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Jewish World Review August 21, 2000 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5760

Cal Thomas

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AlGore and the ghost of Nixon --
LOS ANGELES | Vice President Al Gore confronted the ghost of Richard Nixon Thursday night. Remember when Nixon repeatedly tried to transform himself into a "new Nixon''? He failed because the public couldn't forget (and the media wouldn't allow them forget) the old Nixon, which was, in fact, the real Nixon.

Gore engaged in a similar effort. He issued a declaration of independence from Bill Clinton ("I am my own man,'' he said), though both he and Clinton have claimed that the vice president has been closely tied to every important decision for the last eight years.

And Gore's mechanical speech failed on several levels.

It failed because he offered nothing new. He employed the familiar and tired language of class warfare and the liberal nanny state. He associated the Clinton administration with economic prosperity and job creation. Question: Did that prosperity come from President Clinton's retroactive tax hike in 1993, or was it the result of the lowered marginal tax rates of the Reagan years, which Democrats disparage? If the former, Gore should be running on a pledge to increase taxes, so we can enjoy more prosperity.

"They're for the powerful; we're for the people,'' said Gore, contrasting his Democrats with stereotypical Republicans, but ignoring the powerful corporations hosting an orgy of parties for elected officials all over town. Gore styled himself the champion of "working families,'' a phrase that implies only certain people work and the rest sit at home clipping bond coupons. But the best way to improve the lot of the middle-income family is to cut their taxes, while allowing them to invest some of their Social Security dollars in interest-bearing accounts. But that would snatch power from government -- which neither Gore nor his party can abide.

The vice president borrowed from Ross Perot when he pledged to hold his own version of town meetings ("open meetings,'' he called them). That isn't leadership; it's pandering. A leader should lead, not follow. A leader is supposed to know more than his followers, that's why he is a leader. Unless he, too, is really a follower -- of polls and focus groups.

Gore called for the elimination of the marriage penalty and reform of estate taxes. The Republican Congress passed bills that would have accomplished these objectives. President Clinton vetoed them.

Implicit and sometimes explicit in his speech was the assumption that only government, by itself or in "partnership'' with us, can make our lives better. This is the Democrats' creed that hasn't changed since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. It is a religion more precious to them than Gore's Baptist roots or Joseph Lieberman's Jewishness.

But wait. Weren't Gore and Clinton in charge these last eight years? If there are so many problems -- cultural depravity and "meanness'' were two that Gore mentioned -- why did they not do something about them? Listening to Gore, one was left to conclude that this administration did nothing, or was unwilling or incapable of doing anything, to right the wrongs Gore now claims to see so clearly.

Gore says he wrote this speech himself. Perhaps he should have employed a professional. Though he had a brief stint in journalism, this pretentious speech was full of hyperbole and hackneyed phrases, such as "whether you drive a big rig on the Interstate or drive e-commerce on the Internet," and "let's lift our eyes and see how wide the American horizon has become," and "I want to stay in touch with your hopes."

In his most revealing statement concerning the power of government, Gore said the election is about "our people, our families and our future -- and whether forces standing in your way will keep you from having a better life." One of those forces couldn't be government, could it, which takes ever-increasing amounts of the money we earn?

Gore was right about one thing. This election ought not to be a popularity contest. (Would he have declared that if the polls showed him more popular than George W. Bush at the moment?) Gore can try to reinvent himself (as Nixon did), but he remains trapped in the clutches of old-style liberalism. Nixon would have understood the demons that possess and torment some politicians.

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