By Dolph C. Simons Jr.
Now, after two "debates" one with the presidential candidates and one between the vice presidential hopefuls the major differences between the two tickets should be fairly clear to anyone who has been paying attention to the issues.
The Gore-Lieberman team favors bigger government and greater federal government intrusion into the lives of all Americans. The Democrats also are likely to seek higher taxes to pay for bigger government programs and handouts and a drift toward socialism.
The Bush-Cheney ticket believes in a smaller federal government role in the lives and activities of all Americans. The Republicans favor lower taxes and the idea that tax dollars are generated by taxpayers and that a part of any tax surplus should be returned to taxpayers. They also focus attention on the need for accountability and testing in this nation's public schools.
The Gore effort believes the federal government is the answer to most needs or challenges an individual may face. The Bush program says individuals have the ability and common sense to meet and solve most problems without government interference or control.
One undecided governor who has been wooed by both Gore and Bush recently said Gore's belief is that the government has the solution or is the solution to most any problem or issue. He said Gore is far more liberal than Clinton.
One facet of the presidential and vice-presidential debates is how to handle the delicate issue of honesty and moral character. When Bush was asked by the moderator what his thoughts were about any moral weaknesses in his opponent, the Texas governor pointed to Gore's fund-raising activities. This prompted some loyal Democrats to claim Bush had been unfair in his attack. Likewise, when Cheney was asked a similar question, he pointed out how Lieberman has adopted a different public position on violence in the entertainment industry now that he and Gore are seeking the White House. A few months ago, he was quite critical of the entertainment industry, and now he has softened his position and is eager to accept large financial contributions from Hollywood.
Again, Bush and Cheney are accused of attack tactics, but how are they supposed to respond when asked to comment on the character question? If Bush and Cheney had a record of engaging in similar activities, it's a sure bet Gore and Lieberman would have been far more brutal in their criticism.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson is highly respected by both Democratic and Republican senators, and he doesn't pull any punches when he says Gore cannot be trusted and his word is not his bond. Simpson speaks from first-hand knowledge, pointing to instances in which he was directly involved with Gore.
In the Bush-Clinton campaign, and later in the Dole-Clinton campaign, Republicans tried to get Americans to believe "character" should be an issue. It's obvious many voters wore blinders or ear plugs on this issue because they elected Clinton, hardly an example of shining character and moral standards.
So, maybe the public doesn't care, and this is why Gore finds it so easy to lie or fabricate stories and situations. Maybe he saw it was easy for Clinton to lie and get away with it, so why not try it himself. He doesn't seem embarrassed when caught in such an act, and, in fact, usually follows with another exaggeration. As former Sen. Bill Bradley asked during the Democratic primary campaign, "Why should we believe you will tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?"
If Bush or Cheney had such a record is there any question that Gore, in particular, would be hammering away at any weakness or flaw in their character or actions?
Some years ago, in the early days of Clinton's campaign against George Bush, two top-level campaign strategists for Clinton were quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying fear was the most effective tool in a presidential campaign and that they planned to use it as a tactic whenever possible. Gore is following the same strategy, trying to plant fear in the minds of voters about benefits being denied or taken away from various groups within the U.S. if Bush is elected.
Accompanying this tactic is the Gore-Lieberman effort to try to split the country and its citizens, pitting one group against another: the "top 1 percent of the wealthy" against the poor, the middle class against the rich, big oil against those who have a hard time paying heating bills, big pharmaceutical companies against the poor who must decide whether they can afford food or prescription drugs, etc., etc. There's little, if any, effort to bridge differences; the goal is to try to divide the country.
As Sen. Simpson noted in a television interview following one of the debates, Sen. Lieberman often tried to reach out to Republican members of the Senate to bring about meaningful legislation and gain bipartisan support for major issues. However, he said, Gore had a very poor record in this regard when he served in the Senate.
With two debates now finished, there probably isn't going to be much new in the next two debates. Bush and Gore will try to strengthen any areas where they may have seemed weak in the first debate. They will try to present a clearer picture of their plans on Social Security, health care and education. And they may decide to be less confrontational in light of how well both Lieberman and Cheney conducted themselves on Thursday.
It may be a matter of who is able to maintain their "cool," not get rattled and present the more genuine, decent image. Who knows what the public is looking for? Is there a large number of voters who will base their votes merely on which candidate promises the most handouts and federal assistance? After eight years of lies and inaction in many areas, will voters decide to continue the Clinton-Gore philosophy of government or will they say it is time for a change?
Are the minds of most voters made up? The answer probably is yes. Are there really any substantial number of undecided voters, or is there a growing number of possible voters enjoying the attention gained by being looked upon as undecided?
Who knows? Maybe the next two debates will bring out something new and exciting about each of the candidates and what they stand for, but it's far more likely the issues and fundamental differences already have been made clear. With the choices rather clear, what do American voters want in their chief executive?