Bush Wrestles With Semantics Over Clinton, Gore

By Terry M. Neal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday , August 11, 2000

PORTLAND, ORE., Aug. 11 – Texas Gov. George W. Bush said this morning
that he believed that Vice President Gore could restore honor and dignity to the White House,
and he agreed that Gore should not be held responsible for President Clinton's moral lapses.

At the same time, he said that Gore had not done enough to denounce Clinton's misdeeds
and called on the vice president to do so.

Bush made the comments during a 10-minute news conference on his campaign plane
this morning on the way from California to Oregon as he stood next to former GOP rival
John McCain, who had dubbed his own vanquished campaign the "Straight Talk Express."

The news conference began with reporters asking Bush to respond to Clinton's comments
yesterday that Gore should not be held responsible for the president's moral lapses.

The exchange, while brief, was notable because it seemed to undercut Bush's efforts in
recent weeks to link the ethics of Clinton and Gore. And it demonstrated the fine line Bush
is walking as he tries to present a positive, optimistic message for the future even while
making the Clinton sex scandal of 1998 a central theme of his campaign.

In explaining away those inconsistences, Bush seemed to get caught in a semantic trap today.
The central theme of the stump speech he has been giving for the last year is that he will
"restore honor and dignity to the White House." Lately he has occasionally substituted the word
"decency" for dignity, enraging Bush's Democratic critics who saw the line as an implicit
criticism of Clinton.

In the last week or so Bush has responded to that criticism by denying that the phrase is a reference
to the president. Today, reporters asked if instead Bush was referring to Gore.

"If Al Gore has differences with the president he ought to say them loud and clear," Bush said.
"He ought to let us know where he differs from the president on policy matters as well as everything else."

Asked if he thought Gore had done so, "No, I don't. I think he needs to stand up and say if the
president is wrong on issues, then he ought to say so."

But what about on moral issues, a reporter pressed.

"It's hard to tell," Bush said. "You have to ask the American people that question. . . .
I think the vice president ought to speak out on it."

Then Bush said that while Clinton clearly had "embarrassed" the nation, his campaign was going to
"be writing new chapters in the 21st century. We're moving forward."

He added that Americans simply wanted to hear him promise to not let them down as Clinton did.
But moments later Bush seemed to flip-flop, insisting that his pledge to "restore honor and dignity
to the White House" was not a reference to Clinton. When pressed about how that could not be
a reference to Clinton, Bush quibbled over the use of the word "restore."

"I'm saying 'uphold,' " Bush said, interrupting a reporter. While Bush does often say the word "uphold"
in his stump speech, the GOP nominee, has clearly said "restore" dozens, if not hundreds, of times
in his stump speeches, interviews and other forums.

In the end, Bush finally seemed to concede that the stump speech line was, in fact, a reference
to the president. As the exchange was winding down, Bush was asked if he thought Gore had
somehow embarrassed the nation: "I'm not saying he did; I said the president did," Bush said.

Near the end of the exchange, Bush was asked did he believe the vice president could also
restore honor and dignity to the White House. Bush's response: "I think he can. He ought to say so."

As evidence of how ubiquitous the "restore dignity" line has become in the Bush campaign,
even his surrogates have begun using it. At a University of Portland rally here this morning,
McCain introduced Bush to the crowd of 2,500 people by saying "This is the man who will
restore dignity, honor and respect to the White House." For his part, Gore was campaigning in
Pennsylvania today and spoke about Clinton's comments. "I appreciated what the president has said,
" Gore told Fox Friday. "He has said it before."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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