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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2000 /27 Tishrei, 5761

Joseph Perkins

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Consumer Reports

Undecided? Before voting, make sure you answer these questions -- AFTER 10 MONTHS of nonstop campaigning by both George W. Bush and Al Gore, after the two party conventions, after the three presidential debates, the polls tell us that 10 percent of Americans remain "undecided" as to whom they prefer to sit in the Oval Office for the next four years.

As a gesture of empathy with those "swing" voters, agonizing over their choice or vacillating between the candidates, let us boil the contest down to its essentials. As they weigh the merits (and demerits) of the Republican and Democratic candidates, they should ask themselves the following questions: Whom do I trust?

The moral relativists in the political media, as well as their comrades-in-arms in the academy (the preponderantly left-leaning political scientists whom they are always quoting in their campaign stories), have given short shrift to the character issue.

But it matters. For the very last thing the American people want is another scandal-ridden White House; another president who will bring further disgrace upon the highest office in the land.

Gore brings heavy baggage to this election as far as trustworthiness goes. Indeed, he clearly broke campaign fund-raising laws during the last presidential election. Most seriously by soliciting contributions out of his White House office and raising loot at a religious institution (his infamous visit to the Buddhist temple).

What particularly disturbs, in these two cases in particular, is that to this day, the vice president denies any wrongdoing. Like his current boss, Bill Clinton, the vice president operates under the premise that, if you haven't been formally indicted for a crime, you haven't broken the law.

Who will be easier on my pocketbook?

Both Bush and Gore promise to lower taxes if elected. But there's a big difference in their plans. Bush proposes across-the-board cuts in marginal tax rates. Gore proposes so-called "targeted" cuts.

The differences were delineated in the third debate in St. Louis when audience member Lisa Key asked the vice president: "How will your tax plan affect me as a middle-class single person with no dependents?"

Well, said the vice president, "If you make $60,000 and you decide to invest $1,000 in a savings account, you'll actually get a tax credit, which means in essence that the federal government will match your $1,000 with another $1,000. If you make less than $30,000 a year, and you put $500 in a savings account, the federal government will match it with $1,500."

Now here's what the vice president didn't tell the Missouri woman: If she doesn't put money into an individual retirement account, for whatever reasons (like maybe she has a company retirement plan) she doesn't get a tax cut under his plan.

Nor do the taxpayers who don't have a child in day care or a kid in college or a sick parent in a nursing home. For Gore has decided that only select taxpayers will get a tax cut if he becomes president.

Under Bush's plan, by contrast, everyone pays lower taxes (whether or not they have an IRA). "If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief," said Bush. "I don't think that's the role of the president to pick, 'you're right, and you're not right.'"

Who will strengthen the military?

During the eight years that the Clinton-Gore administration has been in the White House, the military has shrunk by a third. Yet the armed forces have been deployed three times as often as they were during the previous Republican administration -- mainly for "peacekeeping" and "humanitarian" missions.

The result of this overuse of the military is that preparedness is not nearly what it was before Gore assumed the vice presidency. In fact, the retiring commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf said that, today, the military would find it considerably more difficult to fight and win a conflict like the 1991 Gulf War.

Meanwhile, morale is low among the men and women in uniform (6,000 of whom are living off food stamps) and the military is having difficulties with both recruitment and retention.

Gore promises to shore up the military. But the men and women in uniform are to be forgiven for wondering why he hasn't stepped up for them long before now.

Who will get things done in Washington?

Among the major accomplishments for which the vice president's Web site gives him credit are welfare reform ("Gore helped overhaul the welfare system") and the balanced budget ("Gore helped lead efforts to turn record budget deficits into surpluses").

But what Gore neglects to mention is that he and his boss, Bill Clinton, fought Republican efforts to enact welfare reform and balanced budget legislation. (In fact, Clinton vetoed GOP welfare and budget bills when they crossed his desk.)

Only when Clinton and Gore concluded that, like the Democratic-controlled House and Senate in 1994, they might be turned out by the voters unless they embraced these two Republican initiatives in particular did they acquiesce to welfare reform and the balanced budget.

And that's been the MO of both Clinton and Gore. Rather than reaching out to the other party in an effort to get things done - such as implementing much needed Social Security and Medicare reform -- the president and vice president have consistently chosen to demonize the other side.

And so it continues with Gore, who has reduced practically every issue into an "us vs. them" confrontation. He's on the side of angels. His Republican opponent and Republican party members are on the side of evil.

Well, Gore may think that makes for effective campaign strategy. But it sure doesn't help when it comes time to govern and to get things done. To address the problems that confront the next president, it is important to have a uniter in the White House, rather than a divider.

Swing voters ought to have a pretty good idea which candidate better fits that bill.

JWR periodic contributor Joseph Perkins is San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and a television commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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