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Bush Must Stay on Message

CAMPAIGN ROADMAP: A continuing series of articles analyzing the 2000 presidential strategies

August 27, 2000|Linda A. DiVall | Linda A. DiVall, president of a public-research firm, was a senior advisor to Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — All right, Vice President Al Gore achieved what he needed--in the immediate post-convention euphoria, anyway. He benefited from the requisite bounce and is now ahead, 47%-46%. And the gender gap is temporarily back--with Texas Gov. George W. Bush leading with men by double digits and Gore leading with women by the same margin.

But don't be misled. Gore's post-convention bounce will evaporate, and this race will be dead even in the more important post-Labor Day polls. The real story here is that Gore made some immediate gains with his base and with women by moving away from the centrist position that President Bill Clinton crafted for his party. Gore moved decidedly left with his populist mantra of "fighting for people against the big and powerful interests of Big Tobacco [that he still grows], big oil [whose stock he still owns], the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies [some of Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's largest contributors], the HMOs." He told his running mate to abandon his principled stand on vouchers and Social Security, his core convictions. After all, Gore did it long ago and look where it got him. Gore is really all about reinventing big government, and Bush needs to expose Gore for just that.

Gore promised a prescription-drug benefit for all seniors, a proposition estimated to cost $253 billion over 10 years. He also promised targeted tax cuts. Both these promises deserve further scrutiny, and the Bush campaign needs to sharpen its rhetoric and will to frame this election where it belongs: Not on who can offer the most specific policies and reams of paper, but in educating America on the era of surplus politics we have entered; the decisions and responsibilities required of us; and the central question of this campaign--the scope of government.

Bush was obviously off-stride in trying to articulate his tax plan early last week. He needs to back up and explain this new era of surplus politics. He also must appeal to those paying more than their fair share of taxes and expose Gore as the big spender he is. Perhaps Bush should visit his own Web site to remind himself of what he stands for. Here are some points he should emphasize:

First, the surplus was created due to the budget restraints imposed by President George Bush and then the policies of the GOP Congress. Second, the reason the surplus has been exceeding projections is that tax revenues from working Americans leave our paychecks and flood the federal Treasury. Bush must explain more effectively that the surplus has been provided by working families and small-business owners, who take risks every day, and also by individual taxpayers, many of whom would never be eligible for one of Gore's targeted tax cuts. Lowering the tax rates of those paying taxes--those creating the surplus--is the only logical thing to do.

Bush should keep pointing out that Gore has decided he knows best how to spend the public's money and that individuals would only receive a tax cut if they meet his eligibility requirements. What's fair about that?

Let's turn to prescription drugs. Gore wants to provide this benefit to all seniors and accuses the GOP of caring more about pharmaceutical companies than seniors. If that's the case, then why has the Clinton-Gore Administration spent $37 billion less on Medicare in 1999 and 2000 than the GOP Congress authorized? If Clinton and Gore cared so much about providing prescription drugs to seniors, why won't Clinton's plan even go into effect until 2003? If anyone is guilty of shortchanging seniors, it's the Clinton-Gore Administration, not the GOP. Guess who's already passed the first comprehensive prescription-drug benefit? That nasty, uncaring Republican Congress. And guess who the leading recipient of "big pharmaceutical money" is? None other than Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, where the big insurance companies are located.

So who should the people trust on prescription drugs? Those that haven't spent what they could to help today's seniors and whose bill would require all seniors to abandon their plan even if they are satisfied with the prescription-drug benefit they receive? Or those who have actually crafted detailed legislation that provides for coverage of the neediest seniors while protecting the solvency of Medicare?

Gore says he's fighting for people against big and powerful interests, but he would preserve the teacher's union monopoly and deny an inner-city child the choice of vouchers as a way out of a failing public school, create an even larger Medicare bureaucracy to make decisions on seniors' prescription-drug coverage and, of course, continue to have government protect our Social Security but not allow us to invest a portion of our earnings for ourselves.

Isn't it time for Bush to describe who he trusts to deal with the surplus and why? The sooner he does so, the quicker he will move back to controlling the agenda.

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