Monday, Sept. 11, 2000 -- SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA (AmpolNS)
Professor Larry Sabato said it best in a 09/08/00 AP article by Mike Glover :
The robust economy is an advantage for the incumbent. Gore also has all the tools of the White House at his disposal. With each policy announcement, campaign aides trot out prominent Cabinet officials to argue Gore's case.
"It could all change tomorrow, but Bush is going to have become a dynamo and I don't see much evidence that he's a dynamo," said Sabato. He said the primary strength of Bush's campaign has been a sense that he was certain to win. "Once you take away the inevitability factor from Bush there isn't a lot there," said Sabato.
Throughout this campaign for the White House, George Walker Bush has had exactly two things on his side ( besides boatloads of money ):
The Inevitability Factor: the sense, fueled by the name recognition inherited from his father, that he would win the election in a walk.
The 'character issue', as his handlers go to great lengths to promote the false notion that his character is superior to that of either Al Gore or Bill Clinton. The Inevitability Factor is what got people like David Horowitz to sign on to Shrub's campaign to the tune of $100,000 (and more) a crack.
It also, coupled with the Bush team's reputation for massive retaliation against 'traitors' (see Richard Berke's 09/07/00 New York Times article :
is one reason why the Beltway press has treated Dubya with kid gloves for most of the last two years, giving him treatment that looks like coddling, especially when contrasted with their willingness to print, unvetted, virtually anything RNC Chair Jim Nicholson faxes them about Al Gore. Many of the Beltway press crowd were angling, not just for access to Shrub once in the White House, but for chances at become insiders in a George W. Bush presidency. And the Beltway media is very mindful of Dubya's reputation for attacking those journalists he doesn't like. The most famous incident occurred in 1986, and involved his calling Wall Street Journal reporter Al Hunt a 'no-good f---ing son of a b---h' and threatening unspecified harm against him, in front of Hunt's wife Judy Woodruff and their then-four-year-old child, while the Hunts were eating dinner in a restaurant. Hunt's crime? Stating that Jack Kemp would be a better person for the GOP than Dubya's daddy to run for the presidency in 1988. Of course, this also fits in with the Reagan-Bush tradition, so long upheld by White House Travel Office head Billy Dale before his firing for cause by Clinton, of the 'iron hand in the velvet glove' : favored reporters are expensively coddled, unfavored ones are left in the cold. But a funny thing happened to Bush's Inevitability Factor : It disappeared.
At the Democratic convention, Al Gore, using facts and figures and specifics -- plus a wonderfully warm, spontaneous kiss that left his blushing bride Tipper gasping and smiling in front of millions of TV viewers -- came from behind to cruise well ahead of Bush in the polls, and has kept that lead and added to it well into September. Suddenly, George W. Bush's hold over the press was broken. The negative articles on Bush started to appear, just as the increased pressure was causing Dubya and his handlers to make gaffe after gaffe.
Which leads us to the "Character Issue" factor.
Dubya's campaign has had only one official issue throughout the past two years: His casting himself as the anti-Clinton, in a parallel universe where Bill Clinton is the architect of every evil to befall America and Dubya is the knight in shining armor ready to pull America out of the moral abyss into which Evil Demon Clinton has allegedly led it.
The perception of George W. Bush as secular saint can only be upheld if both the press and Dubya do their bits to preserve it. The press, up until recently, upheld their end of the bargain, even to the extent of ignoring major bits of evidence to the contrary (such as Tucker Carlson's infamous article in Talk magazine, where Dubya dropped the f-bomb a few times and openly mocked Karla Faye Tucker, the woman he had executed over the protests of people like Pope John Paul II and Pat Robertson).
But the press, sensing vulnerability in the former Mr. Invulnerable, isn't running character interference for him anymore, and therefore we get to hear about things like Dubya's and Dick Cheney's unguarded and ill-advised comments in front of an open microphone. We're seeing New York Times Op-Ed columns like Frank Rich's brilliant "Membership Has Its Privileges"
lambaste Dubya for his current characterless cowardice concerning debating Al Gore. And Rich also brings up the fact that Dubya has a history of playing silly-ass frat-boy games when it comes to debating his opponents :
Mr. Bush's behavior this week is not an anomaly in either his personal or political histories, but a ringing affirmation of both.
The man has always ducked debates. In the primaries this year he pulled the same stunt on John McCain that he did on Mr. Gore -- initially turning down a California debate invitation, then abruptly accepting it once he thought Mr. McCain might not be able to appear. When Mr. Bush ran against Ann Richards for Texas governor in '94, his campaign turned down a debate invitation from "Larry King Live," saying it was an unfair venue -- the flip side of this year's charade, when Mr. King's show was deemed an ideal forum by Mr. Bush because it suited his shell game.
Even in his '98 reelection race, against a weak opponent nearly 50 points behind in the polls, Mr. Bush was a debate dodger. As Bill Minutaglio writes in his authoritative biography, "First Son," the Bush people made sure the single debate was held in remote El Paso, "the hardest city to get to in Texas," that it was moderated by one provincial reporter, that all tough journalists were banned from the TV studio, and that it was "held on a Friday night in the middle of high school football season."
This would be really funny, if it weren't for the fact that Dubya is running for the toughest job in the world. As Rich goes on to say :
It's never bothered me that Mr. Bush couldn't pass a pop quiz on the names of the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, but imagine if in a crisis he had to face these leaders in high-stakes negotiations -- or debate them in the media court of world opinion. A guy who at one point ducked verbal fisticuffs with Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer, and even argued for weeks over the format by which he'd break bread with a few gay Republicans, doesn't exactly inspire confidence in any High Noon showdown.
And this is the man who says he'd 'bring honor and dignity back to the White House'?
Poor Dubya. In the space of a few weeks, he's lost both his aura of invulnerability and his self-proclaimed moral high ground.
What does he have left?