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Jewish World ReviewAugust 15, 2000 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5760

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Voting for grown-ups -- THE CHATTERING CLASSES derisively suggest that both Al Gore and George W. Bush need to convince us that they possess what each appears to lack: that Al Gore, like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, needs a heart; and George Bush, like the Scarecrow, needs a brain.

Does Bush have the smarts to serve as the commander in chief of the world's only superpower, the wisdom to make appointments to the Supreme Court, and the knowledge and insight to use the bully pulpit of the White House to shape our national agenda? How bothersome is it that he demonstrates a disdain for learning, that he shifts from the political center before the primaries to the hard right in South Carolina and then back again to the center, raising questions about his principles? As Bush himself put it, "I think anybody who doesn't think I'm smart enough to handle the job is underestimating [me]."

But Bush has demonstrated ample gravitas since the primaries. His widely praised acceptance speech suggests he is determined now to lead his party–and to a kinder, gentler place at that. His policy proposals have been refreshing. He connects with the public through his warmth and his feist- iness. And he was sagacious in his choice of a running mate. Dick Cheney is an outstanding public figure: serious, talented, mature, tempered, trustworthy, and experienced in foreign policy and national security.

Straight shooter. Al Gore emerged from the primaries as an enhanced candidate, then floundered. His approval numbers reflected Clinton's personal ratings rather than Clinton's job approval ratings–not a happy fate. He has not displayed the easy ability of Clinton to connect with an audience on TV, and the slow speed with which he speaks and the changeovers of his public style have led many to believe that he is driven by calculation rather than conviction. Yet if Gore lacks Clinton's political skills, he also lacks his faults. There is no straighter, more honorable man in public life. He has a deep understanding of the digital economy, national security policy, and environmental threats. He played a key role in the fiscal discipline that turned the horrendous deficits into a surplus, arguably the single most important contribution of public policy to our current prosperity. And he has courage. He was one of the first lawmakers from a tobacco state to take on the cigarette companies.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to check out this view with former Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, Gore's co-chair of the commission supervising the Russia-United States agenda. "He was the most unusual public official I have ever dealt with," said Chernomyrdin. "After a full day of reviewing the U.S.-Russia agenda, Gore would sit me down for dinner and grill me over how and why I had made the various decisions I had to as leader of Russia. How were they staffed? Why were they made when they were made? How did I think about them and prepare for them? Then after being grilled for four or five hours, he would call me the next morning and say, 'I have been thinking about last night's conversations and I have a few more questions.' And he would grill me again for two to three hours over breakfast. He sought to learn from whatever experience I had on how to make better decisions, and how to understand how decisions are made in Russia, so that, if he were president, he might be able to better advance this relationship." This bespeaks a man smart and humble enough to try to learn from another's experience–and eager to understand how a potential adversarial state functions.

Then there is Gore's bold and creative selection of Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Lieberman is a man of great moral stature who has, throughout his career, addressed the cultural concerns that have so bedeviled our society.

Given that our culture is an increasingly important transmission belt of values to our children and is awash with gratuitous, senseless violence, brutality, and sex; given that the authority of churches and schools is diminished; given that entertainers and sports figures have replaced politicians and moral thinkers as the nation's most admired people yet rarely provide a moral direction to follow, it is a great beneficence to have political leadership with moral authority.

So if we ask again: Does Gore have the heart and does Bush have the smarts? The answers must be, as in The Wizard, that they do. The American people deserve grown-up leaders who can be trusted to do the right thing when the unexpected happens, leaders who will not simply maintain our prosperity but also address issues of moral drift. Both tickets fill this requirement.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Mortimer Zuckerman