The most pathetic moment in the third presidential debate arrived when George W. Bush became the echo of Richard Nixon 32 years ago. Nixon had a plan for bloody Vietnam, only he refused to tell anybody. Bush has a plan for the bloody Middle East, only he forgot to tell anybody...
Nixon said he had a "secret plan" to end the war but wouldn't tell anybody unless he was elected president. Nixon squeaked into office, and war went on another five years.
A couple of nights ago, asked what makes him ready to deal with the current bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, Bush said, "I got a strategy for the Middle East."
And then, for two minutes, the whole country waited to hear that strategy. And waited. Bush said, "I've been a leader." That is not a strategy. He said, "I've got a clear vision." That is not a strategy. He said, "I applaud the president's efforts." Is that Bush's strategy? He said Israel was America's friend. That is not a strategy. He said America has to reach out to Arabs. That is a truth, but hardly a strategy. He said we have to be patient. That is a cliche.
He said the United States "must be strong." That is not a strategy. He mentioned Saddam Hussein. That is not a strategy, it is merely a name, tossed in either to remind us of Bush's father's war or just Bush trying to kill time without actually telling us anything.
Can anybody in America explain how any of this verbiage is an adult "strategy" and not just a disjointed collection of flash-card study guides by a fellow who's been prepped for an exam and is trying to recall buzz words as fast as he can?
What makes Bush's answer so important now is the incendiary and complex nature of the Middle East, and the bluff Bush offered up here and on so many other issues.
Thirty percent of a Bush tax cut would go to the nation's richest 1 percent, and 60 percent to the richest 10 percent? He and Gore "just disagree," Bush said at Tuesday's debate, smiling affably. Bush is "not proud" that his Texas leads the nation in capital punishment? "Not proud" doesn't quite explain signing death warrants for people who were clearly insane or profoundly retarded.
Millions are infuriated over health care and want a patients' bill of rights. Bush said Tuesday he "brought Republicans and Democrats together" to get one in Texas. Oh, really? Bush vetoed such a bill when it reached his desk five years ago, battled leaders of both parties over it three years ago and finally allowed it to become law but withheld his signature.
He says, "no child, not a single child" would be left behind in a Bush administration? Then why did he oppose expanding Texas' Children's Health Insurance Program
Asked on Tuesday about officials of the National Rifle Association boasting that they would be operating out of the White House if Bush is elected, he attempted to dance around it by saying it wasn't "one of my ads." This is known as a non-answer. "I'm for a safe society," Bush said Tuesday, in answer to the gun question. Who isn't?
Bush talked of hostilities in Washington. "Bickering," he called it. "We've had enough fighting" in Washington, he said later. Still later, he said young people "look at Washington and see people pointing fingers ... it's the tone. It's the attitude. It's the cynicism in Washington."
Point of information. Do any of the following names ring a bell: Newt Gingrich? Trent Lott? Henry Hyde? Tom DeLay? Bob Barr? Bob Livingston? Dick Armey?
They are all members of Bush's party. To deny their overwhelming contributions to the ugliness in Washington is to imagine Americans have no memory. There is a reason these Republican insiders have played no overt roles in Bush's campaign. It's because they're considered so repugnant by so many people who have watched them over the past decade and realize they're the ones who have created so much of Washington's cynicism.
The best thing George W. Bush has going for him is that he's not Al Gore. Gore's a stiff. A smart stiff, but a stiff. Who else could possibly sit in the White House the last eight years, while the country's going through such fat times and yet struggle against a man who's got a nice smile but an inch of depth behind it?
Olesker is a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.