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The Nation

Shades of Candidate Gore in Bush's Agenda

Clean-running cars, AIDS funding were key issues for former vice president in 2000.

February 07, 2003|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The proposals were perhaps the two biggest surprises in President Bush's State of the Union speech last week: a big nudge by the government to get Detroit to produce environmentally clean cars that would wean Americans from gas-guzzling vehicles, and a massive U.S. effort to fight AIDS around the world.

Sound familiar? They should.

Each took root during the Clinton administration and became part of Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. And each, to one degree or another, has been adopted by the Bush administration.

During the presidential campaign three years ago, Bush often ridiculed Gore's emphasis on environmental proposals.

On Thursday, Bush received a hands-on tour of six minivans, sport utility vehicles and sedans that would run on nonpolluting hydrogen fuel cells.

He liked what he saw. Encouraging Congress to fund his $1.2-billion proposal, Bush said: "A child born today will be driving a car, as his or her first car, which will be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free."

Also during the 2000 campaign, Gore presented the AIDS pandemic as not just a humanitarian concern but one with security implications for the United States -- a much broader approach than Bush took.

Since then, the Bush administration has moved in much the same direction as Gore. The National Security Strategy it published last fall made prominent reference to the disease, suggesting the White House was beginning to see the pandemic in the context of security concerns.

After Bush outlined his hydrogen cell and AIDS programs in his State of the Union address, a longtime friend called Gore and said, "You must have been crawling the walls."

"Yeah, I was," Gore told the friend.

Although Gore never specifically offered the hydrogen cell proposal, he long had been pushing the government to help promote fuel-efficient, environmentally cleaner vehicles.

Since taking office, Bush has been mindful of the political demands of Republican conservatives, who are his core supporters. He has repeatedly pushed Congress to approve his proposal to help religious-based charities gain government support for their charitable works -- a favorite proposal among conservatives.

He has named conservative nominees to the federal bench -- and when Republicans took over the Senate, he renominated several who had failed to win confirmation when Democrats held sway. And he has pushed for measures to limit damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, another conservative goal.

But Bush advisors are also mindful that a swing too far to the right could cost him support among independent voters, particularly suburban women. The two new measures may help him appeal to those voters.

Consider the AIDS issue.

Gore presented the Clinton administration's case to the U.N. Security Council in January 2000, arguing that "when a single disease threatens everything from economic strength to peacekeeping, we clearly face a security threat of the greatest magnitude."

He said the United States would spend $325 million during the next year on the international fight against AIDS.

Bush last week said he would ask Congress to spend $15 billion over five years, boosting previously planned funding by $10 billion.

A Gore advisor during the 2000 campaign said the then-vice president brought the matter to the Security Council because "his instinct told him that unless he talked about it in security terms, people wouldn't take it seriously. Gore was trying to cloak it in a gravitas."

The advisor, who asked not to be named, said Bush, "who has the security bona fides, was trying to cloak it in a softer linen, to make it seem like he's got a big heart, that America is not all about pushing people around."

He added: "It's a politician's effort trying to move to the middle in both cases."

On Thursday, Bush devoted a speech to the hydrogen fuel cell proposal, which he embraces as a technology with potential to replace the internal-combustion engine.

"Hydrogen fuel cells represent one of the most encouraging, innovative technologies of our era," Bush said in a speech to government officials and representatives of the auto industry, among others.

Bush added:

"If you're interested in our environment and if you're interested in doing what's right for the American people, if you're tired of the same old endless struggles that seem to produce nothing but noise and high bills, let us promote hydrogen fuel cells as a way to advance into the 21st century."

Three weeks before the 2000 election, as Bush campaigned in Michigan, he mocked Gore's assertion that the internal-combustion engine was "a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we've ever again likely to confront."

"Unlike Al Gore," Bush said, after reading aloud the passage from Gore's "Earth in the Balance," "I don't consider the internal-combustion engine a threat to the future of mankind. I consider it a remarkable testimony to American ingenuity."

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