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Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2000 /1 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Cal Thomas

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Gore's political death pall --
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH had it in 1992. Bob Dole had it in 1996. Now Al Gore seems to be getting it. It is the political death pall that comes over a presidential candidate when he realizes he probably will lose the election.

You could tell President Bush had it when he lashed out at Clinton-Gore eight years ago, referring to the Democratic ticket as "bozos.'' You could tell Dole had it four years later when he wondered how voters could choose a draft-dodging, self-absorbed man like Clinton over a World War II veteran.

Gore's symptoms include an increasing stridence about the "disaster'' that will befall the country if he is not elected. All politicians like to predict such things, but Gore seems particularly desperate, like a terminally ill patient seeking faith healing or alternative medicines.

Gore's flip-flops continue to be exposed, contributing to his deteriorating condition. Gore told the Washington Times that Bush's suggestion he might withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans could cause war in Europe. But President Clinton promised more than once he would bring the troops home, but he never did. During the 1996 campaign, Gore himself said U.S. forces should stay no longer than a year.

Gore's desperation is evident when he says "the future of the country'' is at stake in this election. Gore TV ads and those paid for by his soft-money supporters drag out the old Democratic fear skeletons from the closet: the end of Social Security, granny thrown out in the streets, rusty-coat-hanger abortions in filthy back alleys, etc. Democrats haven't had a new idea in more than 20 years. They keep returning to their old, bad ideas. But, like the story about the kid who cried "wolf'' when there was no wolf, the scare tactics are losing their potency.

Contrasting the stench of death in the Gore campaign is a new sense of life and optimism -- even joy -- in the Bush camp. In a Kansas City speech, launching a "barnstorm for reform'' campaign swing by 28 Republican governors, Bush exuded the confidence of a winner. According to his staff, Bush helped write the speech in which he borrowed from Ronald Reagan when he said, "I've always said that government should do a few things, and do them well .... Conservatism has become the creed of hope, the creed of compassion, the creed of reform. Instead of focusing on getting even and getting reelected, we have focused on getting results and getting things done.''

The Bush message of personal responsibility, in an age of irresponsibility (whose high priest has been Bill Clinton), is starting to resonate with the public. Bush neatly codified his doctrine in the Kansas City speech: "(Government) helps best when it gives people the tools and confidence to make their own decisions, to chart their own course. Government should expand opportunity and trust people with responsibility. Government should help us live our lives, not run our lives. Government should offer a helping hand, not a heavy hand.''

While Gore invokes Halloweenish ghouls and frightening scenarios, Bush is the picture of optimism. Gore doesn't speak of himself as president so much as he speaks of the grim future he thinks a Bush presidency would bring. Bush, meanwhile, speaks of "the kind of leader I will be as president of the United States.'' We've seen this play before. In contests between fear and optimism in 1980 and 1984, optimism won. America was founded on optimism. It flounders in pessimism. Voters respond to a positive outlook in which the one who would be their leader taps into the best in them, not the worst in others.

Bush is in a position that is the polar opposite of his father's. In 1988, voters elected Bush Sr. because they thought they were getting Reagan III. The tax increase President Bush agreed to disproved that and contributed to a slight recession that Clinton used to his advantage in 1992. Now the choice is Clinton III or cleaning the White House of its "stain,'' as George W. puts it.

Many "experts'' are predicting a close race. That may turn out to be true, but my sense is that Bush is going to win big, because a happy face and an optimistic spirit will beat lies, gloom, fear, bigger government and the death pall that envelopes the terminal Gore campaign.

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