Column: Election 2000: President Bush vs. President Clinton

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New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd got it just right last Wednesday when she described the 2000 presidential election as follows:

"The race turns out to be what we thought it was all along: President Bush vs. President Clinton. George Senior is determined to prove once and for all that Bill Clinton is a tacky hick who defiled the presidency. Bill Clinton is determined to prove once and for all that George Senior is an irrelevant aristocrat who thinks the presidency is a family heirloom.... George Senior is fighting for the second term he feels he was gypped out of by Bill Clinton. And Bill Clinton is fighting for the third term he needs to launder his legacy."

And there you have it! According to Ms. Dowd, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore are merely "bystanders and stand-ins in the big rematch" of the 1992 election.

If you compare the two presidents, however, Clinton is campaigning much harder than Bush. President Clinton took a gratuitous shot at President Bush last week when he criticized George W. as "Daddy's boy." At which point President Bush vowed to tell us exactly what he thinks of our current president's honesty and integrity if Clinton doesn't shut up. Bush obviously hit a nerve because that's what this year's election is about - restoring honor and dignity to the White House. A sign seen at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia last week says it all: "Integrity Matters." Does it ever!

There is a clear choice between George W. Bush and Al Gore. With the governor, what you see is what you get, warts and all. Meanwhile, Gore is still trying to define himself.

Which Al Gore will show up for the Democratic Convention? Will it be Policy Wonk Al, Fund-Raiser Al (who raised money from Chinese Communists and impoverished Buddhist nuns), Earth Tone Al or Attack Dog Al? Or will it be Cheerleader Al, who presided at that degrading White House impeachment pep rally, hailing Clinton as one of the greatest presidents in American history?

Give me a break! Gore has so many different personalities it sometimes seems as if he's running against himself.

Gore will have another problem at the Democratic Convention - Bill Clinton, who sees the event as a tribute to him and his tarnished legacy. In an earlier column, Ms. Dowd wrote about an imaginary convention on "How I led the Democrats back from the wilderness, rescued the U.S. economy and made world peace," with no mention of Al Gore. Actually, considering Clinton's overweening need for attention and approval, Ms. Dowd's column isn't as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance.

And then there's Hillary (no last name), who's running for the Senate from New York. Ms. Dowd joked that her convention would be dedicated to "The Girl from Chappaqua," featuring a Rosie O'Donnell (or Barbara Streisand) tribute to "two great New York dames," Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary. By the way, has Hillary been to a Yankee game yet? And does she know where Yankee Stadium is? (Just wondering).

I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Al Gore. What's his role in all of this? It might be, as Ms. Dowd suggested, to remain backstage at his computer hosting a nightly webcast on the Clinton legacy and how Hillary is doing with New York voters. In that case, he'd be Technology Al, the one who invented the Internet.

My problem is that I'm old enough to remember when we respected the president and the presidency. That was before they became running jokes on late-night television, and before the president seduced a young intern in the Oval Office, lied about it to our faces, and told us about his underwear on national television. As if we cared.

But in this age of made-for-TV politics featuring carefully choreographed and teary-eyed (but phony) apologies and confessions, anything is possible.

Eight years ago, who would have believed that our president would be impeached by the House of Representatives for lying under oath and obstructing justice, and fined by a federal judge for giving "intentionally misleading" (false) testimony?

And there's a good possibility that he'll be disbarred by the Arkansas Supreme Court after he leaves office next January. By then, however, Bill Clinton won't care because he'll be raking in the big bucks for corporate-sponsored speaking engagements.

Perhaps I'm disillusioned because I worked for a Nevada Democrat, Gov. Grant Sawyer, who did the right thing rather than the popular thing on civil rights and gambling control. He didn't take polls or organize focus groups to decide his positions on sensitive issues. If he had taken a poll in 1963 on whether to revoke Frank Sinatra's gambling license, Sawyer might have won a third term in 1966.

President Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage," was about politicians who did what they thought was right in the face of public opinion to the contrary. That's what real political courage is about, in contrast to the poll-driven politics that dominate both major parties today.

And that's why Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader should be included in this year's presidential debates - to force George W. Bush and Al Gore to discuss the real issues in this campaign.

If Ms. Dowd is correct and it's President Bush vs. President Clinton, I think honor and integrity will triumph over double-speak and political expediency. I don't care how good the economy is; other things, such as ethics and morality, are even more important. But things will soon change in Washington. As George W. Bush said Thursday night, "It won't be long now."

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.

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