Meet the new Al Gore

By Nicholas Sanchez
web posted March 20, 2000

Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee for president Al Gore has on separate occasions sought to reassure the American public that, in addition to being a solid family man, he is also a deeply religious man as well. He is, after all, a Southern Baptist.

This may explain why Mr. Gore has decided to offer a public testimonial about his recent "born-again" experience. No, he has not dared to mention the name of Jesus Christ in the public square as his GOP rival Governor George W. Bush has. Mr. Gore's recent conversion has been to the cause of so-called "campaign finance reform."

With Senator John McCain's now receding from the political scene like a sunset over the Arizona desert, Al Gore is poised to take up his call for "reform" in the political arena. Gore is hoping that this is the issue that will define his candidacy, separate him from George W, and lead him all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

This is the same Al Gore who went soliciting for campaign dollars in a Buddhist temple and collected huge checks from Buddhist "nuns" who had sworn off worldly possessions. This is the same Al Gore who, just a few years ago, could find "no legal controlling authority" in his dialing for dollars scheme in the Clinton/Gore '96 re-election bid. And this is the same Al Gore who has served in an administration that rented out the Lincoln Bedroom - the Lincoln Bedroom! - as if it were a Motel 6. This is the same man, his advisors and press people advise us, who is the nation's new champion of campaign finance reform - Al Gore.

To demonstrate his newfound enthusiasm for cleaning up the currently corrupt political system, Al Gore recently met with reporters from the New York Times. (This interview was conducted between campaign stops aboard Air Force 2.) In this interview, Gore offered a weak mea culpa for his past transgressions, and then moved on to more important matters: namely, the evil rich white guys who surround George W and who are trying to buy a national election. Gore went on to say that both he and Bush should forgo using any "soft money" and that Bush is to be criticized for turning down federal matching funds in the primary season.

So . . . from Gore's comments the public is left to believe that: A) while Gore may have done some things in the past that were not technically legal, he should have to offer no further explanations for his actions in 1996, next question please. B) Although Gore continues to spend a great deal of his time raising soft money, neither he nor Bush should actually be able to use it in the campaign. And C) Bush has done a bad thing by seeking voluntary campaign contributions, as opposed to putting his hand in the federal cookie jar to finance his bid for the presidency.

Needless to say, this is very fractured logic on the part of Gore.

Fortunately, it is so fractured that if the Bush campaign chooses to seize upon the opportunity, they may be able to stifle Gore's attempt to make the campaign finance reform a winning issue for him. To neutralize this issue, Bush should consider the following course of action:

  1. Stop putting forth any and all further "reform" proposals. By solidly endorsing the McCain-Feingold proposal, Gore has filled the vacuum of McCain's campaign. Any attempt by Bush to offer salami-slice proposals of his own will look like nothing more than pandering. Such an appearance will turn off independent voters and will anger grassroots conservatives - two key constituencies that Bush cannot afford to alienate.
  2. Point to the unconstitutionality of the McCain-Feingold legislation. Early in the primary season, all that the voters heard coming from the lips of George W was that the reason that the campaign finance reform legislation put forth by Sen. McCain would "hurt the Republican Party." This is true - but there is a much more compelling case to be made, not the least of which is that McCain-Feingold would limit freedom of political speech. This argument has not been adequately made to the public.
  3. Realize that the interest in campaign finance reform, a la John McCain, is largely an invention of Inside the Beltway types. Polling has shown that even in New Hampshire - where McCain put the fear of death into the Bush campaign - voters who were concerned specifically with "campaign finance reform" accounted for about 3 per cent of the electorate. This is an issue that is dined on nightly in Georgetown but barely registers in Peoria. And...
  4. Do not be afraid to go on the attack. As has been previously pointed out, Al Gore has an atrocious record in the area of fundraising. What he and his mentor Bill Clinton did, and the money that they inserted into American politics is a scandal. The fact that Gore is willing to claim that he is the only one qualified to clean up a dirty political scene shows that there is an intellectual honesty/morality free zone that surrounds him and his campaign advisors.

Al Gore speaks with the zeal of a convert on the issue of reform because he knows that he, in reality, is not unlike the altar boy who has been caught in the sacristy sipping sacramental wine. His newfound faith is a result of his doing bad things in the past, bad things that he promises to never, ever do again. Be not afraid, George W, and nail him on his hypocrisy.

Nicholas Sanchez is director of Development at the Free Congress Foundation.

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