Pundit Central

Dubya Falls to Earth

Issue 1 is Al Gore’s continued post-convention bounce in the polls.

Nearly every pundit agrees that Gore had one of his best weeks since the end of the primaries. He forced George W. Bush to defend his large tax-cut plan, successfully rebutted the Republicans’ charges of military unpreparedness, and escaped a possible prosecution into his campaign-finance testimony. Moreover, his slight lead in the polls since the Democratic convention held firm, and Bush gave a speech with a series of malaproposms. (For Slate’s “Complete Bushisms,” click here.)

What accounts for Gore’s surge? Rich Lowry (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) attributes it to his “I-may-be-boring-but-I’ll-fight-for-your-issues” attitude at the convention. This attitude, plus his now-legendary smooch with Tipper (“Middle-aged people shouldn’t be necking on TV,” says Late Edition’s Tucker Carlson. “I mean, yuck. … Ew, ew, ew.”) has humanized him and directed the voters’ attention to the issues. Tucker Carlson argues that Gore has changed his message from “Bush is a right-wing nut” to “Bush is a lightweight,” which is easier to sell. Tom Oliphant (NH) says that Gore has enjoyed a “three-week convention” since his VP pick. Mike Murphy (CNN’s Capital Gang) spins Bush’s bad week as a blessing, because it will rid the campaign of its complacency. (Click here  to read a Slate “Frame Game” on how Gore pushed Bush off-message.)

GOP vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney appears (via satellite) on four of the five Sunday-morning talk shows (all except CNN’s Late Edition). Richard Berke, of CBS’s Face the Nation, says the Bush campaign sent Cheney to the chat-show circuit at the last minute, to jump-start the campaign. But Cheney is pilloried with questions about his Haliburton stock options (answer: I’ll take care of any conflicts of interest by the time I’m inaugurated, but not now), Gore’s poll bounce (answer: It’s temporary, and we knew it was coming), and Bush’s controversial claim that two Army divisions are unprepared for war (answer: We used an Army report from last year, and regardless of its accuracy President Clinton has reduced troop numbers too much). Cheney’s emotional posture while under attack is to act dismissively nonchalant. (By contrast, Bush’s posture is to wax righteous, and Gore’s is to tighten up and speak in clichés.)

Will Gore’s bounce hold? Interviewing Michael Dukakis, Wolf Blitzer (LE) reels off some 2000 parallels to the 1988 race: In both years, a popular governor enjoyed a 54-37 Gallup-poll lead coming out of his convention, then saw it drop to a 35-35 tie after a successful convention by his opponent, a sitting vice-president. In 1988, the vice-president never again fell behind. Dukakis’ response?


Two and half months in politics is a lifetime, and this is going to be a very competitive race right down to the wire. … At this point, these poll numbers aren’t worth a plugged nickel.

George Stephanopoulos (ABC’s This Week) argues that while the polls are important, it’ll be a few weeks before we know if Gore’s convention bounce will be as permanent as Vice President Bush’s was in 1988. George F. Will (TW) says the polls will yo-yo because the country is so wealthy and tranquil and therefore whimsical. Rich Lowry (NH) argues that Gore’s new anti-corporate, populist rhetoric is bound to backfire because so many Americans are now stockholders; Tom Oliphant counters that Gore’s rhetoric is not working-class populist (i.e., overthrow the powers that be), but middle-class progressive (reform government to eliminate special interests). (To read a Slate “History Lesson” on the history of class warfare in campaigns, click here.)

Condoleezza’s Big Oily Kiss

TONY SNOW ( Fox News Sunday): Chevron has christened an oil tanker the Condoleezza Rice. A lot of people are going to say, “This is another example of the would-be Bush administration being tied in with Big Oil.” My question to you is: What’s Big Oil doing that’s wrong?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Bush foreign-policy adviser): I really do believe–well, let’s not use the term “Big Oil”–that American oil companies are important to our security and that they give us the ability to explore abroad, they give us the ability to explore here in the United States, and to protect the energy security of the United States. Oil companies have come a long way in their environmental policies, for instance, actually going so far as to fund environmental projects around the country. They are good citizens. We can’t live without oil, and we have to have American oil companies doing it. I’m proud of my association with Chevron. By the way, Chevron names oil tankers after its directors. There’s also a George Shultz and a David Packard. So, I’m very proud of my association with Chevron, and I think we should be very proud of the job that American oil companies are doing in exploration abroad, in exploration at home, and in making certain that we have a safe energy supply.

SNOW: All right, Condoleezza Rice, thanks for joining us this morning.

Last Word

If there is one lesson Mike Dukakis learned very painfully in 1988, it is that if the other guy comes at you with stuff that is patently false, you can’t sit there silently. Otherwise, people are going to begin to believe it. … Frankly, I thought I had a pretty darn good record as governor of Massachusetts. And I think most people did. I did a terrible job of defending it against [Vice President Bush’s] attacks. I mean, I was the first guy in history to clean up Boston Harbor.

–Michael Dukakis (LE)