Can we please retire the notion that George W. Bush is the Washington Outsider in this presidential race? In last night’s final presidential debate in St. Louis, Bush’s chief tactic was to brand everything that Al Gore said as corrupt Washington doublespeak. Indeed, Bush spat out the word “Washington” so many times (16) and with such contempt that Chatterbox wondered whether the live audience assembled at Washington University would start to take offense. Here’s a sampler:
Now, there’s this kind of Washington, D.C., focus, well, it’s in this committee or it’s got this sponsor. …[T]here’s a lot of bickering in Washington, D.C. It’s kind of like a political issue as opposed to a people issue. …If you’re from Washington, you want to pick and choose winners. I don’t think that’s the role of the president. …A lot of people are sick and tired of the bitterness in Washington, D.C., and therefore they don’t want any part of politics. They look at Washington and see people pointing fingers and casting blame and saying one thing and doing another. …One thing about insurance, that’s a Washington term. …
Bush’s “I’m a Washington outsider” stance helps him stir populist resentment and gives him a justification for not knowing the details about any given policy–indeed, on occasion, not even knowing what his own party platform advocates. (Chatterbox’s favorite example of the latter occurred during the second debate when Bush, asked whether he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, answered, “Well, I have no idea. I mean, he can throw out all kinds–I don’t know the particulars of this law.”) But the idea that George W. Bush is free of any Washington taint is ridiculous.
Both presidential candidates are named after prominent Washington-politician fathers. For Bush, however, the nepotism factor looms much larger than it does for Gore. Bush’s Washington family tree reaches back two generations (to Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush). Gore’s reaches back only one. Bush is the son of a former president and vice president; Gore is the son of a senator. The basis of Bush’s fame and political viability, first as a Texas gubernatorial candidate and now as a presidential candidate, is his father’s 12 consecutive years in Gomorrah on the Potomac. (You can also make a decent argument that this is the basis of Dubya’s late-blooming financial success.) For Gore, Washington roots are more accurately described as the motivating force behind rather than the explanation for his present political position. Let’s state this so starkly that even an undecided voter will grasp Chatterbox’s point: If George W. Bush’s father hadn’t been Ronald Reagan’s vice president and successor, George W. Bush wouldn’t be this year’s Republican nominee for president. As Dubya himself pointed out last night, when he first ran for governor in Texas, “a lot of folks didn’t think I could win, including, by the way, my mother. …”
Both Bush and Gore’s presidential candidacies have their origins in family links to Washington. But Gore has been able to add to the advantage of his birth the additional advantages of knowledge about and experience in government at the national level. Bush, on the other hand, flaunts his lack of Washington knowledge and experience while offering himself up to sentimental Republicans as heir to a Washington dynasty. It will be astonishing if he gets away with this.