Bill Schneider on the presidential campaign
CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider discusses the final days of the election campaign and the latest on George W. Bush's 1976 DUI disclosure.
Q: What are the likely effects or fallout from the DUI revelation?
SCHNEIDER: It's very hard to tell right now. It does raise serious questions about what is on Bush's record from before 14 years ago, a period Bush has been unwilling to talk about, except to indicate that he did things in those days he's not proud of. It could raise some questions in voters' minds about whether they are ready to make someone president about whom there are still questions.
Remember, he is running on the character issue. Questions about his character and his past are certainly not welcome at the last stage of the campaign.
On the other hand, the charge itself is not terribly serious, although it's more than a youthful indiscretion. First of all, he wasn't a youth. Second of all, it isn't an indiscretion; it's a menace to public safety.
The Bush campaign is trying to spin this into an attack on the Democrats for dirty politics, because the source of the information appears to have been a Democratic activist, although someone not tied directly to the Gore campaign.
... One cannot, based on present information, say that this was clearly a dirty trick by the Gore campaign. It looks like an effort by a freelance Democratic activist to damage Gov. Bush. That's all we know. You cannot say it was a dirty trick by the Gore campaign at this point, although clearly a Democratic activist in Maine had a hand in it.
Bush is trying to argue that this is a dirty trick -- if not by the Gore campaign, at least by the Democrats.
You could have an impact that helps Bush by infuriating Republicans and driving them to polls in huge numbers. Republicans are just enraged, not just at the Democrats, but also at the press for springing this story at the end of the campaign.
Q: What are the strategies for both campaigns in the final days? Will the DUI revelation affect those strategies?
SCHNEIDER: I don't think either campaign is likely to change strategy. But what the story does is, it monopolizes press attention for a day, maybe two, depending on where the story goes. There are various pieces of the story that could get picked up, like efforts to try to tie it to Al Gore or the presses effort to try to find out whether there is anything else we don't know about in Bush's past. If that goes nowhere, the story probably dies.
Does it affect the strategy? Not directly. I think Bush has tried to deal with it and raised questions about whether it was a Democratic dirty trick, and probably leave it to rest. The Gore campaign is keeping a distance from this.
Each candidate is pursuing his own strategy, mostly trying to raise questions in the voters' minds about the other guy.
Q: With times so good in the nation, why has Al Gore had such trouble in getting voters' allegiances?
SCHNEIDER: You would think this should be an easy win for Gore, just like 1988 was an easy win for Bush's father. The reason is that voters want a change of leadership. They don't want a change of direction in the country. They're happy with Clintonism, but they are very unhappy with Clinton as a leader. They want someone who is different, totally different.
It's been a close election because people are very two-minded. They're not polarized; it's not a war between two armed camps fighting over a tiny pool of undecided voters. It's an election in which an awful lot of voters are of two minds: they want a change of leadership, but they don't want a change of direction.
They have doubts about Bush's knowledge and ability. They have doubts about Gore's credibility. So they move back and forth.
Bush has managed to convince voters that he's safe, that he won't take the country off in some radical new direction way over to the right. (He has also convinced voters) that he is a change of leadership in the sense that he brings a different style to the office. He's more sincere, more credible, more truthful. That's why this story raises some questions.
So people think with Bush that they can get really a more honest and sincere Clintonism -- though the governor would be insulted to hear him described that way.
Q: Talking about Social Security and Medicare on the campaign trail was once political suicide. Why are those issues able to be talked about at such length these days?
SCHNEIDER: Bush took a risk by talking about those issues. He talked about reforming and modernizing major government entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare at some risk. He was trying to convince voters that he's a man of bold new ideas. Those are pretty bold and very new ideas. No Republican candidate has talked about them for decades ever since Barry Goldwater talked about Social Security and it exploded in his face.
To everyone's amazement, Bush seems to be getting away with it because his proposals are popular among all voters, except retirees. He tries to reassure current retirees none of his proposals will affect them and that nothing will change for them. But seniors are very apprehensive about someone who is proposing any changes in Social Security and Medicare, because those are the programs they live by.
But to the rest of the electorate, the idea of allowing people choice in Medicare and allowing people options to invest Social Security tax money is pretty appealing.