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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: Gore's insulting, and sudden, agreeability with Bradley

March 3, 2000
Web posted at: 1:24 p.m. EST (1824 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The most insulting thing Al Gore said during the Democratic debate in Los Angeles Wednesday night was, "I agree with Bill Bradley."

Gore has spent months savaging his opponent as a dangerous radical whose policy proposals would drag America back to a darker age. As recently as last week, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Gore implied that a Bradley presidency would be a disaster for black Americans.

By Wednesday, the vice president's tone had changed dramatically. Gore couldn't seem to say enough kind things about the former senator from New Jersey. At times he even seemed to admit that, in fact, he and Bradley share almost identical views on most issues. Gore's graciousness was the surest sign yet that Bradley's presidential campaign, while still twitching, has died. Gore could afford to be kind because he has already won. The 90-minute program felt more like a denouement than a debate.

A pat on the back from Al Gore is the political equivalent of a Mafia death kiss, and he gave several of them to John McCain. Gore declared himself heartily in agreement with McCain's positions on campaign finance reform, and otherwise made the Republican senator sound like an ideological amigo. McCain himself did not watch the debate, though he sounded distinctly unimpressed when told about it the next day.

Why do you suppose Gore was being so nice to you? a reporter asked the Arizona senator as his campaign bus headed to the Los Angeles airport. McCain grimaced. "Did he say anything about his friend Maria Hsia?" McCain responded, referring to the Gore fund-raiser recently convicted on five felony counts.

In other words: It isn't over yet. Al Gore and I are still competing for the presidency.

McCain's more immediate challenge, of course, comes from Gov. George W. Bush. While McCain is running well in New York and New England, he continues to trail Bush badly in California, the South and several delegate-rich Midwestern states. By last night's debate, McCain was feeling the pressure. For a man who has successfully bailed out of four disabled airplanes, McCain seemed strikingly nervous in the minutes before he went on the air, by remote from a television studio in St. Louis. As it turned out, the debate probably changed few votes.

As usual, the night's most memorable lines came from Alan Keyes, who immediately launched into an attack on Bill Clinton as a "shameless, lying, oath-breaking president." Keyes can be amusing. Overall, however, he was insufferable. He whined about not being interviewed on the broadcast networks. He once again accused the media of racism. He even went after CNN, whose air he was polluting.

Alan Keyes is a bully, and incredibly unpleasant. Keeping Keyes out of future televised debates would be a welcome piece of campaign reform.

McCain and Bush, meanwhile, both gave serviceable performances, though it was Bush who won the Most Improved Debater award. Apart from his smirk, which appears to be involuntary (last night he actually laughed during a question about the death penalty), Bush has managed to get control over most of his less appealing tics. He now looks, if not quite presidential, far more serious and credible than he did in earlier appearances. Bush is a better politician than he was six months ago, and he has John McCain to thank for it.

 
ELECTION 2000


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