Today's Papers

Gore With the Wind

Everybody leads with Al Gore’s nomination acceptance speech and everybody’s headline quotes his umBILLical-severing announcement that he is his “own man.” And everybody quotes Gore’s other oblique Clinton reference: “I pledge to you tonight I will work for you every day, and I will never let you down.” There is other news today, but not much. Things look bad for that Russian sub. The independent counsel is acting independent again (see below). But truly yesterday was one of those few days where the center of the universe was a single man in a single place.

Gore’s speech contained many policy specifics–such as tax cuts targeted to working people and not the rich, a campaign-finance reform pledge, universal child health insurance by 2004, and using federal funds to put 50,000 more police officers on the street–but the papers have less enthusiasm for that part of the story than they should. Although USA Today says high up that the speech was mostly policy, it never mentions any of it. The Washington Post lead doesn’t broach specifics until the 22nd paragraph. The Los Angeles Times waits until the 23rd. Only the New York Times puts any meat in the first half of the sandwich. And only the Times, for instance, notices that in saying the first bill he’d send to Congress as president would be a campaign-reform bill, Gore did not commit to the strongest extant bill, McCain-Feingold.

No, the papers are much more interested in the other main task Gore had to address–how he came across. Hence the interest in the details of his entrance into the Staples Center and the way he greeted his wife onstage. USAT sees that as “a long, passionate kiss,” whereas the NYT instead observes merely a “robust bearhug.”

USAT and the LAT note that Gore only mentioned President Clinton once. (The WP observes that he never mentioned George W. Bush.) But everybody notes a key bit of background Clinton noise rumbling nevertheless underneath the Gore speech–yesterday’s midday leak that Independent Counsel Robert Ray has convened a fresh grand jury to determine if President Clinton should be charged with any crime in connection with the Lewinsky scandal. There are two different reads in the coverage on the Ray rumor’s impact: 1) It makes Gore’s “own man” point more compelling–this is USAT’s take. 2) It makes it harder to achieve–this is the line at the NYT, the LAT, and Wall Street Journal. Everybody has the White House spokesman’s complaint that the timing of the leak “reeks to high heaven.”

The NYT, referring to a political science professor’s dichotomy, says that “by common consent” George W. Bush’s acceptance speech increased his gravitas, but that it was less clear if Gore’s speech had done what he was looking for–added to his levitas. The WSJ seems surer of this, declaring that Gore “appeared loose and uncharacteristically humble.”

Everybody notes that Gore included in his speech references to the struggles of families he’d met on the campaign trail, families that had been brought out to be in the Staples crowd. But only the WSJ shrewdly observes that three of the four families live in swing states and that the fourth hails from Texas and that their story served to highlight the shortcomings of the educational system there, a system by the way, that Bush often touts.

The NYT notes that the convention’s presentations consistently served up Gore’s Vietnam service in subliminal contrast to Bush’s stateside National Guard experience. And indeed, last night, Tipper Gore’s “family photo album” introduction of her husband together with his speech collectively spent quite a bit of time reminding the audience that Al Gore served in Vietnam. Both Gores repeated the reasoning that Gore claims led him to volunteer for Vietnam Army duty: He was from the small town of Carthage, Tenn., and if he didn’t go, someone he knew would have to go in his place. This sounds good and the papers leave it alone, but it doesn’t hold up. If this were a good argument, then Al Gore could also be criticized for only becoming an Army journalist, because after all, as a result, somebody else had to take his far more dangerous spot in the infantry. (The only difference would be that that person probably wouldn’t be somebody from Carthage.) The truth of the matter is that neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush was morally required to seek a combat job in the military and therefore although neither’s service is as glorious as, say, John McCain’s, there just is no way to slice things so that Gore’s service is somehow noble and Bush’s is somehow not.

On its way home from the convention, Today’s Papers found itself in conversation with a riot-geared LAPD sergeant. Standing behind a phalanx of other black-clad and helmeted officers under his command as delegates, media, and protestors began to disperse, he could, for the first time in days, imagine that this would all end soon, reasonably peaceably. Thinking of the 12-hour shifts he’d been working this week (18 hours on Monday), he said, “When the overtime checks come in, I’ll forget all this.” Then, after a pause, he made a comment that fit right in with Gore’s big speech. “But like my wife always says, a lot of it goes right back in taxes.”