Top Dogs Make Nice as Bush and Gore Camps Go On Attack

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Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman may have set a gold standard for civilized political discourse in their debate last Thursday night, but with the Main Event, Part II just two days away in the heat of a race that just won't budge, no one in either camp seems to have any interest in keeping it up. Not even Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman.

Cheney banged the drums the very next day, calling Gore's proposals "hogwash" and "double talk," and on Sunday Lieberman hit back — albeit in that high-road, why-are-they-attacking-us form of attack. "I don't know who that Dick Cheney was at the debate on Thursday night," Mr. Lieberman offered. "He was a rational, civil man and he goes back out and becomes an attack dog."

This week, with both candidates prepping for Round II on Wednesday night (and no doubt feeling the sting of all those "civilized exchange," hooray-for-democracy headlines), Al Gore and George W. Bush are on their best behavior. But their surrogates are doing all the dirty work.

Gore press secretary Chris Lehane: "The governor will be held to presidential standards when it comes to describing his policy views. Thus far, he has not met the Quayle standard." Mark D. Fabiani, Gore's deputy campaign manager: Bush "was incoherent — he was babbling" in a Saturday campaign stop. Bush strategist Karl Rove, of Gore: "This is a man who has difficulty telling the truth. He constantly exaggerates and embellishes." And spokesperson Karen Hughes chipped in by calling Gore a "serial exaggerator."

Lieberman brings a sweet twist of sanctimony to the attack-dog role and he delivers the loftier offensives. "The fact is that George Bush's record on the environment in Texas is horrible," he said in an interview on CNN. "They have the most toxically polluted air in America. Houston is the dirtiest city. Kids in Houston don't know whether they can go out to play every day until the school officials or the local officials check the air quality." That's a down and dirty as Joe gets.

Al Gore and George W. Bush, you'll recall, have a pledge not to go negative on each other. More than a month after the considerable fooferaw over that negative Bush ad on Labor Day weekend, the pledge clearly does not extend to either candidate's running mate, press secretary, strategist, document shredder, gofer, or pet. But Gore and Bush's mouths will be pure, they say. Until, of course, some time on Thursday morning when it's apparent that civility hasn't broken open the race. At which point just about anything could very well go.