Campaign 2000: It's Who Can Do the Job, Stupid

  • Share
  • Read Later
McCain, Bradley and Keyes are gone and the Reform party may never show up. Now that it's clear that this year's presidential race has come down to two well-feted political aristocrats, the battle has switched from who can seem the most authentic to who will be the most effective. George W. Bush and Al Gore are wrangling for the centrist vote by trying to show that they can continue the nation's unprecedented economic growth while initiating a leave-nobody-behind era of federal spending. Bush made another appeal to the swing soccer-mom constituency Tuesday by unveiling one of the most ambitious Republican proposals ever for increasing the availibility of health care insurance to poor families. Sensing that Bush was nipping at his own moderate ankles, Gore took the opportunity to attack his foe on the issue of who'll get the job done on health care and other issues such as education and the environment. "At its heart, this [race] is about something more than public policy," Gore told reporters Wednesday, "it is about credibility."

"Credibility" comes down to who can deliver the goods. Bush says that as chief executive of the nation's third most populous state, he is "a reformer with results." Gore boasts that his record on Capitol Hill and as second-in-command of an administration that has presided over a record economic boom makes him the man for the job. "It's natural for candidates to spar over their records," notes TIME political writer Eric Pooley. "But despite what Bush says about what he's done in Texas, Gore clearly has the more impressive record in government. So don't be surprised when we see Bush turn to the insider-outsider thing," with the Texan saying he'll be able to bring true reform and fresh perspectives to the White House.

Gore's credibility salvos are directed at both Bush's intentions and his competency. Discussing Bush's health care proposal, which provides tax credits for private insurance, Gore asked, "How can we believe what he says he would do nationally when we see what he actually has done as governor?" He later noted that Texas ranks near the bottom nationally in percentage of poor children who are insured. Gore went on to attack Bush's policy competence, claiming that Bush's "risky tax scheme" would reduce the federal budget to the point that any combination of his proposed initiatives would be impossible to fund. Bush's credibility attacks against Gore, meanwhile, focus on character, suggesting that Gore doesn't have the moral fiber to see his centrist agenda through. Bush likes to focus on the veep's campaign finance record, particularly the Buddhist temple fund-raiser, as a way of putting Gore's overall credibility in doubt. The race seems to have shifted from which candidate we can believe to which one we can doubt the least.