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The Case for Gore

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This is an election about who flies the plane

I mean no disrespect to the Undecideds or the Occasionally Decideds, or to the non-Republican faithfuls who have come to the conclusion that George W. Bush should be President of the United States. But, are you kidding?

Here is a choice between an apparently amiable fellow who talks about bringing people together and a man with 24 years' experience in national government and international affairs who is extraordinarily competent, clear-headed, fair-minded, egalitarian to the bones; who will enact policies that retain and make the best use of our astonishing prosperity; and who is--as I know personally--big-hearted, honest, loyal, devoted to his wife, children and friends and (does one really need to say this?) likable.

Why is this election so close? Because too many people see money up, crime down and their own gardens in bloom, and thus conclude that matters of public policy have no connection to their life. So they focus on nonsense. They tilt toward Bush in the debates out of some adolescent response to powerlessness and ineptitude. They tilt away from Gore because he appears to know that he's intellectually superior to and more civic-minded than his opponent. He is.

My fellow Americans: It's not about likability. It's about who keeps the checklist, who flies the plane.

On this wonk business: I spoke with Gore in his hotel room the week before last. Having completed a day of Regis, Oprah, Saturday Night Live and the Al Smith dinner, and set to wake up at 5 a.m. to do the Today show, he stretched out and had a beer. It was close to midnight. He should have been exhausted. Instead, in answer to my questions, he sailed into exquisitely detailed, many-referenced and well-over-my-head explanations of the economy, the arms race and anything else his mind embraced.

Why? Not to impress me, I assure you. It's simply that he loves traveling in academic territory. If his tendency to sometimes talk like a monograph comes off as bullying, it's a flaw of style. Live with it. When he is President, we will all smile it off as a treasurable quirk.

Or do you prefer George W.'s response to the 34-year-old single woman in the third debate who asked how his tax plan would affect her: "You get a plan that will include prescription drugs... You're going to live in a peaceful world... It's less likely that you'll be harmed in your neighborhood"? Is it for thinking like this that Bush has received a press pass to the election?

You may agree more or less with Gore's support of gun control, abortion laws, gay rights, affirmative action or his assertiveness on foreign policy. But on matters affecting the public good--which have relevance for even the most prosperous among us--the differences between the candidates are night and day.

HEALTH CARE Gore will use $253 billion of the budget surplus between now and 2010 for prescription-drug coverage for the elderly under Medicare. Bush devotes $110 billion to overhaul Medicare and relies on the as yet undemonstrated goodwill of insurance companies to provide a drug benefit. Whenever Gore brings up this subject or Social Security or any threat to the elderly, he's accused of scare tactics. I should hope so.

EDUCATION Bush advocates school vouchers, which offer little more than a down payment on private-school tuition and draw tax money away from public schools. Gore will give $115 billion over 10 years to increase the federal contribution to state and local governments. Today's generation of students is the largest in American history, and 97% of them go to public schools. The nation survives on learning. Is public education worth saving? Let's have a show of hands.

THE ENVIRONMENT A new U.N.-sponsored study came out last week stating that global warming is worse than anyone had thought and that human pollution is a substantial cause. Gore pledges a remarkable $171 billion in tax credits and subsidies over 10 years to wean us off our reliance on oil and gas and get rid of polluting factories. Bush--who knows or cares nothing about this subject--finds it convenient to deny that people have anything to do with pollution and wants to solve our oil problems by drilling on pristine lands. In a major speech this week, with swing states like Michigan in the balance, Gore plans to say, "Environmental protections will be at the core of my presidency."

THE ECONOMY Gore's proposals derive from a view of the economy that balances the budget, decreases the debt, reassures the markets, keeps long-term interest rates low and employment high--all of which have brought us to the very prosperity that evidently has blinded some folks as to how we got here.

That night I interviewed him, I reversed Reagan and asked if we'd be better off four years from now. Off the top of a sleepless head, he spoke of even more jobs and health care for every child. And then he said this: "America has a two-part mission. First, to prove that freedom unlocks human potential. Second, to prove that we have the capacity to rise above racial and religious differences and hatreds. The suffering people of the world, when they hope, look to us for a sign of their own potential. I see a future, now near to us, in which we become more consciously dedicated to fulfilling both our missions, so that we may lead ourselves, and the world, toward humanity's best destiny." Likable enough?


CHRISTOPHER MORRIS--BLACK STAR FOR TIME If you're looking for substance over style, then Al's your man



Cover Date: November 6, 2000



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