I want to vote for Bill Clinton for President again, but that not being possible I had resigned myself to Al Gore. Surely, I thought, he would defend the Clinton Administration's record of the past eight years, and voters would recognize it as obviously preferable to the debt and divisiveness the Republicans had wrought.
Indeed, the only reason to favor Gore over Bill Bradley in the primaries, which I regrettably did, was that Gore had on-the-job training in the most productive administration in decades. That's what the vice President brought to the table, certainly not his deer-in-the headlights stage presence, and yet he sits dumbfounded for lack of a ready reply when George W. Bush rails on about the failed opportunities of the Clinton-Gore years.
"Hey, buddy," I keep waiting for Gore to say, "I wasn't going to bring up your daddy's wreckage of the economy but you leave me no choice. Are Americans better off now than they were eight years ago? You bet they are. Crime, unemployment and poverty are all down, and the economy is still on an unprecedented roll. Under Bush senior, the Japanese were thought to be entrepreneurally invincible, and now it is US know-how the world seeks to emulate."
Instead of a celebration of what he and the President accomplished despite reactionary Republican control of the Congress, Gore offers only the most mealy-mouthed rejoinders when Bush slanders the record of the Clinton Administration.
Unfortunately, Al Gore has spent most of the election trying to prove that he is not Bill Clinton. He needn't have bothered. No one could ever confuse the two. Gore is by temperament, and apparently conviction, the un-Clinton--it's like comparing a fresh out-of-the-bottle swig of Coke with a 7-Up gone flat.
The President is a compelling advocate for his vision of progressive government, so much so that even his lousy ideas, like welfare reform, have a sizzle of optimism. But in the main, Clinton deserves a great deal of credit for demonstrating that a concerned activist government also can balance the books while lifting the US economy from the doldrums.
Whether it is a matter of personal chemistry or absence of genuine commitment, Gore lacks Clinton's ability to convince us that deep down he's on our side--whoever we are. Gore has made doing even the obviously right thing, like saving Social Security and Medicare, seem partisan and dull.
His best moment was that acceptance speech at the Democratic convention when he sounded the alarm that George W. Bush could actually do serious harm to this country. But since then his campaign has become nothing more than an awkward attempt to keep up with Bush at Texas line-dancing as a form of governance. They move together in a dreary drumbeat of support for the death penalty and huge military expenditures, and Gore has even muffled his criticism of Bush on guns and abortion. Gore has come out of that contest so disoriented that he has even managed to make Ralph Nader seem like a sexy dancer.
Which is why what could prove to be a critical 4 percent of the electorate, composed of largely thoughtful and well-intentioned people, are willing to risk Republican control of the White House. No small risk, given that right-wing Republicans likely will continue to run Congress, and with Bush as President, the third branch of government--the federal judiciary from the Supreme Court on down--will be shaped in the image of Jesse Helms. There is no reason to expect otherwise from a Bush presidency, since he has warned us that Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia, two of the most reactionary judges in the history of the Court, are his judicial role models.
Nader has been less than honest in tarring the major parties with the same brush. He surely must know that the Democrats are better, far better, at protecting consumers and the environment, supporting labor, including raising the minimum wage, and advancing the rights of women, minorities and gays.
However, there is an argument for having Nader in the race and even for telling pollsters that you intend to vote for the man. It's to force Gore to distinguish himself from the Bush campaign in order to win back those Nader votes.
Yet, on Election Day, Gore, for all his faults, still deserves the votes of those who care about the frightening damage that a Republican sweep of the White House and Congress portends for this country.
Behind that smug Bush smile lies the calculations of Trent Lott and the heart of Jesse Helms. There even might be room for the ghost of Newt Gingrich in a Bush Cabinet. It's Halloween time.