By the time some of you read this, the game will be over. One of the ideas of my notes was that Bush’s emptiness should have made him an easy opponent, but in the home stretch he seems a sure winner. What happened?
I think Gore ran one of the most pathetic campaigns in history. He got himself tied up in policy, in pandering to every voter, and missed his best theme: Bush’s weakness.
I could watch the debates only briefly, they were too pathetic. Bush’s shortcomings stood out clearly: his lack of grasp of programs, his inane rambling about lifting the nation’s spirits, compassionate conservatism, and so forth. But his weak performance was overwhelmed by Gore’s pomposity, his obnoxious condescension, his gratingly constrictive style, his overemphasis on his own policies that seemed to rob him of the insight to throw Bush’s lies and prevarication back in his face. He was constantly talking about the differences in their policies rather than taking advantage of openings to blow up what Bush said. Bush does have a personal touch Gore completely lacks and it came through. Gore always seems scripted, which makes his policies seem opportunistic rather than real. Thus, while Bush lied much more than Gore, he still seemed the more honest. In this case, his lack of a clue worked in his favor.
Bush’s favorite line has been about leadership, “you’ve got a leader on your hands!” Of course leadership is the one thing he has never displayed, except as an Andover cheer leader. Bush engaged in a good bit of demagoguery and got away with it. Much of his trash was effective because Gore had no response except back to his boring policies. Gore was afraid to talk about being one of the best VP’s ever, afraid of any relationship with Clinton, afraid even to offset Bush’s claim about nothing happening in Washington in the last eight years by pointing to the obvious target, the Republican congress. Gore left out the record, where he is strong, because it was associated with Clinton. Then all the new stuff made him seem like a bleeding heart liberal.
I don’t understand why Gore was unable to respond to the Bush trash talk. Did he want to be honorable and not get into personalities? Bush is weak on policy, so that seems a logical target, but the personal stuff is Bush’s greater weakness. Gore seemed determined not to engage Clinton, but Clinton might have been brilliant skewering Bush. He is such an inviting target and Clinton is such a clever fellow.
I have to admit to a churning stomach when seeing Bush on TV late in the campaign. He is so aggressively confident now, so fixed on himself. He thrusts his chest out and delivers the empty lines as if they were terribly important. The only positive thing is that the next four years are going to be entertaining, where they might have been dull with Gore. Will the arrogance of birth and position, now fed by this amazing triumph, ruin his presidency. Nothing is more deadly than arrogance.
The most surprising aspect of the campaign other than Gore’s incompetence is the Bush demagoguery. I noted above my inability to listen to Bush without a sinking feeling. In thinking about it, what gets me is this. It is not so much the emphasis on nothing issues like education (a pitty patty issue everyone is for), tax cuts, social security (so impractical and economically ruinous there isn’t a chance of it happening), dignity in the White House (come on), misrepresenting his position on medical assistance, it’s the way he says it. It’s loud, its chanting, its emotional. Even the voice inflections change depending on whether he is talking in the east or the west. What is he doing?
I am reading a new book on World War II and in the chapter on Hitler, there it is. Mein Kampf explains that the basis of political power is emotional support from the masses. The strength of a national leader depends on the ability to seize and manipulate emotions. Policies don’t matter, stirring the crowd does. Bush is not talking to his base constituency, Wall Street and the relatively well off, he has been after the masses and the style is Hitler. It shows in the increasingly obvious self-confidence, the strutting, the incredible “you’ve got a leader on your hands.”
If he is getting visions of greatness, he may not do what the average thinking supporter, who lacks faith in his ability for good reason, wants him to do: sit back and leave the governing to well-selected appointees. This presidency could get much more interesting than I thought.