Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2000 /9 Adar I, 5760
McCain's approach, to limit speech to insulate lawmakers from factions, is nonetheless attractive to many voters. In South Carolina as in New Hampshire, he attracts 1,000-plus crowds who admire his character and candor and seem to have a sort of unit cohesion with him.
George W. Bush's version of reform is quite different–and only recently articulated. Returning to South Carolina from a weekend of strategizing in Texas, he has started speaking from the middle of rooms with a hand-held mike before a banner proclaiming "A reformer with results." This sounds hokey and imitative, but a case can be made for framing the issues this way.
Spirited and confident. Speaking more forcefully than in New Hampshire and now taking questions from the audience as McCain, Al Gore, and Bill Bradley have been doing for months, Bush argues that he worked with Democrats as well as Republicans in Texas to reform education, welfare, criminal justice, and tort law. Then, more fluently and succinctly than in New Hampshire, he presents his proposals for reforming education, welfare (with faith-based institutions), and tort law in Washington. It can be argued that Bush's proposals are more incremental than radical, and inhibited by the conservative aversion to central government. But there is something there: Bush speaks as spiritedly and confidently on domestic issues as McCain does on foreign policy and defense.
But not all the campaigning here is on the high road. Up through New Hampshire, both candidates were mostly positive. In South Carolina, both are still mostly positive in person but have gone negative on TV. "Do we really want another politician in the White House America can't trust?" asks one McCain ad; Bush took great umbrage at the suggestion he is another Bill Clinton. Bush in turn is running negative ads, arguing that McCain has mischaracterized his tax plan, that he supports fetal-tissue research, that his campaign finance bill would not stop "union bosses"–always unpopular in South Carolina–from spending members' money on politics without their permission. He has ads arguing that McCain has "said one thing and done another" by accepting PAC money and voting for public financing of elections. Bush is obviously trying to dampen the enthusiasm of independents and Democrats, who here as in New Hampshire can vote in the Republican contest. "Our folks need some reinforcement on the differences" between the candidates, says Bush strategist Warren Tompkins. "The only way to cut through the clutter is to go on the offensive."
Both sides are taking a risk, McCain of tarnishing his pristine image, Bush of stirring resentment for attacks on a war hero. With a week to go, both candidates seemed to have an equal chance to win South Carolina, and whoever does will have a strong chance of winning the nomination. The negative ads may work against a harmonious resolution, but so far neither candidate feels as much rancor for the other as Bill Bradley feels toward Al Gore.
And the scrapping shouldn't cause permanent damage. The real question for the fall is whether the Republican nominee can credibly carry the banner of reform. For most of the 1990s Republicans have let it fall. President George Bush, advised by aide James Pinkerton to call for domestic reform after the superb performance of the reformed military in the Persian Gulf war, simply didn't get it and let Ross Perot seize the reform label. The Contract With America promised internal reform in the House, and in 1995 Republicans mostly delivered. But, spooked by the 1995-96 budget showdown, they've mostly let Bill Clinton frame the issues since. Now Bush or McCain, with similar stands on most issues but different concepts of reform, will likely be facing Al Gore, who can plausibly be depicted as the candidate of the status quo. South Carolina will help tell us who can hold higher the banner of
01/03/00: The voters rule: In Manchester, Mexico, and Moscow, an imperfect system works