Gore swipes at Bush over hate crimes legislation, Confederate battle flag
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the same day that Arizona Sen. John McCain endorsed his former GOP rival George W. Bush, Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore criticized Bush for failing to speak out against the Confederate battle flag during their primary rivalry, and said that wide difference still separate the two Republicans.
"When the Confederate flag flies over a state capitol it should concern us all," the vice president told a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday in Washington. "This is not complicated."
"We know it is wrong not only to support it, but to find it impossible to summon the moral courage to speak out about it," Gore said, drawing sustained applause. "It is wrong to remain silent about it."
During their bitter South Carolina Republican primary battle last February, both Bush and McCain sought to avoid becoming involved in the debate over whether the Confederate flag should be removed from the statehouse by declaring the controversy an issue solely for the voters of South Carolina to resolve.
Supporters see the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, remembering when their ancestors fought for the South in the Civil War more than 135 years ago. Foes denounce it as a sign of racism and a reminder of the slavery that helped spark the American Civil War.
McCain returned to South Carolina last month and said the flag should come down. The Arizona senator admitted he did not take such a stance earlier because he was afraid it might cost him votes.
Bush has maintained that the issue should be decided by South Carolina voters. Gore has long maintained that the flag should be removed as called for by the NAACP and other civil rights groups.
Bush and McCain came together in Pittsburgh earlier Tuesday for a long-anticipated meeting between the former White House rivals. The Gore campaign responded by providing a list of previous comments by McCain about Bush that denounced a variety of the Texas governor's proposals on such matters as taxes and campaign finance reform.
The Gore camp also said their candidate is the one who should be picking up
the support of McCain backers, because the vice president supports at outright ban on "soft money" political contributions and other facets of the Arizona senator's campaign finance agenda.
On Tuesday, Gore also called on the Texas governor to explain why he initially opposed hate crimes legislation in his home state after the brutal dragging death of an African-American man, James Byrd.
"He has resisted endorsing a hate crimes bill in the state of Texas, despite a high-profile racially charged murder there in 1998," said Gore, who pledged to support broad federal legislation to combat crimes based on bigotry or race.
CNN's Beth Fouhy and Reuters contributed to this report.