
Gore aides deny that there is any danger of backlash. They claim that the veep's attacks are strictly policy-based, not personal, and they say that Gore's image only improved during the primaries when he went after his Democratic rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley, N.J. They deny any Bush surge in the polls.
Indeed, Gore's attack strategy did succeed in the primaries. But Bush aides say that Bradley did not know how to fight back. Bush
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