Mr. Gore in Top Form
By BOB HERBERT
This time Al Gore got it right, and not a moment too soon.
People were starting
to say of George W.
Bush: Well, he might not know the Middle
East from the Big East, but he's a nice guy. He
might not know subliminal from subliminable,
but he's likeamable. And, hey, I can't locate
Yemen on a map, either.
Turned off by
Al Gore's performance in the first two debates, a fair
number of voters began moving toward Mr. Bush, making excuses and
weird rationalizations along the way. Some argued that if Mr. Bush were
to become president and the country found itself in a tight spot, he'd have
plenty of experienced people available to bail him out — his dad; his vice
president, Dick Cheney; his secretary of state, Colin Powell, etc.
Talk about the
soft bigotry of low expectations! Why should anyone be
afraid to set high standards for Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore, and demand that
they meet them? They're running for president.
At the debate
Tuesday night, Al Gore was the best he's been since his
acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. He was
knowledgeable and comfortable discussing a wide range of complex
issues, including health care, Social Security and tax cuts. You can agree
or disagree with his position on any issue, but you cannot argue that Mr.
Gore does not understand the issue. With Mr. Bush, you're never quite sure.
The tone of the
debate was set early. Mr. Gore was much better
prepared than Mr. Bush to discuss a so-called patients' bill of rights.
"Doctors are giving prescriptions, they're recommending treatments, and
then their recommendations are being overruled by H.M.O.'s and
insurance companies," said Mr. Gore. "That is unacceptable."
He said he supports
bipartisan legislation — sponsored by
Representative John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, and Representative
Charlie Norwood, a Georgia Republican — to establish a national
patients' bill of rights.
Mr. Bush said
he, too, supports a patients' bill of rights. But though he
was asked twice if he supported the Dingell-Norwood bill, he never
answered. Instead, he scoffed at the whole governmental process,
saying, "There's this kind of Washington D.C. focus — well, it's in this
committee, or it's got this sponsor."
Well, yes, governor.
That's how the federal government works. And it
will continue to work that way, even if you are elected president.
Time and again
during the debate Mr. Bush appeared baffled by the
specifics of one issue or another. During a discussion of affirmative
action, Mr. Gore asked, "Are you for what the Supreme Court says is a
constitutional way of having affirmative action?"
Mr. Bush turned
to Jim Lehrer, the moderator, his facial expression and
body language all but begging Mr. Lehrer to save him by declaring there
was no time left for him to answer.
"Jim —" said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Lehrer said, "Let's go onto another —"
Mr. Gore said, quietly and devastatingly, "I think that speaks for itself."
worst moment came in response to a woman who asked,
"How will your tax proposals affect me as a middle-class, 24-year- old
single person with no dependents?"
The answer was
bizarre. It meandered this way and that until it lost any
semblance of coherence. Mr. Bush said everyone would get tax relief
under his plan. He went on to say, "I think also what you need to think
about is not the immediate but what about Medicare?" He said, "You get
a plan that will include prescription drugs, a plan that will give you options."
He talked about Medicare people being stuck in a time warp.
He said, "You're
going to live in a peaceful world." He said, "You'll be in
a world, hopefully, that's more educated, so it's less likely you'll be
harmed in your neighborhood, seeing an educated child is one much
more likely to be hopeful and optimistic." And so on.
It was astonishing.
When he finally reached the end of this positively
Olympian feat of convolution, I wondered what could possibly come next.
Surely someone would comment.
But no one seemed
fazed. Mr. Lehrer said, "Governor, the next question
is for you and Leo Anderson will ask it. Mr. Anderson."
Mr. Bush smiled.
"Hi, Leo," he said. "You want a mike?"