Jewish World Review August 8, 2000 /7 Menachem-Av 5760
The key passage in Bush's acceptance speech Thursday that should set up the issues battle was: "The surplus is not the government's money. The surplus is the people's money."
The central policy question that "the people" have to face in this election is: What do we want to do with the anticipated 10-year, $1.5 trillion surplus?
Bush says, "Now is the time to reform the tax code and share some of the surplus with the people." Democrats allege that the tax cuts he proposes will use up all, or more than all, of the surplus, leaving nothing remaining for the "compassionate" initiatives he says he favors.
Democrats, on the other hand, propose to "share" much less of the money with taxpayers -- about two-thirds less -- and "invest" or "spend" the rest on health and education programs, benefits for seniors, and paying down the national debt.
This difference has the makings of what could be an elevated -- and tough -- election debate. Both Bush and Vice President Al Gore can and will claim that America's continued greatness and prosperity lie in following his path.
They can also battle spiritedly over which party is responsible for the nation's current well-being, whether the opposition's taxing and spending agendas add up. and who has the fairer and more effective formula for progress.
In his acceptance speech, Bush invited a fight by charging that the Clinton-Gore administration has "coasted through prosperity" and "had its chance" to lead, but didn't.
Gore has every right to say, "Coasted? The country wasn't prosperous in 1992. It was debt-ridden and isn't any more. Those who don't feel better off than they were eight years ago should vote for another George Bush," etc.
As expected, Bush also laid down defense, Social Security reform, education reform and welfare as basic issues on which he wants to campaign and said of President Clinton and Gore, "they have not led." There's room for a good fight over the administration's record and whether Gore's proposals on those fronts -- college aid, family leave, welfare reform and missile defense -- constitute good policy.
Gore certainly will make health policy -- including prescription drugs and patients' rights -- a top issue, and can accuse Bush and his Republican allies in Congress of blocking administration initiatives.
Growing naturally and legitimately out of the issues debate are questions of motive and, inevitably, character. The Bush-orchestrated GOP convention was one giant iteration of the famous remark by Bush's father, former President George Bush, "Message: I care."
The endless parade of black and Hispanic faces and the repetition of compassionate rhetoric were meant to show that Bush is, as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) described him, "the Founding Father of the new Republican Party."
I'm convinced on the basis of Bush's record and proposals that he really does mean to create a "new" GOP on the premise that "the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference" and would try to "put conservative values and ideas into the fight for justice and opportunity."
But Democrats have every right to question both Bush's and his party's sincerity. There are elements of Bush's record and program that justify doubt. In Texas, he opposed expanding health insurance for poor children last year. He also is not backing up his education reforms with much money.
There is even more ground to question the Republican Party's dedication to his goals. As many commentators pointed out, there were far more African-Americans on stage and in videos at the GOP convention than on the convention floor.
It was fair that the Gore campaign tagged the Philadelphia convention a "masquerade ball" in which Bush "danced the Texas two-step," hiding "the reality that Bush is compassionate for the rich and conservative for everyone else."
It was surprising that Bush and his vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, both tried to tie Gore to Clinton's scandals, with Cheney asking "Does anyone ... seriously believe that under Mr. Gore, the next four years would be any different from the last eight?"
Nearly all of Bush's and Cheney's jabs at Gore were above the belt, but that one -- implying that Gore is capable of a Monica Lewinsky-style scandal -- hit below.
My guess is that Gore will use this punch, among others, as a pretext for saying Republicans "went negative" first, giving Democrats permission to savage Bush.
Gore has demonstrated he is not above distorting an opponent's record -- as he has in claiming that, under Bush, Texas is running a budget "shortfall," when there's a surplus.
Gore probably planned to charge, anyway, that Bush is somehow anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-senior. He made such false charges against his primary opponent, former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.).
So, the GOP convention opened the way for a nasty campaign that probably will overwhelm the elevated, feisty debate that the issues deserve. Before November, voters may have more need for their mud boots than their thinking
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center