Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2000 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
He seems to be a nice enough guy. He is easy on the eyes and on the nerves, too. He can be pretty funny. He makes friends easily; people like him. He seems to be fundamentally honest. He is a decent man. He is loyal. He is a reasonably effective and popular governor of a large state.
Yet there is something about him that gives even some determined Republicans a powerful twinge. He reminds an observer of the amiable but slightly dim young men who populated the novels of P. G. Wodehouse--Bertram Wooster, and Catsmeat Potter and Reginald Fotheringay-Phipps and all the rest. Regarding Wooster, Wodehouse once noted, one was forced to question whether man was really God's last word. So too with Bush. The things that fall out of his mouth are a marvel and a worry:
On education: "My education program will resignate among all parents." On foreign policy: "A key to foreign policy is to rely on reliance." On whether Social Security recipients will receive the same benefits under his plan as under the current system: "Maybe, maybe not." On his budget proposal: "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
So why is this less than overwhelming candidate outpolling Al Gore, a smarty with 10 times the experience in government, including two terms as vice president in an administration that has presided over a period of such prosperity? Because, going into 2000, the Democrats made the same mistake that the Republicans made going into 1996; they believed their own propaganda. The Big Four of Democratic self-delusion:
* Bill Clinton. Core Democrats adore Clinton and accept his view of his disgrace--that he was the victim of what amounted to a right-wing coup attempt. It was natural for these Democrats to believe the public would in 2000 punish Republicans for the impeachment. But a majority of the public, the polls show, does not mind at all that Clinton was impeached (but not convicted and removed), and this majority's opinion of Clinton is closer to the Republican view than to the Democratic: He may have performed well as president, but he disgraced the office and shamed the country. Gore is hopelessly tied to Clinton, and whenever it seems people might be forgetting Clinton's scandal, the old narcissist reminds them with a fresh complaint about his mistreatment. In the latest such, the president railed to a writer for Esquire magazine that the Republicans had "never apologized to the country for impeachment." Mr. Helpful.
* Al Gore. Democratic loyalists may not adore Gore, but they like him fine and assumed the voters liked him fine, too. But the voters didn't know Gore that well, and when they did get to know him, a lot of them decided he was not likable. More attention should have been paid to the fact that Gore was never popular with his colleagues in the House and Senate.
* Natural Democratic demagogic superiority. With the help of myth-making media, Democrats came to see themselves as the inevitable victors in any public relations contest with those bumble-footed Republicans. But the party's success rested heavily on its ability to convincingly portray Republicans as monstrous creatures. This was possible because Clinton was a demagogue of unusual skill, and the Republicans were frequently represented by figures of unusual unattractiveness--e.g., Newt Gingrich. Gore isn't Clinton and Bush isn't Gingrich. Despite impressively vicious efforts, Democrats so far have been unable to convince enough voters that a "compassionate conservative" who was returned to the Texas governor's office with 68 percent of the vote fits the monster's mask.
* Above all, the issues. The Democrats told themselves that the voters generally sided with them on the issues. The Gore campaign, on the advice of strategists such as the pollster Stan Greenberg, bet on old-fashioned Democratic class-based liberalism. But the country remains more conservative than liberal in more places, and the majority view on such issues as taxes and big government jibes more with Republican philosophy than Democratic. This was rediscovered late in the game; thus the ludicrous sight of Gore in recent weeks assuring voters of his friendliness to gun owners and promising that, as president, he will not add a single new employee to the federal government.
If Gore wins, he will owe victory to extraordinary turnout by black and labor voters and to the apparent weaknesses of his opponent. But the myths the Democrats carried into the year are exploded
10/26/00: Phony Truce