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Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 1999 /27 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Please don't feed
the 'pander bears'


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE BIG WINNER in the New Hampshire debates was Oprah Winfrey.

Forget Donald Trump's touting of her for vice president. Her TV persona has become the gold standard for the top job.

Can you sit on a stool and compete for audience favor against another guy doing the same? Can you empathize? Can you answer folks' problems? Can you, short of that, give them a strong shoulder on which to lean?

Somehow this has crept in as a late-20th century standard for picking American presidents. And, based upon his debut in New Hampshire last week, Al Gore appears to love it! A quarter hour before airtime, he was fielding questions from the audience. An hour later, with time running out, he offered to stay later and take some more.

Just two weeks ago, it was Bill Bradley doing the bragging, saying how the taller guy usually came out on top in these TV one-on-ones. Had they stood behind lecterns, like statesmen, that might have been the outcome.

Working from stools gave Gore the edge. Acting in his new role as the "alpha male," spurred on by advisor Naomi Wolf, the vice president was the clear aggressor in Hanover. He was the kind of husband who gets up Saturday morning and replanes the door jambs before heading out briskly to Price Club.

Health care, education, campaign reform, whatever, Gore was right in the questioner's face, inquiring earnestly to know the facts, ready with a helpful prescription.

Take note. This is how the presidential campaign of 2000 is going to be run, fought, decided.

"They're supposed to collect my trash on Thursday and sometimes they don't come around till Friday and the dogs get in it and it's a real mess. Can you help me or not?"

Gore would have jumped on that one, would have offered to drive the truck around himself, made a pick-up on the way to the vice president's office.

No chore is too small, no complaint too self-serving. Like the concierge at a four-star hotel, the state-of-the-art presidential candidate sits on his stool, ready to up the bid, whatever the service required.

"I'm a mortician and our morgue is always filled. What can you do for me?"

Pander Bears. Don't feed them leadership questions. Keep it to matters of constituent service. Don't ask what the candidate for commander-in-chief would do if China makes a move across the Formosa Strait or if the Dow starts to drop. Keep it to the casework stuff, the kind of weekday night workout you'd give your member of Congress.

Clinton started this. He had three debates with President Bush and Ross Perot in 1992.

Most people can only remember the second. It was the one in Richmond, the one with the "Oprah Winfrey" format, the one Clinton won by a mile, the one where poor out-of-place, out-of-date President George Herbert Walker Bush kept looking at his watch.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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