Bill Press: Gore drowns in his own honey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like many responsible pet owners, Carol and I had our dog Wolf fixed so he
wouldn't sire any pups. Years later, I still remember the moment he returned from the vet.
I was reminded of that pained look in his eyes as I watched Al Gore in last
Whatever happened to Al the Barbarian? The man who knows better than anybody
how to destroy an opponent with his mastery of the facts? Where was the clever
repartee? Why did he let George Bush get away with so much without going in for the kill?
Al Gore was emasculated by his handlers. He sat there as if he were embarrassed to be on the same stage and ashamed of taking up so much time. He let pass countless openings to unmask Bush as uninformed. He was so damned nice, he ended up drowning in his own honey.
To be fair, Gore got in a few good licks, especially when challenging Bush on
his much vaunted, but still largely unexamined, record as governor of Texas. He
correctly chided Bush for opposing new hate crimes legislation named after black hate crime
victim James Byrd Jr. He noted that Texas leads the nation in dirty air and industrial
pollution. And he accused the governor of having the worst record on health care in the country.
"Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states in children with health care," Gore
stated, "49th for women with health care and 50th for families with health care."
Those were devastating statistics that Bush couldn't refute, and didn't even try to. Instead, he lamely suggested Gore was accusing him of having a hard heart. Score that one for Gore. Big time.
But, most of the time, Gore just sat on his tongue. His performance was a
string of missed opportunities.
When Bush giggled and said, of course nobody wants guns around schools, it
was the perfect chance for Gore to point out that under the concealed weapons law
signed by Governor Bush in 1997, guns can legally be carried onto school grounds and
into elementary and high school athletic events. Instead, he remained silent.
When Bush insisted that gays and lesbians deserve equal rights, but not
special rights, and admitted he'd never even heard of the pending Employment Nondiscrimination
Act, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual preference, Gore should have
jumped all over him for ignoring the most important civil rights legislation now in
Congress and reminded the governor that there's nothing "special" about the ability to
get a job. It's a basic right of all Americans, gay or straight. Gore never said beans.
Even when the vice president disagreed with Bush, he apologized for doing so.
"Maybe I heard the previous statement wrong, governor, but..." he started out,
daring to differ with Bush on the presence of U.S. troops in the Balkans. What a wuss! The
record is clear. Bush has called for pulling all American forces out of Bosnia and
Kosovo. He is dead wrong. The result would be disastrous. Gore should have nailed him on
it, and didn't.
Gore's new, softer demeanor was a strategic decision. He was anxious to avoid
the perceived mistakes of the first debate: no more exaggerations, mistakes or
sighs. But he went too far, smothering all his fire and conviction in momentary niceness.
He didn't sigh but he didn't really try, either.
Which was a big mistake. This race is too close. This is the time for baring
the differences, not for blurring them. To rebuild his standing in the polls and regain
momentum, Gore needed to demonstrate clearly why he is equipped to be president and George
Bush is not.
He needed to poke holes in Bush's record. He needed to pound home the flaws
in Bush's proposals for tax cuts, Social Security and Medicare. He needed to destroy
George Bush the same way he destroyed Ross Perot. He accomplished none of the above.
Fortunately for Gore, there's one more debate, one more chance to make the
contrast between himself and his junior opponent. But to do so, Gore has to take off
the gloves and get back to his old, aggressive self.
Let Al Gore be Al Gore. Or he'll lose the next debate, too -- and perhaps the