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PressBill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN during the election season.

Bill Press: Gore drowns in his own honey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like many responsible pet owners, Carol and I had our dog Wolf fixed so he wouldn't sire any pups. Years later, I still remember the moment he returned from the vet.

I was reminded of that pained look in his eyes as I watched Al Gore in last night's debate.

Whatever happened to Al the Barbarian? The man who knows better than anybody how to destroy an opponent with his mastery of the facts? Where was the clever repartee? Why did he let George Bush get away with so much without going in for the kill?

Al Gore was emasculated by his handlers. He sat there as if he were embarrassed to be on the same stage and ashamed of taking up so much time. He let pass countless openings to unmask Bush as uninformed. He was so damned nice, he ended up drowning in his own honey.

To be fair, Gore got in a few good licks, especially when challenging Bush on his much vaunted, but still largely unexamined, record as governor of Texas. He correctly chided Bush for opposing new hate crimes legislation named after black hate crime victim James Byrd Jr. He noted that Texas leads the nation in dirty air and industrial pollution. And he accused the governor of having the worst record on health care in the country.

"Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states in children with health care," Gore stated, "49th for women with health care and 50th for families with health care." Those were devastating statistics that Bush couldn't refute, and didn't even try to. Instead, he lamely suggested Gore was accusing him of having a hard heart. Score that one for Gore. Big time.

But, most of the time, Gore just sat on his tongue. His performance was a string of missed opportunities.

When Bush giggled and said, of course nobody wants guns around schools, it was the perfect chance for Gore to point out that under the concealed weapons law signed by Governor Bush in 1997, guns can legally be carried onto school grounds and into elementary and high school athletic events. Instead, he remained silent.

When Bush insisted that gays and lesbians deserve equal rights, but not special rights, and admitted he'd never even heard of the pending Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual preference, Gore should have jumped all over him for ignoring the most important civil rights legislation now in Congress and reminded the governor that there's nothing "special" about the ability to get a job. It's a basic right of all Americans, gay or straight. Gore never said beans.

Even when the vice president disagreed with Bush, he apologized for doing so. "Maybe I heard the previous statement wrong, governor, but..." he started out, daring to differ with Bush on the presence of U.S. troops in the Balkans. What a wuss! The record is clear. Bush has called for pulling all American forces out of Bosnia and Kosovo. He is dead wrong. The result would be disastrous. Gore should have nailed him on it, and didn't.

Gore's new, softer demeanor was a strategic decision. He was anxious to avoid the perceived mistakes of the first debate: no more exaggerations, mistakes or sighs. But he went too far, smothering all his fire and conviction in momentary niceness. He didn't sigh but he didn't really try, either.

Which was a big mistake. This race is too close. This is the time for baring the differences, not for blurring them. To rebuild his standing in the polls and regain momentum, Gore needed to demonstrate clearly why he is equipped to be president and George Bush is not.

He needed to poke holes in Bush's record. He needed to pound home the flaws in Bush's proposals for tax cuts, Social Security and Medicare. He needed to destroy George Bush the same way he destroyed Ross Perot. He accomplished none of the above.

Fortunately for Gore, there's one more debate, one more chance to make the contrast between himself and his junior opponent. But to do so, Gore has to take off the gloves and get back to his old, aggressive self.

Let Al Gore be Al Gore. Or he'll lose the next debate, too -- and perhaps the election.

Where do Bush and Gore stand on issues of importance to Europe? Launch our Interactive Guide.

View the latest tracking poll or dig into our poll archives.


Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


Thursday, October 12, 2000


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