Bush: Why Can't Gore Be More Like Clinton?

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George W. Bush may want to tie Al Gore to Bill Clinton on everything from morality to oil prices, but when it comes to the politics of the surplus he's taking a new tack: Al Gore's not an incumbent after all.

"The vice president was seated right behind Bill Clinton at the State of the Union when the President declared 'the era of big government over.' Apparently the message never took," Bush said Thursday, speaking at a container-manufacturing plant in Green Bay, Wis. "If the vice president gets elected, the era of big government being over, is over. And so too, I fear, could be our prosperity."

Bush, as you may have heard, is running uphill on the issue: The economy is booming, the surplus is growing to (literally) unbelievable dimensions, and most folks seem content with the idea that the Clinton administration deserves the credit for it. Voters are traditionally hesitant to change their leadership in good times, and generally unmoved by a challenger's claims that fiscal boat-rocking — like a $1.3 trillion tax cut — is needed.

But with the market stumbling of late, thanks to lower corporate earnings and higher oil prices, Bush has begun painting a picture of a fragile prosperity — one that Clinton-Gore helped create but that Gore-Lieberman would bury. He painted Gore's targeted tax cuts as social engineering — "with him, we can only get a tax cut if we behave as he wants us to" — and his programs as welfare for bureaucrats. "We'll find ourselves working harder for the government, appeasing it, please it and trying to keep it at bay," he said. "More forms to fill out, more regulations to meet and more lines to stand in."

Ah, moaned Bush, if only the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, "the kind of leaders I would work with as president," were still in charge of the other party. "Vice President Gore has cast his lot with the old Democratic party," he said. "Just when progress on important issues seems within reach, my opponent has left the vital center of American politics."

The new tack left DLC heads sounding confused. "It sounds as though Governor Bush has endorsed Al Gore and Bill Clinton's agenda of the '90s," said founder Will Marshall, who quickly added that "Al Gore has been pushing the New Democrat initiatives that helped produce today's prosperity." But Bush is hoping to get Gore coming and going. If the veep is his "own man," and a populist to boot, that's fine — he's his own man on the economy.

It's subtle. Maybe too subtle to actually work. Especially when Bush unrolls his energy policy line of attack on Friday, and it's Clinton-Gore all over again.