The resurgence of George W. Bush in the post-debate polls proves that voters tend to remember the music, if not the words, from such recitals. The drama is building for the third and final job interview Tuesday. Some tips:
VICE PRESIDENT GORE:
Areas of improvement - You may not think that a backwater governor with only five years' experience is your equal on stage, but try to soften that reptilian eye look. You tried so hard to be natural last week that you looked miserable. The photos that your wife Tipper showed at the Democratic convention revealed you can be warm and funny and affectionate. Try to imagine you are speaking to your daughter on Tuesday night instead of acting like a guest speaker at the Kennedy School of Government.
Undecided voters say by 2 to 1 that they favor Mr. Bush's more limited view of government. Don't fall into the trap of proposing a government program as the answer for every problem.
Issues to stand tall on - The Middle East turmoil gives you a chance to showcase your experience. You know where the security briefings are. Going back to Washington for the White House briefings on the situation was a good visual symbol. You look like a tough guy, so be firm. Tell both the Israelis and the Palestinians that they should call a halt to the hostilities and return to the peace table while President Clinton can devote full energies to the issue. Neither side should assume it can gain more ground by delaying until a new administration. Yasser Arafat should be warned that he should not unilaterally declare the existence of a Palestinian state on Nov. 15, as he has indicated. That in-your-face defiance on top of the current violence can't help. And outside states - particularly Syria and Iraq - should be warned that the international community would frown very sternly on any meddling that causes the fires of hatred to fan out. You are already known as a strong supporter of Israel, so you should reiterate that America will support the security of Israel.
You don't want to look like an attack dog, but it is fair to question the Bush record on environment in Texas. So far, it has not been raised in the debates that Gov. Bush signed the bill that canceled the contract with Tejas Testing Technology for emissions testing. As a result the state was sued for breach of contract and had to pay $140 million to the company. You can ask politely if the state has an effective plan yet, knowing the answer is no.
Areas of improvement - If questions come from the town hall audience on the death penalty, stifle the execution vehemence. The most chivalrous spin on your "those guys are going to be killed" comment about the murderers of James Byrd was by conservative spinmaster Bill Kristol, who said it was "charmingly politically incorrect." You don't want to seem like Bubba Bloodlust.
Don't get bogged down in questions about gay marriages. As former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau put it, "The state has no place in the bedrooms of a nation."
You need to defend your record in Texas better. Try saying, "We haven't done enough in the past, nor are we doing as much now as we hope to do in the future. But I believe that what matters is not where you've been, but the direction you're going. Since I have been governor, we have increased insurance coverage for the poor. We have made more progress since I became governor than under previous Democratic governors."
Issues to stand tall on - The Middle East turmoil also gives you an opportunity to show you are a serious person. Express your heartfelt regret at the loss of lives. Be sure to say you do not want to appear to politicize that tragic loss, but that it does reinforce your contention that the military must be kept strong. As Ronald Reagan said, "We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent." It also brings home your warnings that we need an energy policy that encourages development of domestic sources of oil. Remind that this is a time for Americans to be united in their support for our servicemen and women overseas.
You biggest applause lines are still about restoring integrity to the White House. Offer to personally reimburse the government for the expenses of any guests who stay overnight at the White House or Camp David. This links Mr. Gore to the Clinton fund-raising excesses without having to attack directly.
Polls show that independents and swing voters favor the partial privatization of Social Security by 2 to 1. Don't get bogged down by intricate explanations of numbers. Point out that even Sweden, the ultimate example of cradle-to-grave social benefits, has partially privatized its Social Security system. It is not a risky gamble. Countries that have privatized include Australia, Great Britain, Poland and Mexico. Clarify that older citizens will not lose anything - they would be free to remain in the existing system.
Closing argument for both - People are hungry for positive leadership. Put your whole heart into it as if the future of the world depended on it. Believe that the best parts of it could come true.
Rena Pederson is the editorial page editor of The Dallas Morning News.
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