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Jewish World ReviewOct. 13, 2000 /14 Tishrei 5761

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

Debate 2: The fudging continues --
VICE PRESIDENT Al Gore had some serious repair work to do in the second of three debates last Wednesday night. He was only partially successful.

Stylistically, Gore had a different hairdo and his makeup was better. Gone were the sighs and eye rolling that characterized his reactions during the first debate. He apologized for the exaggerations and personal embellishments of the past ("lies,'' William Bennett called them in a damning indictment in the Wall Street Journal). Gore mostly avoided untruths until near the end.

Gore denied that he is in favor of increasing taxes on energy, yet in his book, "Earth in the Balance,'' he advocated higher gasoline prices for the express purpose of discouraging energy use. He is part of an administration that boosted the federal gas tax to help "balance the budget'' but opposes its repeal even in the face of huge projected surpluses.

The vice president still wants credit for his wife's brief campaign in the '80s against filthy and violent song lyrics. But he virtually apologized for that earlier position as he, and more recently, his running mate, Joseph Lieberman, have placed their snouts in Hollywood's campaign cash trough. In 1987, Gore said that Senate hearings he had endorsed two years earlier were "a mistake'' that "sent the wrong message.'' Was it more wrong than the messages the entertainment industry is sending children?

Gore, who has tried to impress with his supposed encyclopedic retention of the names of world leaders, placed the new president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, in Serbia as its president.

On so-called "hate crimes'' laws, Bush said that the white killers of James Byrd, the black resident of Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck, had been convicted and sentenced to death. He didn't see how a "hate crimes'' law could impose a stricter sentence than death. Bush added he opposes a bill by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) because it does not allow for the death penalty in capital crime cases. Bush is in good company: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) opposes the Kennedy measure for the same reason.

Gore claimed his prescription-drug proposal for seniors kicks in faster than Bush's. In fact, the Bush plan would begin, pending congressional approval, almost immediately for the poor until Medicare modernization is completed. The Gore plan is phased in over a six-year period starting in 2002. I wish Bush would support means testing on prescription drugs. Wealthy people should not be getting a government check for things they can well afford.

One of Gore's biggest whoppers came when he again stated that he had been at the forefront of "reinventing government.'' According to his Web page, Gore's ideas have reduced the number of federal employees by 350,000, saving taxpayers $137 billion and leading to the smallest government since John F. Kennedy was president. But last year, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed Gore's reinventing-government initiative and found that his claims were inflated and unsubstantiated. The GAO selected at random $33 billion worth of spending and could not verify two-thirds of it. The GAO also cited a number of "creative accounting'' techniques used to make the claim, including double counting, in which credit was taken for cost-cutting that had been well underway before Gore got involved, and a failure to factor in "offset costs,'' such as employer buyouts.

Gore's ballyhooed 25 percent cut in the staff of the Executive Office of the President came at the cost of reducing the number of people in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gore has also claimed responsibility for eliminating large numbers of federal regulations. But the GAO found only 11,569 pages were eliminated and that not taken into account were the number of new pages added while these were being removed. "In some cases,'' said the report, "agencies added more pages than they removed during the page-elimination initiative.''

Gore also misstated Bush's position on a Child Health Initiative in Texas. In fact, Bush signed a measure that covers 423,000 Texas children and provides an additional $25 million so that children of legal immigrants might also be eligible.

Gore tried to again sell the public on his "support'' for the Persian Gulf War when former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole has said that Gore "shopped'' his vote in order to get TV face time. And Gore admitted that while he once supported sending U.S. troops to Somalia to quell violence and feed the starving, he now opposes that decision.

Bush again said he would return some of the surplus to people who pay the bills, and that he believed in empowering people, not government. The traditional Republican tax-cut message seems to be resonating with more voters.

Bush grows more confident and relaxed with each debate. In next week's final encounter in St. Louis, he has a chance to close the deal with any remaining undecided voters.

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