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Does it really matter who becomes our next President? You bet it does. Despite the cynics who emerge in every election year to claim there are no real differences amongst the candidates, Americans are faced this November with a historic choice between two men who differ drastically in terms of their intellect, experience, ability, philosophy and governing approach.

Whoever wins will become the first President elected in the 21st century, and help shape the new Millenium in ways that touch the lives of every American down to the smallest detail.

It's become an axiom of American Presidential politics that as the Midwest goes, so goes the country. With Iowa holding its first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses last Winter, the candidates began concentrating on the Hawkeye state well before the snows of January began to fall.

Since then, barely a week has gone by without Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore visiting the Heartland, especially the populous swing states of Ohio, Michigan and Missouri. While Bill Clinton swept most of this region during the 1990s, polls show that several of these states are still in play this year, as candidates vie for the large blocs of Catholic, working class, and suburban voters.

Elections like this with such a close battle shaping up come along only rarely in U.S. politics, with much more than control of the White House at stake.

When Americans go to the polls on Nov. 7 to make their choice for President, they will also be deciding which party controls both houses of Congress.

Control of the narrowly divided Supreme Court is likewise in the balance with the expected retirement of a couple of justices. The next President could then be given a chance to reshape the court. If more conservative justices were appointed, as Gov. Bush would be likely to do, American jurisprudence could be affected in dramatic ways, including greater latitude for police and business enterprises, a lowered wall of separation between church and state, a reduced federal role in protecting the environment and the elimination of affirmative action programs.

At stake, too, is the fate of the world's largest economy, with the new President able to change the make-up of the Federal Reserve Board and the officials who supervise anti-trust policy.

Faced with such an important decision as choosing the next leader of the free world, why is there such a pervasive apathy among the voters about the upcoming election? One theory holds that this indifference is reflective of the fact that the nation is at peace. Crime and unemployment are down dramatically, as are the welfare rolls and rates of teen pregnancy. The stock market has soar-ed and so has home ownership. Never be-fore has the American dream been the reality for so many.

With no particular issue capturing public interest, surveys show that many people complacently expect the good times to continue, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

Yet that's a difficult attitude to fathom, since George W. Bush and Al Gore have very different ideas on what to do with the surplus, how to manage American military strength and on social concerns like the environment, guns, schools and health care.

A Strong Economy

It's been said that voters tend to vote their pocketbooks, and if so, that should bode well for the incumbent party. To counter this, the Republicans, while admitting that the economy is booming, have sought to deprive Clinton-Gore of any credit for it. They insist that the Democrats merely "presided over" good economic times that were begun years earlier.

The GOP is counting on the American people having short memories, and judging by the polls, many voters do. But Democrats are only too eager to remind the country of the double-digit inflation, high unemployment, stagnant economy and the quadrupling of the national debt under the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.

When Clinton and Gore took over in 1993, the country had gone through more than a decade of stagnation, influence-peddling and outright corruption. Unemployment was over 7%, the Dow was under 3500, the crime rate was 25% higher, welfare rolls were twice as large as they are today, and the deficit was an astronomical $290 billion and counting.

During the time Republicans controlled the White House, America went from being the No. 1 lender to being the largest debtor nation in the world, as our deficit quadrupled and our leaders wrote hot checks.

While a complex set of factors contributed to an upturn in the economy, at the core was the willingness of Bill Clinton and Al Gore to expend the political capital necessary to enact a deficit reduction plan early in their tenure. Gore can point to the fact that the Administration's plan passed the Congress in 1993 by only one vote, and without a single member of the gop siding with them. The Vice President himself cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Then House Speaker Newt Gingrich twice shut down the government, trying to force changes.

At Gore's urging, Clinton held firm. James Cramer, a longtime personal money manager who has made millions in the market, says that "by getting the Federal Government to stop borrowing excess money, the Democrats -- helped by a recalcitrant Republican-dominated Congress -- created an environment that made the stock market the investment of choice. Bonds, particularly the popular 30-year Treasury bonds, ceased to be a legitimate alternative to stocks, a feat that no one even dreamed could happen ten years ago. Money that once headed for bonds poured into the stock market instead, driving up prices. With lower interest rates and virtually no inflation, corporations and individuals refinanced and invested, creating the prosperity we have today."

Republicans had cynically predicted that the Clinton-Gore 1993 tax increase would produce disaster -- a recession, and an even worse budget deficit. But by 1996, productivity, which had grown at a snail's pace for two decades, began to accelerate, with recent numbers reaching stratospheric heights. The Dow Jones industrial gained more than 200%. Unemployment began falling to levels not seen since the inflationary years of the late 1960s -- but this time without inflation.

Gov. Bush implies that Clinton-Gore renaged on a promise to provide tax relief for working families. But in the 1997 balanced-budget deal, Clinton and the GOP Congress agreed on a significant middle-class tax cut centered on a $500 per child tax credit. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that most families are now paying a smaller share of their income in federal income taxes than when the Democrats took office. And the conservative Tax Foundation admits the 1997 law "reduced...taxes on the median family so dramatically that federal income taxes as a percentage of total income were about the same in 1998 as they were in 1955."

The bottom line is that Clinton-Gore's inherited $290 billion budget deficit in 1993 is now a projected $224 billion surplus in fiscal 2000. And for the most part they did it without making the draconian cuts in programs that help people.

There have also been a record 22 million new jobs created, as average families have seen their net worth increase by $18,000 a year since 1995.

Interestingly, while a Los Angeles Times poll indicated that 89% of voters believe the economy is doing well, 49% said Gore deserves no credit for it, while 34% said he deserves some credit and only 9% said he deserves a lot.
Yet even Mort Zuckerman, the conservative publisher of U.S. News & World Report magazine acknowledges that "[Gore] played a key role in the fiscal discipline that turned the horrendous deficits into a surplus, arguably the single most important contribution of public policy to our current prosperity."
Why is it, then, that so many people believe the Republican nominee for President would be likely to sustain our current prosperity when he advocates the same failed policies that are a throwback to the days when his father was in office?

This suggests that many people don't grasp the complexities of the issues, and are dazzled by the theatrics of Bush's campaign instead. A well-funded campaign it's been.

George W. has has raised more than $100 million to date and spent $97.2 million, while Gore has spent $21 million. Ralph Nader mocks Bush as being "nothing more than a giant corporation running for the Presidency, disguised as a person."

While Gore has been in public office for the past 24 years and compiled a record first as a Congressman, then Senator and Vice President, George w. comes from the relative obscurity of the Texas Governor's office where he's served a mere six years.

Bush -- nicknamed "Dubya" -- is credited with being a great leader, but the truth is he won re-election as Governor in 1998 in a low-turnout election against a weak opponent.

In the one Presidential contest in which Bush faced extended exposure to the voters - -the New Hampshire primary -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) beat him by 15 percentage points.

After New Hampshire, voters never had a chance to take a hard look at Bush or his positions. Instead, he racked up a series of Big Bang primary victories that were mostly delivered to him by strong state GOP organizations.

Bush's Record Deserves a Closer Look

On the one hand, George W. Bush touts his record in Texas as being a model for what he wants to do for America. On the other, he gets nervous when anyone tries to examine that record too closely. Bush has even claimed that reviewing his performance was "negative" and "divisive" and huffed that it was unseemly for someone wishing to lead all states to "single out one."

Maybe that's because he knows that, sad to say, the Lone Star state is a hotbed of poverty and pollution whose living conditions in some areas are reminiscent of the most miserable hell holes of the Third World. For instance, there is the squalor of border communities known as "colonias" just north of the Rio Grande, where immigrants are living in dilapidated shacks made of plywood and tin on unpaved roads unconnected to water, electricity or sewage systems. Though Bush claims he's a "reformer with results," he hasn't done much of anything to alleviate the suffering of these families in his own state.

Houston has replaced L.A. as the smog capital of the world, with Texas having ten times more auto emissions than New York. Last October, high school athletes in the Houston area experienced coughing fits, difficulty breathing and other forms of respiratory distress during one of the worst smog episodes in years. Angry parents began demanding that schools be notified when the air is particularly bad so strenuous student activities can be curtailed. Meanwhile, Gov. Bush was busy helping to undermine the state's auto emissions testing program.

The Sierra Club reports that "Texas ranks first in toxic releases to the environment, first in total toxic air emissions from industrial facilities, first in toxic chemical accidents, and first in cancer-causing pollution." It leads the nation in the number of factories violating clean-water standards, and ranks No. 1 in the injection of toxic waste into underground wells. The state also accounts for nearly half the country's hazardous waste.

Below average immunization rates in Houston and elsewhere, according to health officials, make Texas "ripe for epidemic." The New York Times reports that Texas "ranks near the top in the nation in rates of AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and teenage pregnancy, and near the bottom in...mammograms and access to physicians."

Other numbers are also daunting. As Midwest Today has previously reported, Texas ranks 48th in Best Place to Raise Children (29th before Bush), 48th in spending on parks and recreation, 48th in spending on the arts, 46th in high school completion rate, 46th in public libraries, 45th in mothers receiving pre-natal care, and 5th in highest teen birth rate.

The state's appetite for executions is an example of mean-spirited vengeance rather than justice. In highly publicized cases where new evidence raises doubt about some guilty verdicts, Gov. Bush has shown himself to be either contemptuous of the facts or, on a matter of life and death, he did not care.

This is especially troublesome because a new report from the State Bar of Texas says the state "is a national embarrassment in the area of indigent legal services," and blamed the Governor's veto of a public defender program for the poor.

Gun control advocates also assail Bush for legislation that permits concealed handguns virtually anywhere in Texas, including churches, nursing homes, hospitals and amusement parks.
While Bush keeps saying that he wants to make sure "no child is left behind," the policies he has pursued as Governor have left his state's children in crowded and crumbling schools, and deprived of proper textbooks and preschool education.

Political writer Gary Wills observes that Dubya "wants to keep bringing up education, since it is the one thing in his state that he can boast of. The ironic thing is that Bush does not deserve credit even for the one thing he brings up again and again. The reforms of testing, advancement by merit and stress on the basics were all in place and functioning when he came to office. And these were not even the result of state action, except insofar as the state accepted the recommendations made by a citizens' group led by Ross Perot."

Laura Bush brags that a Rand study credited her husband with improving schools in Texas. But Rand cited the years 1990 to 1996. George w. didn't even become Governor until 1995. In some cases, test scores have "risen" because Bush lowered the standards. The latest act test results continue to show Texas students scoring well below the national average.

George W. also opposed expanding health insurance for poor children last year. Of the nearly 500,000 needy kids in his state who are eligible for a federal health insurance program, only 28,000 have been enrolled. State health officials are suspected of having spent money mandated for poor children's health care on a renovation of their own offices instead.

A federal judge recently said that Texas has not lived up to a 1996 agreement to make major changes in its Medicaid system, and has ordered the state to improve access for children and fix other problems in medical coverage for low-income residents. The judge said Texas has not addressed the needs of about 13,200 abused and neglected youngsters, and it has failed to inform the parents of nearly 1 million children enrolled in Medicaid about available benefits.

Medicare and Health Insurance. Bush vows to "preserve and improve Medicare" and to honor "a commitment to all Americans" for "affordable, quality health insurance." But his health plan would be dictated by HMOs and drug companies -- among his biggest contributors. He opposes national health insurance, would cut Medicare funding and privatize it, gut the Patients' Bill of Rights, stall prescription-drug benefits and impede enrollment in the Child Health Insurance Program. While an estimated 44 million Americans don't have health care insurance (because it's been blocked by Republicans in Congress), Bush claims that his health care plan will cover those people. But he's only proposing a $2,000 tax credit, whereas the typical family health plan costs $5,000 to $6,000 a year, leaving a $3,000 to $4,000 balance that won't be picked up by employers and would be unaffordable for low-wage families.

Social Security. George W. Bush says he wants to "save Social Security," and claims he can reduce the money flowing into the system without cutting benefits -- never mind that the system is facing a projected long-term deficit as it is.
His solution would turn it over to fee-hungry and fraud-ridden financial companies. Bush proposed diverting money from the Social Security trust fund to personal retirement accounts, explaining that these accounts offer "a higher return" if you're among the winners. However, these returns are possible largely because the accounts are outside the insurance pool available to the losers, and would require a drastic cut in the guaranteed retirement benefit in the expectation that private investments will make up the difference. A study by Brookings Institute shows that Social Security retirement benefits would have to be cut by 54% to restore balance under Bush's privitization plan.

Education. Governor Bush and his Vice Presidential running mate, Dick Cheney (the latter of whom as a Congressman voted against funding for Head Start, against subsidizing school lunches for poor children and against federal aid for college students), travel the country claiming to be education champions while at the same time standing in the way of those programs that would help children most. Despite the fact that more than half the members of the u.s. House of Representa-tives -- 226, to be exact -- are co-sponsoring federal legislation to spend $25 billion to help states finance the building of new schools and the renovation of old ones in desperate need of repair, the Republican leadership has blocked a vote.

Vice President Al Gore strongly supports this crucial legislation, but Bush does not. He has derided it as a "bricks and mortar" approach to education reform.

The Republicans are also frustrating Clinton administration efforts to provide federal funding for the hiring of 100,000 teachers to help reduce class size in grades one through three.

The Military. Bush has claimed that, "if called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.'" But that statement is demonstrably false, and in an embarrasing admission, Dick Cheney said that Bush had used out of date data.

In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, the 49th Armored Division of the Texas National Guard, nominally under the Governor's command, has the lowest ranking for war-time readiness that the Pentagon gives, according to officials.
While Bush insists there is a "crisis" in military readiness, that's even disputed by Lawrence Korb, who served as Assis-tant Secretary of Defense for Readiness during the Reagan administration. "Who is out there that is more ready than we are?" Korb asks. "What military in the world are we not ready to take on? I think it's dangerous to convey to the rest of the world who looks to us to provide leadership that we have more problems than we are letting on."
The Washington Post editorialized, "Mr. Gore was surely right when he called it 'the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led fighting force in the world.' The u.s. military budget is greater than those of Russia, China, France and Germany combined. No country comes close in technology. The U.S. military is not, in any significant sense, in decline."

It's noteworthy that the Pentagon didn't lose a single pilot during last year's air war over Kosovo.

When Dick Cheney complains that "our military forces have been cut by 40%," he's being hypocritical. The oil company Cheney formerly headed, Halliburton, has a subsidiary, Brown & Root, that is a longtime defense contractor that's helped the military achieve those cutbacks by privitizing duties that otherwise would be performed by our troops. The contracts are worth $2 billion and Cheney has profited from them.

George W. Bush said that he would order "an immediate review" of U.S. troop commitments in "dozens of countries." But only 1% of all American troops are deployed overseas long-term -- the same as during Bush's father's Presidency.

Dubya says Clinton-Gore have "squandered" our power and "demanded" too much from the military. All of which prompted White House press secretary Joe Lockhart to ask, "Was [Bush] against our actions in Haiti? Was he against our action of returning peace to Sarajevo and Bosnia? Was he against reversing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo? Was he against eight years of containment of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction?"

It is indeed a disgrace that so many military families are on food stamps because of poor pay, but only half as many are under Clinton-Gore as when Bush's father was President.

Revealingly, Bush only wants to boost defense spending by $6 billion a year, compared with Gore's proposed $5.3 billion.

Bush advocates a naiive sort of unilateralism, whereby he thinks he's going to just tell Russia, China and the nato alliiance that they have to accept a scrapping of the abm treaty and u.s. missile defense plans. Good luck.

Taxes. While George W. promises "significant tax relief [targeted] especially toward low-income workers," he would cut the Earned Income Tax Credit which benefits those workers. He also opposes hikes in the minimum wage, and wants a Treasury-busting $1.3 trillion tax cut that would squander the budget surplus with a big giveaway to the wealthiest Americans, with special tax breaks to the GOP's political contributors.

Citizens for Tax Justice, a watchdog group, says around half the benefits would go to families with incomes of more than $250,000 per year; the average tax break for families in the top 1% of income would be 100 times that for families in the middle. Even a family making $80,000 a year would get less than $20 per week off its taxes once the plan was fully phased in; a family making $1 million would get $1,000 per week.

The Bush plan is riddled with tricks designed to make it seem responsible. For instance, it counts $400 billion of Medicare funds in the budget surplus number, even though the Republican Congress insists these funds are in a "lockbox." Also not mentioned is that the tax cut will reduce the rate at which the federal debt is paid down, indirectly costing an extra $300 billion in interest payments. Millions of taxpayers won't get the tax cuts they've been promised because they will end up paying the alternative minimum tax instead.

Democrats are pushing tax credits to help with tuition costs and child care, breaks for families who care for ailing relatives, the easing of a tax penalty on married working couples, matching grants to encourage savings, the expansion of tax credits for low-income workers and an overhaul of estate taxes.

The Environment. While Bush says he would be a good steward of our natural resources and merely use "public lands for the public good," the policies he advocates would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and weaken clean-water statutes. Bush's mindset is reflected in how he handled environmental issues in his home state, where he came up with a voluntary plan -- developed behind closed doors with the state's biggest polluters -- and put in a grandfather clause that protects some of his largest campaign contributors.

Negative Campaigning, a Bad Running Mate. George Ww. Bush is campaigning on the theme that he's "a uniter, not a divider." That's rather amusing coming from a man who, in 1988, recruited infamous GOP attack strategist Lee Atwater for his father's campaign and proceeded to smear Mike Dukakis.

True to form, through his stump speeches and negative TV ads, Dubya has repeatedly tried to link Al Gore to President Clinton's moral lapses and declared the next four years would be "no different" if Gore was elected. On Fox News, self-appointed ethics watchdog Bill Bennett even went so far as to accuse Gore of being an "enabler" for Clinton's liasons with Monica Lewinsky -- which is laughably absurd.

On issue after issue, George W. Bush is out of step with the American people, like his friends Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. He wants to eliminate federal support for the 100,000 police officers project, he is opposed to affirmative action, and he wants to take away the freedom to sue corporate wrongdoers.

Dubya and his campaign aides have also shown shockingly bad judgment. To mock Gore, who made a speech at Harry Truman Day in July, Bush deputies trotted out near-centenarian Dixiecrat segregationist Strom Thurmond to joke that he knew Harry Truman, Harry Truman was a friend of his, and Al Gore was no Harry Truman. Critics ask: What does it say about Bush's sense of history that he thinks a joke by a hardened segregationist, who was never any kind of friend of President Truman's, has a proper place in today's political dialogue?

And he has a running mate in Mr. Cheney* who, unlike Gore V.P. pick Joe Lieberman, is dead weight. Cheney is a college drop-out who nevertheless got five draft deferments. Like many Republicans, Cheney was keen to continue the Vietnam War, although not to fight in it. As a Congressman he voted to the right of the NRA and Newt Gingrich - -always willing to pony up money to guerrillas in Nicaragua and Angola but not to poor women or to children whom he repeatedly voted against. Cheney opposed compiling hate crime statistics, financial aid for drought-stricken farmers, capping costs for Medicare recipients who were struck by catastrophic illnesses, federal money for aids programs and ex-panded assistance for the homeless.

He has only donated 1% of his multi-million fortune to charity, and failed to vote in 14 of the last 16 elections.
Dick Cheney also has an alarming history of coronary artery disease -- including three heart attacks. Thus he's hardly the sort of person in whom the country could have confidence if he had to take over the Presidency in a national emergency.

Concern That Bush Is Not Ready for Prime Time

But even above and beyond the matter of issues, there is another problem with George W.'s candidacy which is paramount. Ron Reagan, Jr. -- son of the former Republican President - -was blunt: "The big elephant sitting in the corner," Reagan observed, "is that George W. Bush is simply unqualified for the job. He's probably the least qualified person ever to be nominated by a major party. Yes, he was elected Governor of Texas, and before that he ran a baseball team and lost a lot of other people's money in the oil business. But what has happened in the intervening five years to make people believe he'd be a good President? What is his accomplishment? That he's no longer an obnoxious drunk?"

Ronald Reagan, Jr. went on: "The defining moment for me was his Karla Faye Tucker smirk, joking about a woman he would put to death. No adult would ever do that. It wouldn't even cross the mind of a grown-up to joke about something like that."

Morris Berman, a Johns Hopkins University teacher who has authored a new book, "The Twilight of American Culture" (Norton) thinks if Bush wins he would be the most ignorant man ever to hold the highest office in the land. Berman sees him as the poster boy for everything that is wrong with an America where being an intellectual is taboo.
"I'm guessing George w. Bush has never read a serious book in his entire life," Berman comments. "What does it say that we have a serious candidate for President in this country that is literally as dumb as a stick? He can't write a grammatical sentence and he can't give a grammatical speech unless it's written by somebody else and he's reading it off a TelePrompTer..."

As a businessman, Bush presided over or served on the board of companies that lost a combined total of $371 million.
Not since the Great Depression, and the nomination of another oil man -- Alf Landon, in 1936 -- has the Republican Party bestowed its Presidential nomination on a man of so little apparent substance. Bush's convention address papered over a lifetime of indifference to serious work and thought. He claimed "The Clinton-Gore administration has coasted through prosperity," but he's the one who coasted through his education and career on family wealth and connections. He said "An American President must call upon that character" exemplified by "paratroopers on D-Day" and "the civil rights movement," but he's the one -- not Al Gore -- who sat out the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights.
George W. obviously has trouble with garbled syntax and frequent malapropisms, suggesting he can't speak the English language even as well as most foreign leaders. This has given rise to speculation, hotly denied, that he suffers from dyslexia, (as does his brother Neil) -- a neurological disorder impairing the ability to read and write and that tends to run in families.

Dr. Irwin Rosenthal of the New York Association for the Learning Disabled, says "Based on his speech and behavior, his hyperactivity and impulsivity, you can say there is a possibility of some sort of [attention deficit] disorder."
Mr. Bush avoids long meetings and, according to the New York Daily News, sets aside 3-1/2 hours every day to jog and play video games. Like Ronald Reagan before him, he makes frequent comments about resting and sleeping and maintains a light schedule. But George W. is extremely adept at social interaction and can astonish people with his ability to remember names and personal details -- traits also exhibited by dyslexics who have to find other ways to navigate the world.

Bush was a self-confessed boozer at least until he turned 40, and in a newly surfaced home video shot at a wedding he attended, an obviously giddy -- if not inebriated -- Dubya jokes about drinking while gulping a suspicious beverage six years after he supposedly forsook alcohol. Denying he's an alcoholic, Bush has also refused to answer questions about alleged cocaine use, despite the fact that he was grounded by the Texas Air Guard after failing to take a drug test.

The best rationale for a Bush Presidency is that he would tackle the nation's social challenges with a philosophy that would seek to enable individuals to choose more for themselves -- in education, health care, and Social Security. He would push for partnerships with the private sector and nonprofits and use the Bully Pulpit of the Presidency for moral suasion.

Ascerbic essayist Camille Paglia put it this way: "Actually, Bush would probably make a competent, if not great President ...Much of the national electorate is sick and tired of the glib, smartass Ivy League establishment and its alumni network of casuistic lawyers and snide media coteries. Maybe the country could use a nice, stiff dose of West Texas dust and the old, strike-it-rich romance of black crude."

The Case for Al Gore 

So what should the electorate do? Some people just don't like Al Gore. They think he is "tainted" by the Clinton scandals, and condemn him for his not having publicly condemned the President over the Monica Lewinsky matter. But as a sitting Vice President who stood to inherit the top job had Clinton been removed from office, any such action by Gore would have been unseemly. You can be sure he would have been denounced by his critics and accused of making a power grab. Most dangerous of all, foreign adversaries might have sensed the American government was in disarray.

This is not to suggest that Al Gore has been timid about making his voice heard. In fact, Joel Goldstein, an expert on the Vice Presidency at St. Louis University, says that "What is remarkable about Gore is that his role has been a bold one. He hasn't been circumspect about the advice he gave Clinton, and his advice has been used. There is a public perception that he is a cautious guy. But the way he's approached the Vice Presidency is anything but cautious."

While Bill Clinton obsessively consults the public opinion polls before making a move, Al Gore seems to be a bolder politician with issues he cares about. For example, he pushed hard for intervention in Bosnia and Haiti. He stuck with the low-glamour issue of reinventing government. He fought for improvements to the 1996 Telecommunications bill and convinced the President to threaten a veto when Republicans were hell-bent on complete deregulation. Thanks to the v.p., the Clinton administration is the most pro-environment in a generation. When the 1997 climate-change negotiations were on the verge of collapse, Gore flew 22 hours to Kyoto over the howls of his political advisors to broker a compromise.

Much later, Mr. Gore would become the butt of late-night talk show jokes for his claim of having helped to create the Internet. But Congressional colleagues say he really was ahead of the curve in seeing the implications of new technologies, like computer networks and genetic testing. He played a major role in probing nasa after the Challenger disaster in 1986. He was an early voice warning about the dangers of global warming.

"He is a quick study, but when he has to, he really puts in the time to understand issues," says Larry Haas, who worked with the Vice President on his reinventing government initiative. "He is committed to being very, very knowledgeable on policy."

In the 1980s, when he decided to become an expert on nu-clear weapons, Gore set aside eight hours a week for 13 months to study the issue, then emerged with his own strategic plan.

Conservative columnist William Safire recalls being part of the press contingent that accompanied Gore to the newly freed states of the Soviet Union in 1993. Safire, a former speechwriter for America's last great foreign policy President, Richard Nixon, nevertheless admits that Al Gore "had not only done his briefing-book homework, but had a hard-wired strategic outlook that takes years to develop. I disagreed with some of his policy conclusions but had to respect his knowledge of the weaknesses and foibles of his foreign interlocutors and his grasp of the intricacies of high-level wheeling and dealing."

While Republicans portray him as just another tax-and-spend liberal, Gore has been much more of a centrist. Largely through his efforts, more than 351,000 employees have been cut from the federal workforce, making it the smallest it's been since the Kennedy years. He's also improved the way government purchases goods and services, updated its information technology, and trimmed unnecessary regulations.

He supports free trade, a flourishing private sector and fiscal responsibility. He insists these can peacefully coexist with universal health care, environmental protection, retirement security and other concerns of working people.
Of special note to the Midwest, Gore is opposed to the disastrous GOP-authored "Freedom to Farm Act", would increase payments as crop prices falter and direct them to farmers actually producing crops, supports increasing USDA direct and guaranteed farm loans, wants to expand the availability of on-farm storage, and reduce concentration in agribusiness. He would open Europe and Japan to genetically-modified farm products, supports ethanol subsidies and a "farm safety net."

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter says "Gore made fund-raising calls from the White House that he shouldn't have, but he's hardly a sleaze. This is a guy who sold all of his stocks when he entered Congress because he thinks it's an inherent conflict of interest for legislators to vote on bills that affect their portfolios."

On the campaign trail of late, Al Gore has loosened up a lot and let his populist instincts hold sway. With his fitted shirts and steely pecs and blow-dried hair, the V.P. is an impassioned, even energizing speaker who displays a quick wit. By all acounts he's an excellent father to his four children, and he and his wife of 30 years, the bouyant Tipper, have a love affair that's the envy of married couples everywhere.

Both in terms of intellect and experience, Al Gore is indisputably the most qualified man to be President. If people want to assure prosperity, Gore's their man.

*Dick Cheney has accrued salary and stock options worth an estimated $45 million in just five years at the Halliburton oil company.

They inexplicably sweetened his early retirement deal by rewarding him with 400,000 more stock options that he would ordinarily have had to work additional years to acquire. That special favor, worth at least $6 million at today's prices and potentially a lot more, would tie Mr. Cheney's financial fortunes to those of the company well into a potential Bush-Cheney administration.

While the Bush campaign has defended Cheney's multimillion-dollar retirement payment from Halliburton as fair compensation for a job well done, last year the company's board of directors withheld bonuses from Mr. Cheney and his management team, because they had failed to meet the board's financial targets for 1998 and 1999, plus racked up unusually high losses of nearly $180 million on some of its projects. Cheney years saw Hallibur-ton stock underperform most stocks in its industry, due in part to his lackluster business sense.

The Bush family itself has a half century of entangling alliances with the oil industry that the U.S. public does not know about. And Neil Bush was director of an S&L that cost taxpayers $1 billion in losses.



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