In preparing for his first debate with Al Gore Tuesday night, George W. Bush probably has read the transcript from the 1992 contest between Gore and then-Vice President Dan Quayle. In retrospect, Quayle sounds prophetic. Speaking of Bill Clinton, Quayle correctly predicted, "He will raise your taxes, he will increase spending, he will make government bigger . . . " And then he said, "You need to have a president you can trust. Can you really trust Bill Clinton?"
That question has been answered, and it should now be asked of Al Gore. Quayle won that debate on the facts but was overwhelmed by the dissembling and denial of his opponent and the big media, which successfully stereotyped Quayle as a dunce (as it is trying to do to Bush) and would not acknowledge him as the real winner.
Quayle was aggressive and accused Gore of "pulling a Clinton" after he denied that Clinton would raise taxes (he did). Quayle defined "a Clinton" as "(saying) one thing one day and another thing the next day -- you try to have both sides of the issues." Is there anyone who can credibly disagree after all we've seen of Clinton-Gore? Gore responded to the charge that he and Clinton would raise taxes: "You can say all you want, but it doesn't make it true." Oh, yes, it does!
Gore chastised President Bush for wanting "to maintain at least 150,000 American soldiers in Europe" and "agreed with so many military experts who believe that it is time for the Europeans . . . to start picking up a little more of that tab themselves and not rely so exclusively on the U.S. taxpayers for the defense of Europe." Kosovo, anyone? Bosnia? "Peace-keeping missions"? Nation-building?
The point is that Bush will be debating a dishonest man and should not attempt to go toe-to-toe on issues with Gore. Gore has a wide credibility gap. From Medicare to taxes, foreign policy to the environment, Gore has proved he cannot be trusted or believed.
In a telephone interview from his Phoenix office, Quayle told me Bush should articulate three or four big themes -- reducing taxes, smaller government, better schools and more freedom -- and "stay away from being a policy wonk."
"The surplus is your surplus, and you are paying too much in taxes," Quayle recommended Bush say. "Gore doesn't know what to do if someone attacks him. Bush should go on the offensive and stay on the offensive throughout the entire debate."
What about women voters, who supposedly don't like combative tactics? Quayle said: "The appeal to women is that 'my tax cuts are going to strengthen your family. I am going to invest in you.' He should also attack Washington, D.C. Gore has lived his whole life in Washington. Bush is a Texan and is as comfortable talking to real people as Gore is to bureaucrats."
Bush might also wish to consider the thoughts of an earlier vice president who went on to become president. Since the first debate is in Boston, perhaps the remarks of former Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge might have special relevance.
Said Coolidge on July 4, 1926: "Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments . . . the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to government. It is not the enactment, but the observation of laws, that creates the character of a nation."
Coolidge observed that, at the time of the nation's founding, "the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew or how much they had, as in how they were going to live." Of his own times, he said, "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things . . . We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which (early Americans) had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed."
Unless the majority are completely devoted to the god of Mammon, such notions, along with Quayle's lessons from experience, could win the debate and the election for George W. Bush.
Los Angeles Times Syndicate