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Carlson Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.

Tucker Carlson: The 'compassionate conservative' gets angry

February 16, 2000
Web posted at: 1:04 p.m. EST (1804 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- You didn't hear the phrase "compassionate conservatism" much in the Republican debate Tuesday night. Over the past week in South Carolina, George W. Bush has waged one of the roughest primary campaigns in memory. The man who describes himself as "a uniter, not a divider" has gone profoundly negative against his chief rival, John McCain. When he talks about his political philosophy, Bush typically goes out of his way to sound gentle and inclusive. He didn't bother during the debate on Larry King Live.

Instead, Bush sounded angry, raising his voice and scowling. He seemed close to losing his temper several times, usually when the three others on the set attempted to speak over him. Bush hates -- absolutely can't stand, won't tolerate -- to be interrupted. During the first hour of the debate I tried to count the number of times he petulantly snapped, "Let me finish," or "May I finish?" or "Wait a minute!" My pen ran out of ink before I completed the tally, but the point was clear: Bush, not McCain, appears to be the one with the temper problem.

Not that either one of them is even in the same league as Alan Keyes. Keyes provided his usual mixture of brilliant oratory and overbearing self-importance, except this time, with the other minor challengers gone, he seemed weirdly out of place.

How did a candidate with precisely no chance of becoming president, a man who has never been elected to anything, wind up sharing the stage with Bush and McCain? In a word: intimidation. Four years ago, the organizers of the Republican debate in South Carolina decided to exclude fringe candidates. Keyes promptly accused state Republicans of racism and went on a hunger strike. Several days later, he made headlines when he was arrested in Atlanta outside another forum from which he had been excluded. It quickly became clear that, however worthy a goal it might be, keeping Keyes out isn't worth the trouble. And so this time Keyes shared the bill with the real candidates.

Keyes' performance may win him support from evangelicals in South Carolina, and every vote he receives will come directly from George W. Bush. But Keyes is hardly Bush's greatest problem. Bush's problem is one of heft. He still seems light, even when he shouts. And even when he shouts, he still can't seem to speak correctly.

Bush mispronounced the words "tactical," "nuclear," and Lugar" (as in Sen. Dick) in the course of a single sentence. A few moments later, he mangled "admirably" beyond recognition, and left viewers wondering how many syllables the word "strategic" has. (Two, three or four, by Bush's count.) At another point, he declared that as Americans, "we ought to make the pie higher." Huh?

McCain, who during his years in the Senate has sometimes been accused of shallowness, looks like Winston Churchill by comparison. Toward the end of the debate, McCain tried to make the point explicit, describing himself as a "grownup," presumably in contrast to Bush's callowness. Bush was clearly infuriated by the remark. That's "weak," Bush snorted, "weak," as if McCain had just told an unfunny joke.

It was a clever attempt to dismiss the dig, but in the end not terribly convincing. "Grownup" - by the end of the night the word was still hanging in the air.

 
ELECTION 2000


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Wednesday, February 16, 2000


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