Tags: Analysis: | What | Gore | Failed

Analysis: What Al Gore Failed to Do

Sunday, 05 November 2000 12:00 AM

It should never have been a close race. Gore inherited eight years of peace and prosperity and rode on the wings of the longest and biggest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history. The Clinton administration, in which he was the No. 2 figure, solved decades-long problems of welfare and balanced the budget.

Credit for that should be shared with the Republican-controlled Congresses after 1994, but historically, political credit for such achievements always goes to the sitting president and his executive staff, not to the legislature of the time, however important it actually was.

Why is Gore struggling so hard instead of coasting home an easy winner?

Gore made three big strategic mistakes in the last two months of his campaign, following his dramatic surge back into contention at and after the Democratic National Convention in August.

First, Gore, with his lifelong hero-worship of legendary President Harry Truman, tried to cast the 2000 campaign in the mold of the 1948 one.

To echo the title of a long-forgotten British radio comedy program, he tried to star in "At Last, The 1948 Show." He ran an angry, sleeves-rolled-up populist campaign against the evil of special interests. But the American public, with the largest and wealthiest middle class in their history, did not respond to that.

Second, Gore's own character turned the American people off. With everything he had going for him, and the palpable tactical weakness of Gov. Bush, he did not inspire either liking or trust in the American people. The more they saw of him in the presidential debates, the less they liked or trusted him. And dozens of opinion polls through September and October showed it.

Gov. Bush had never been a strong public debater and Gore is a legendary one. In terms of his command of the facts and the arguments, he always had the better of a cautious and often nervous Bush. But in the one place it really mattered, the minds of the public, he lost big, though not decisively.

Third, Gore proved prickly, thin-skinned and self-destructively proud in refusing to use his greatest asset, the president of the United States. He repeatedly frustrated and eventually even humiliated the president in his determination to turn down his generous offers to campaign in the crucial Midwest industrial swing states where the election will be decided.

Those states have been Bill Clinton's third home after Arkansas and Washington during his years in the presidency. Coming from a poor and difficult family background himself, Clinton understands instinctively the worries and concerns of working people there on farms, in heavy industries and in the middle-class suburbs alike. He carried those states by wide margins in 1992 and 1996.

But Gore was too proud to use Clinton. It seemed he would rather face losing in his own right rather than "Do the Right Thing" politically and enlist the help of the president he had served. In doing so, Gore was also spitting in the face of popular electoral history.

The only two sitting vice presidents ever to immediately win the presidency – Van Buren in 1836 and the elder Bush in 1988 – both did so with the active support and running on the record of the president they succeeded. Even Truman, Gore's hero, did that in 1948, capitalizing on his role as the heir and defender of the heritage of the four-times-elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Bill Clinton has forgotten more about the glorious game of electoral politics than Al Gore will ever learn. He is the first triumphantly twice-elected Democratic president since FDR. (The Republicans have enjoyed three since then – Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan.) And despite his impeachment experience in 1998/99, the American people have repeatedly shown in polls that on matters of national issues citizens still respect his judgment. If Clinton had been allowed to come out swinging for Al Gore, they would have listened. But Gore would not let him.

If Gore still scrapes home to victory, it will be in spite of his own energetic campaign, not because of it. And if loses, he will only have himself to blame. But if he wins, his treatment of Clinton already raises – for those with eyes to see – worrying questions about a man who, as it was said of William Jennings Bryan 100 years ago, "would rather be wrong than president."

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It should never have been a close race. Gore inherited eight years of peace and prosperity and rode on the wings of the longest and biggest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history. The Clinton administration, in which he was the No. 2 figure, solved decades-long...
Sunday, 05 November 2000 12:00 AM
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