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The incredible shrinking Al Gore
By W. James Antle III
Al Gore's speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, in which he came out swinging against the Bush administration's likely war against Iraq, has elicited a thunderous response. The problem for the man who would like a second chance at being the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 is that this response was overwhelmingly negative.
Conservative commentators in all media had a field day sifting through the former vice president's contradictions. But even some friends of Al disapproved. The New Republic, a relentless Gore cheerleader during the 2000 campaign, published an editorial highly critical of his speech. The American Prowler quoted a former Gore adviser who has signed onto another Democratic presidential aspirant's campaign as saying, "This guy's an anchor around our party's neck. Someone has to cut him loose." The same article reports that some Democrats are urging Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, to do just that by reversing course and launching his own presidential bid - even if this requires a challenge to Gore.
This criticism is well deserved. I am not one who believes that we should blindly support President Bush on Iraq; indeed, I have long been skeptical about an Iraq war, although I do think the administration is increasingly satisfying my objections as well as the constitutional requirements that Congress authorize such hostilities. But Gore's remarks were patently dishonest and characteristically self-serving. He misrepresented the current status of the war on terrorism (he first alleged that no one has suffered any consequences for the September 11 terrorist attack; then he downplayed the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the most obvious example that this is not the case, as the "defeat of a fifth-rate military power") and falsely claimed that we are following "this doctrine of wash your hands and walk away" in Afghanistan. The New Republic's editors correctly noted that the speech "consisted of neither honest criticism nor honest opposition."
Gore hasn't approached other issues much differently. He's once again willing to associate himself with Bill Clinton, suggesting that the two of them "did a hell of a job with the economy" before President Bush came along and wrecked it.
Yet the economy was already showing signs of decline in 2000, while Clinton was still in office and it was unclear whether Bush or Gore would be the next president. Bush inherited a shrinking private-sector economy from Clinton; by contrast, Clinton inherited a growing economy from Bush's father. Honest people can disagree over whether the present administration's economic polices are sound, but it is unfair to blame the president for all our economic woes.
It may be an article of faith among Democrats these days that the 1993 Clinton-Gore tax increase balanced the budget and thus allowed low interest rates to stimulate economic growth, while Bush's 2001 tax cut threw the budget of out balance and caused a recession like the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s. But economic growth was lackluster until Clinton was in his second term, when the budget was actually balanced despite the enactment of several tax cuts, including a capital-gains tax cut. Some of the late 1990s growth rates were exaggerated by the expansionary M2 during that period, which in turn arguably contributed to the "bubble" that has since burst in our faces.
Instead, Gore rages against Republican ties to the rich and sounds as if he is running against Herbert Hoover. If he actually means what he says in his increasingly obnoxious rhetoric of economic populism, we can even presume that his economic policies will be far more statist than Clinton's. After all, Clinton eroded and but did not completely repeal the Reagan tax cuts. He promoted free trade, most notably through the passage of NAFTA and GATT. As mentioned earlier, he even accepted the Republican-controlled Congress' tax cuts during his second term and signed welfare reform into law. Sure, Clinton was not above class warfare, especially during his first year in office or while opposing personal income-tax rate reductions, but he never harped on income redistribution as endlessly as Gore does now.
That Gore is so obsessively negative about everything the Bush administration does - even, as National Review On-Line editor Jonah Goldberg recently argued, when it is not much different than what a Gore administration would likely do - reflects partisanship, contempt for President Bush and naked ambition. These attributes, which have always made some people find Gore so unpleasant, seem to be getting worse with time. Democrats are going to have to ask themselves if this is what they are looking for in a nominee. This kind of smallness is definitely not what we need in a president.
James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.
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