Al vs. Bill II: This Time, It's Personal. Really.

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Rocky and Apollo Creed they ain't. Heck, Gore-Bradley II, the War of the Snores, had the feel of sixth graders trying very hard to convince themselves that they should have a fistfight. But you had to admire Al Gore and Bill Bradley, surely the most nonconfrontational of politicians, for at least trying to put up their dukes in debates that took place Friday in New Hampshire and Sunday on "Meet the Press." The subjects were wonkish — health care, education, campaign finance reform — but the subtext was clear: How willing were they to show a nasty side?

Well, sort of. Bradley had obviously learned from the first debate, and came into this weekend loaded for Gore. Unlike two months ago, he was ready with an actual criticism of Gore's health care plan, which Bradley says isn't sufficiently inclusive. True, as slogans go, "Whom would you leave out?" doesn't have the same ring as "Are you better off?" or even "Where's the beef?" but for Bradley this represented a quantum leap in combativeness. And it allowed Dollar Bill to keep Gore on the defensive all weekend, which led the vice president to propose some fairly goofy things. Given that the prime reason candidates do potentially compromising things like those Buddhist temple visits is to raise money for expensive TV and radio spots, Gore on Sunday proposed that they abstain from the airwaves. Bradley dismissed the idea with the "yo' mama" of today's politician: "It sounds to me like you're having trouble raising money." Can "Meet me after school, chump" be far behind?