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Poor Al. Even though he was able to record about 300,000 more popular votes than George, the compassionate conservative has won the judicial phase of this election, propelling him to 271 electoral votes and the Oval Office. Yet, should the election have been this close? Sadly, Al defeated himself by making tactical mistake after tactical mistake. He should have emphasized his role in the Clinton administration and stuck with his boring, stiff, experienced image. Tommy Lee should have told Al that he simply can't act.
Awash in peace and prosperity, the nation has clearly benefited over the past eight years. Al did not campaign on the uncanny economic times enough. When Bill and Al moved to D.C., the Federal budget deficit was $290 billion and the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent. The Office of Management and Budget is projecting a $211 billion surplus for 2000, the largest surplus ever, and the jobless rate was a mere four percent in June 2000. The administration is responsible for the creation of 22.2 million new jobs since 1993, the most created under any single White House duo. In February 2000, the United States entered the 107th consecutive month of economic expansion, making it the longest expansion in history. A wide slice of America has benefited from the boom, especially those who invested in Wall Street.
Over this eight-year period, the Democrats have proven that they know how to stimulate the economy. It is relatively inconceivable that Al could lose an election after such growth in the piggy bank. He failed to emphasize how George's tax-cut plan would put this economy at risk, opting to endlessly repeat that it would only benefit the wealthiest one percent. For Al to be voted out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is like Jack Welch, the captain of General Electric, being fired by his stockholders--it makes little, if any, sense. Al failed to capitalize on our unprecedented wealth.
Al should have emphasized his experience more than he did. Throughout his campaign, it was as if he sought to ignore the public service dimension of his past. Realizing that many households would rather have George over for dinner, Al attempted to define himself as the family man. He told us that he was a grandfather as often as he spoke of saving Social Security. George struggled to show a grasp of the issues whereas Al struggled to show that he loved people. Al should have stuck to the basics. He spent 16 years in Congress, eight as a representative and eight as a senator. While George was exacerbating the greenhouse effect with his oil and gas company in 1976, Al was fighting to protect the environment.
Al has over 24 years of public service on his record, which is 18 years more than George. The Texas governor has devoted more of his life to the energy industry and the Texas Rangers than he has to public service. Listening to Al campaign, one would hardly know that he was a member of the Clinton-Gore administration. Al, all of your years slugging it out in Congress and working with Bill were an advantage that you ceded, as if acknowledging this experience would make the race too easy.
Speaking of the slick man from Little Rock, Bill should have been utilized more by Al. Understandably, the veep wanted to separate himself from Bill due to the sexual and financial scandal that unrelentingly followed the former Governor of Arkansas. Trying to step out of Bill's mammoth shadow, Al rarely mentioned his connection to the president and told Bill to stay home. I can see why Al would initially want to create this distance, but come crunch time in the fall, Al should have campaigned with Bill on the issues and sent Bill out to preach the gospel of Al. Doesn't the Tennessean realize that if the Rhodes scholar were to run again, he would easily defeat his veep and W.? The most successful politician qua politician of our day, Bill still gets 60 percent approval ratings, as if the Gallup Poll keeps on questioning the same pool. Al failed to use his lame-duck boss to the best of his advantage, a boss who would have zealously leapt at the opportunity to see more of himself in The New York Times.
Al took his fighter image too far. Concerned that his stiff reputation and banal image would destroy his chances against the friendly frat-boy motif that George had going for him, Al decided to be the "fighter." Al was not satisfied with being the choice with more substance. Instead of calmly explaining policy initiatives, Al wanted to work up a sweat while explaining his plan to provide universal health care for every child. Al, the fighter, wanted to show that he was comfortable with a ruffled shirt and loosened tie. Yet, he became condescending in the ring. During the debates, Al would frequently twist his face into disgust as George explained his stance on affirmative action or on how to solve the plight of the farmer. Although Al wins the applause of most Harvard students when he invokes such facial expressions, he alienates a considerable segment of the population as well. America has never liked the arrogant.
By speaking longer than he was supposed to in his responses in the debates, Al gave George the opportunity to look like a little boy at the mercy of a bully. Amazingly, the veep even figured out how to elicit the wrath of a Mr. Rogers-esque Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the debates. Al, trying to be bold, failed miserably when he broke the debate rules that he had agreed to heed. Americans honor the good sport because the truly good sport is a rarity. You can fight for me on the issues all you want Al, but don't break into a brawl with Jim Lehrer because he reminds you to stop speaking at the red light.
Oh Al. George ran an effective campaign, but Al defeated Al. The veep emerged from the primaries with barely a scratch and should have dominated the issue wing of the campaign. Instead, he focused on winning this election as the volunteer Vietnam veteran with vision. In this unprecedented period of electoral limbo, Al has shown that he is a fighter at heart, though cynics argue that he only fought genuinely because his political future was on the brink.
It must be hard to win the popular vote and see George take the Oval Office by two electoral votes. Al will not argue his way to another recount. Regardless of the chaos in Florida, Al should have been able to waltz into the White House in light of the economy, his experience, and Bill's popularity. But that would have been too easy for Al, the fighter.
Robert J. Saranchak is a first-year in Wigglesworth Hall.
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