If Hollywood ever decides to make a movie about this year’s presidential candidates, we’ll be disappointed. Not because George W. Bush and Al Gore shouldn’t be reduced to caricatures (as Americans, we wouldn’t have it any other way), but because the actors best qualified to portray them are dead.
It’s hard to imagine a better lead for The Dubya Story than John Belushi, whose Animal House portrayal of John Blutarski, a dim, besotted frat boy who somehow becomes a senator, seems to have served as a model for Bush.
Then, for something scary, go rent The Manchurian Candidate and imagine the late Laurence Harvey as Al Gore. In that film, Harvey portrays a zombie-like but annoyingly eager-to-please son of a senator’s wife who has been hypnotically programmed for a special mission. Harvey’s character is so Gore-like that we’re afraid Al might shoot someone if his handlers show him the queen of hearts.
Let’s leave aside the quixotic Ralph Nader, as 98 percent of the electorate will next week, and suggest only that if he can sing he might be well suited for the lead in a revival of Man of La Mancha.
Our national interest in the caricature issue, however enter taining, can lull voters into a false sense that the election is only about personalities. Following this logic, many people believe that neither choice Gov. Blutarski or the Carth aginian Candidatewill make much difference.
But that thinking obscures the real and meaningful differences between Gore and Bush and what is at stake next week. For a raft of reasons, the choice matters. It matters because the next president is likely to make several appointments to the Supreme Court. Bush says that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas exemplify the kind of justice (in the most ironic sense of that word) he would select. The former’s opinions are so predictably rightist that he might as well dispense with hearing arguments. The latter’s record indicates that he is little more than Scalia’s toadying clerk. One or two more like them will create a radically activist court that could throw out longtime precedents (including Roe v. Wade) like last week’s trash.
It matters because environmental concerns not only would take a back seat in a Bush presidency, they wouldn’t even be allowed in the same room with the big contributors who represent manufacturers and energy corporations. If you want to issue a blank check to clear-cutters, strip miners, oil drillers, and smokestack polluters, Bush is your man.
It matters because a majority of Americans favor cleaning up the influence-buying system that now passes for campaign finance. Gore, like everyone else in Washington, has been part of that tawdry system, but he places reform first on his administration’s agenda. Bush will bury it.
This choice matters because the world is still an unstable place that needs a stable hand in the White House. Just the other day, Bush promised unilaterally to disengage U.S. peacekeepers from the Balkansa suggestion that horrified the European community and would effectively end NATO.
Most of all, this choice matters because the candidates’ philosophy of government will affect almost every decision they make as president. Gore believes that government is not inherently the enemy but, to the contrary, must serve as protector of the many from the powerful few. Bush mistrusts the federal government. When he says he instead trusts you, he doesn’t simply mean us folks; he’s also talking about multinational corporate interests with more power than any individual state government. The “have mores,” as Dubya joked all too tellingly the other day, are his support base.
From Bush’s record and campaign statements, we conclude that “compassionate conservatism” is a gussified, feel-good label masking an agenda that is neither socially compassionate nor fiscally conservative. He may promise a new tone in Washington, but he would lead a party with the same old stripes. Don’t believe it? Consider the patients’ rights bill in Texas. Bush bragged about helping it become lawa whopper more brazen than Gore’s claim of inventing the Internet. In fact, he opposed that compassionate bill. He refused to sign it. He sided with the big insurance companies who lined his campaign’s pockets.
A Bush administration means free skating for the Republican basethe Disciples of Newt wing, the neo-isolationist wing, the Christian Coalition wing, and the NRA wing (which boasted of a branch headquarters in the Oval Office if Bush won). Every blessed one of those wings is out of the American mainstream.
And that, really, is the difference. Voting for Gore is not about whether we have a president whose personality we dislike (we’ve managed for the past eight years) or who sometimes fudges the truth (a tradition that dates before Lincoln). To paraphrase James Carville, it’s the issues, stupid.
And, as we all know, Jim is a self-appointed expert on everything!
Well, best of luck.
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