The Keene Sentinel   Wednesday, January 26, 2000 --page 6

Al Gore

    People voting in the New Hampshire Democratic primary face an embarrassment of riches next Tuesday: two candidates whose accomplishments, intellects, passions and personalities make each supremely qualified for the presidency.  And that wealth of purpose and preparation makes the decision between them one of the most difficult in recent memory.

    There's no point in feigning absolute certitude where there is none.  This newspaper has agonized over this decision, just as many voters no doubt will during the next few days.  And in the end, we have concluded that Vice President Al Gore would be the Democrats' best choice.

    On the issues, Gore's and Bill Bradley's positions are all but indistinguishable.  They favor public education, abortion rights, free trade, a cautious approach to foreign military interventions, campaign-finance reform, expansion of the access to health insurance.  Even in areas where, in our estimation, they are dead wrong --such as their incomprehensible enthusiasm for the death penalty -- they hold similar views.

    The real contrast between the two candidates is in their approach to the presidency.

    Somewhat imperiously, Bradley calls the difference "boldness vs. timidity," and asks, "Which is the tradition people want to embrace?"  But, as everyone learned after the health-insurance debacle of 1994, sweeping reforms proclaimed from on high are of value only if the get enacted into law.  Otherwise, the country is treated to high hopes followed by more of the status quo.  By way of contrast, "timidity" can look a lot like wisdom when incremental reforms are doggedly pursued and become incremental progress.

    Gore acknowledges that there are a great many similarities between his positions and Bradley's, but he counters Bradley's charge by saying that the country doesn't face two or three sweeping challenges over the next few years; rather, its leaders and its people must make a series of interconnected decisions --about taxes, jobs, families, crime, the environment, economic policy, foreign trade, military preparedness and so on.  effective presidents lead, but they also manage, by working the levers of government -- and Gore is not only capable of that latter task; he seems to relish it.

    One of a president's most important responsibilities is to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Justices go on affecting our lives and defining the country's ideals, long after the presidents who pick them have ridden off into the sunset.  And here, too, Bradley and Gore agree.  In interviews at The Sentinel, both expressed disdain for the Antonin Scalia-William Rehnquist wing of the court, which tries to legislate right-wing nostrums from the bench and strip citizens of longstanding rights, all under the guise of "strict constructionism."  Gore says he views the Constitution as " a living and breathing document," and notes archly that, when he was sworn in for his second term as vice president, he asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to administer the oath, rather than --wrinkled nose noted here -- Chief Justice Rehnquist.

    Gore's principal shortcoming as a politician is that he's not particularly good at conveying the depth of his convictions, especially on television.  Part of the problem is that, in the public eye, the office of vice president diminishes everyone who assumes it; it's the political equivalent of naming someone "Junior," another problem Gore once had to contend with.  Only recently has he begun to differentiate his positions from those of President Clinton.  We expect to see more of this as the campaign progresses.

    Additionally, Gore's attention to detail at times makes him appear more the technocrat that the broad thinker.  This intensity -- his insistence on stating (and at times overstating) every point and fleshing out every argument -- can prove awkward in the cool medium of television.  And his subsequent efforts to compensate for that awkwardness can prove more awkward still.  If we were to proffer one bit of Granite State advice to the candidate as he moves on to other contests, it would be that he abandon the search for a new Gore and let people learn to appreciate the old one.

    For that Gore has always been impressive.  In the early 1970s, he took a principled stand against the Vietnam War, in which he had been a soldier.  As a member of Congress and later as a senator, he voted consistently for progressive causes.  He has long been passionate about improving race relations, furthering human rights and defending religious freedom, here and abroad, where possible.  He has become an expert on the environment, in the process showing business the benefits of protecting it.  His commitment to ending the nuclear-arms race could be seen in his fiery reaction to the U.S. Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year.  In short, Gore's career is testament to the fact that a great deal can be accomplished in a blue suit.

    As for making sweeping statements of purpose and principle -- something Bradley accomplishes almost effortlessly -- voters are unlikely to find a more compelling definition of the presidency than the one Gore proposed last week in Keene.  "The presidency," he said, "is a day-to-day fight for real people who face real problems."  To which, we say, go to it.

Reprinted by Permission of The Keene Sentinel.