||Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.
Bill Press: The double debate disappointment
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What a double disapppointment.
George W. Bush didn't faint, drool, forget his name or cry for for his mommy.
Instead, he stood and gave as well as he got.
Al Gore didn't stab, bludgeon, hammer or attack Bush with the stuffed shark he brought especially from Florida. Instead, he refused to get personal and stuck to the issues.
So much for advance expectations of Tuesday's first presidential debate. It turned out to be not, as many pundits predicted, a one-sided brawl between a poodle and a pit bull, but an in-depth discussion between two serious candidates -- and a valuable tool for those voters still undecided.
For the first time, both candidates were forced to go beyond the brazen
boasts and cheap shots of the campaign trail and defend their proposals in detail, albeit
sometimes dizzying detail. For the first time, millions of Americans heard the differences
There was no knockout punch, no major gaffe, no memorable line for the
history books. And neither candidate came off warm and cuddly. Gore acted too much like a
smarty pants; Bush was too snide. By the time the debate was over, we were glad
to get rid of both of them.
If the goal was simply to stay on stage and not make a fool of himself, Bush
won. If the goal was to display a mastery of the issues, a superiority of ideas and a
readiness to walk right into the oval office, Gore won.
On tax cuts, in his first sentence of the debate, Gore exposed Bush's plan as
welfare for the rich. "He would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent
than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, prescription drugs and
national defense, all combined."
Beyond lamely accusing Gore of "fuzzy numbers", Bush never
denied the charge. He couldn't, because it's true. According to Citizens for Tax
Justice, 43 percent or $665 billion - of Bush's tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent. Bush
should simply admit it.
On energy, Gore stressed development of alternative, clean sources of energy
and slammed Bush's proposal to allow oil drilling in the Artic National Wildlife
Refuge because it would take too long, produce too little oil and destroy a
national environmental treasure. Bush, calling himself a "small oil man", insisted more drilling
was the only way to free ourselves from dependence on Saddam Hussein, perhaps forgetting it was
his father and his running mate Dick Cheney who left Hussein in power.
On prescription drugs, Bush proposed giving seniors a choice on how to obtain
drug coverage. Gore countered that the only choice Bush offered was dealing with
obstinate insurance companies. The cheaper, more direct solution is to make
prescription drug coverage part of Medicare, Gore argued. He's right. The AARP agrees.
Even with the wrong answers, Bush held his own on most issues. But on
abortion, he was clearly rattled. He promised not to overrule the FDA's approval of RU 486,
the abortion drug, but refused to say whether he would sign legislation blocking its
distribution. He claimed he would not apply a litmus test to future Supreme Court nominees,
but repeated his admiration for Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. As Gore
correctly observed, that means bye-bye, Roe v. Wade. On choice, at least, there is a
clear choice between the two candidates.
Bush's big mistake was sinking into the gutter. No matter how many times he
calls himself a different kind of Republican or promises to stick to the issues, he can't
refrain from personal attacks. Tuesday night, he again accused Gore of making illegal
phone calls from the White House and raising illegal funds at a Buddhist Temple.
Gore refused to take the bait. Instead of pointing out he'd been endlessly
investigated and cleared of those charges, he took the high road. "You may want to focus on
scandals, I want to focus on results," he told Bush - effectively reducing him to the
small, desperate, losing candidate he is.
At best, Tuesday was a narrow win for Gore. At worst, it was a draw. Either
way, Bush loses.