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Jewish World Review August 3, 2000 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5760

George Will

George Will
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Consumer Reports

Panic in the Gore Camp -- THE STORY is that when Barry Goldwater delivered his acceptance speech at the 1964 convention, dispensing high-octane conservatism, a journalist exclaimed, "My G-d, he's going to run as Goldwater." Today many people are similarly thunderstruck that both nominees of the conservative party are conservatives.

The Gore campaign is a jalopy with one gear--fear overdrive. Hence the manic attempt to convince the country that Dick Cheney is Mussolini without the rhetorical flair. Cheney ("a good guy," said Al Gore when a senator) is supposedly frightening because, for example, when serving "with distinction" (according to George Mitchell when he was the Democrats' Senate leader) in Congress, Cheney, like many others, opposed economic sanctions against South Africa as ineffective and injurious to blacks. And because of his congressional voting regarding abortion and guns (which was not dramatically different from Gore's voting back then).

Frenzied attempts to cultivate Cheneyphobia and pity for the sufferings of Texans under George W. Bush may reflect Gore's rising panic about the perverse--from his point of view--political consequences of prosperity. The seven deadly sins are durable, so there is no such thing as being rich "beyond the dreams of avarice," but Americans are feeling so flush, the economy has lost saliency as a political issue.

Today's hitherto undreamed of prosperity seems permanent, which is why Congress favors repeal of the estate tax. That tax hits only 2 percent of estates, but many millions of Americans hope to become rich enough to resent it. That is an understandable hope in a time when the number of households with a net worth of $1 million--now one in 14 households--has doubled in five years. The effect of today's prosperity may be to diminish materialism and enlarge the political importance of values and character.

Gore's choice of a running mate next Tuesday will be a statement about Gore's character. The instant consensus among the interpreting class was that Bush's choice of Cheney left Gore with maximum latitude in selecting his running mate. The theory is that because the Republican ticket is ideologically monochrome and unambiguously conservative, Gore can pick a running mate on the left (e.g., House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt) to mollify party activists tempted by Ralph Nader's candidacy. Or he can pick a centrist (e.g., Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh or Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman). Or he can pick a running mate who might help pluck a fistful of electoral votes (Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Florida Sen. Bob Graham).

But the consensus may be mistaken. Once the Gore campaign realizes that most people are comfortable with rather than frightened by Cheney, Gore may see the wisdom of doing what Bush did--seeking wisdom in a running mate. And Gore may see that it is, as he might say, risky to pick someone who does not compare well with Cheney regarding experience. There is no Democrat with Cheney's kind of experience high in both political branches of government. George Mitchell, however, is instantly plausible as a president, as is former senator Sam Nunn, who probably would bring Georgia's 13 electoral votes, which Clinton won by one percent in 1992 and lost by one percent in 1996.

Another argument for Mitchell or Nunn is raised by the death of Georgia's Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell, who has been replaced by former governor Zell Miller, a Democrat picked by a Democratic governor. The Republican margin in the Senate is now down to 54 to 46, which means that if Gore wins and the Democrats pick up four seats, they control the Senate. So if Gore picks a serving Democratic senator from a state with a Republican governor (e.g., Durbin's Illinois, Graham's Florida, Lieberman's Connecticut, John Kerry's Massachusetts) the climb to Senate control becomes steeper.

Kerry, much mentioned as a Gore running mate, poses an additional problem if Gore wants to attack Bush and Cheney as stained by oil and responsible for higher gasoline prices. Imagine Cheney vs. Kerry--the secretary of defense during the Gulf War opposing one of the 45 Democratic senators who voted against the use of force against Saddam Hussein. Imagine what gasoline might cost today if Kerry's policy--reliance on sanctions--had prevailed. Hussein would be master of Kuwait's oil fields and shaper of production policies in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

Mitchell and Nunn were among the 45. Graham and Lieberman were, like Gore, among the 10 Democrats who favored force. Because of Cheney and whatever Gore does next Tuesday, foreign policy is coming back into American politics.

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