Vice President Al Gore reinvented himself yet again at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles on Thursday night, presenting himself as Populist Al fighting for "the people" against powerful "special interests." We'll have to wait until Nov. 7, however, to see if his class warfare theme resonates with American voters in prosperous economic times.
Only hours before Gore spoke, Independent Counsel Robert Ray (Ken Starr's successor), confirmed news reports that he had empaneled a new grand jury to decide whether President Clinton should be indicted for perjury after he leaves office next January - the latest reminder of the Clinton Fatigue that Gore must overcome in order to win in November.
Hypocrisy ran rampant at the Democratic Convention as the party of "ordinary citizens" met in the stronghold of rich and powerful Hollywood elites, who mock Middle American family values on television and in the movies. And the party that embraces the Hollywood lifestyle punished Hispanic congresswoman Loretta Sanchez for scheduling a fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion.
Even as President Clinton attacked George W. Bush and the Republicans for allegedly favoring the rich, he and his wife, New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (or just plain "Hillary!"), raised nearly $15 million from the Hollywood in-crowd. They left table scraps for Gore and his moderate running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an outspoken critic of Hollywood's products and values.
The president's self-centered "farewell" speech gave America a choice between Clintonian "peace, prosperity, greatness and goodness" and Republican "poverty, backwardness and unhappiness."
"Are we going to keep this progress and prosperity going?" asked Clinton as he finally endorsed Gore. But here's another question: Are we going to continue the Clinton/Gore record on ethics and morality in government?
After all, the chief executive who promised us the most ethical administration in history dishonored the presidency by lying under oath and the Clinton/Gore administration gave us the most troubling campaign finance scandal in decades. This point of view is shared by many Democrats, including yours truly and Sen. Lieberman himself.
"The fund-raising scandal of 1996 was a very real tragedy, with very real consequences for our democracy," Lieberman said two years ago. "People at the highest levels in both parties did more than just strain credulity; they betrayed the public trust ...."
Obviously, Vice President Gore was among those "people at the highest levels." And now Gore, in an effort to distance himself from Clinton, has chosen to run with the principled Lieberman, who had the political courage to condemn the president for his shameful behavior in the Oval Office.
But fund-raising questions remain and Republicans aren't exempt from campaign finance criticism. Just last week George W. Bush's fund-raising machine, headed by the U.S. ambassador I worked for in Australia, Florida shopping mall developer Mel Sembler, passed the $100 million mark, a new (and disturbing) record in modern American politics.
There's something seriously wrong with the way we finance political campaigns when the president and vice president turn the Lincoln Bedroom into a high-priced B&B and sell White House access to favor-seekers from around the world, including military officials from Communist China. That's how the money-grubbing Clinton/Gore team undermined governmental reforms and it's a major reason why so many liberal Democrats will vote for Green Party nominee Ralph Nader in November.
It was fascinating to watch two centrists, Gore and Lieberman, as they attempted to appease the left wing of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles. Gore pandered to every known minority, and Lieberman groveled before Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus, explaining how he supports affirmative action while opposing racial quotas.
Actually, Lieberman agrees with Gov. Bush on affirmative action, school vouchers, military spending and Social Security reform - a tough sell to African-Americans and other liberal Democrats.
What Vice President Gore really needed from President Clinton was an enthusiastic personal endorsement, but what he received was only four paragraphs in a 13-page speech. According to respected Washington Post political columnist David Broder, "Gore deserved better of the man he has served so loyally for the past seven-plus years. He deserved the kind of sendoff the elder George Bush received from Ronald Reagan ... in 1988."
"Like too much else in Clinton's presidency, this final speech was ultimately a self-indulgent essay on one subject: himself," Broder concluded. "Gore would do well to change the subject."
Would he ever! Although nearly 60 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance, his personal approval rating is an abysmal 21 percent. "People find him useful, but they don't respect him," said Emory University political scientist Merle Black. Which pretty well sums-up Bill Clinton's deeply flawed legacy.
Political hypocrisy was on display in Los Angeles last week, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Perhaps that's why Vice President Gore still trails Gov. Bush in the opinion polls.
(Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.)