Politics & Policy

Bush Has Only Begun to Fight

Don't throw in the towel.

Scores of readers have been e-mailing me to say, “What do you think of your predictions now, [insert name here, i.e. schmuck, jerk, etc.]?!” Their tone would be perfectly appropriate coming from someone looking down at me as he shoveled dirt into my grave.

You see, for almost two years I have predicted that Al Gore will be the next president — of Vanderbilt University, of the World Wildlife Fund, of pretty much anything but the United States of America. Indeed, I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Over a year ago, for example, I bet my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru dinner at Morton’s that Gore would lose (I should make it clear that Ramesh doesn’t want to win). More recently, on the day before Gore’s convention speech, I wrote a syndicated column gloating over the possibility (though not likelihood) of Bush winning in a huge landslide. Also, I predicted that Gore’s convention bounce wouldn’t last as long as a box of Krispy Kremes in the Oval Office.

In response to that column, an intrepid reporter from The New Republic e-mailed me to tell me what a buffoon I am. So I bet him that in the first major poll after September 5, Bush would be back in the saddle, leading by high single digits, at least.

Well, it looks like I will be buying TNR’s Ryan Lizza some drinks at the Palm. But I still think sometime in November, Ramesh will be screaming, “Goldberg! The deal was one dinner! Not all you can eat! You’re paying for that extra veal chop! And a bottle of scotch is not a ‘cocktail’!”

Hell, if I’m lucky, I may still get out of buying Lizza drinks. After all, Bush may get his own bounce for calling a certain New York Times reporter a “major league Dershowitz.” As I suggested yesterday, there’s no downside to calling a New York Times reporter an a**hole. So you never know.

Still, it looks like it will be a tight race after all. I still think Gore will lose, but it is dramatically less obvious than it was just a few weeks ago. Bush is behind in the national polls. His campaign is off-stride and the press finally has an excuse to come home and beat the tar out of the Republican candidate, as its instincts normally dictate.

As for my prediction that Gore’s bounce would last as long as Leonardo DiCaprio at a Rikers Island sock hop, I do think I was largely right. The problem is that something else was going on. As The American Spectator’s Byron York reported recently, the Democratic convention received phenomenally low ratings and yet Gore’s bounce was phenomenally high. York suggests, very plausibly, that Gore timed a series of television ads to run immediately after the convention, and this reinforced his bounce. Nothing dishonest about it at all, just surprisingly effective.

Meanwhile, I think the level of Republican fretting is getting out of hand. Writing for NR Online yesterday, the inestimable John Derbyshire suggested — ominously — that we may just have to hang it up because we may be in a Democratic Era for as far as the eye can see. There’s certainly ample evidence out there for that conclusion. Somehow, through a combination of Republican ineptness, media bias, liberal spin and America’s prosperity-fueled sloth, the general public has come to be convinced that the federal government is allowed to keep the change whenever it overcharges the taxpayer. Worse, we’ve become convinced that most of the rights written in actual constitutional ink are as malleable as my own mid-section. Meanwhile, “rights” which might as well have been written on a Pokemon card are given profound legitimacy. Americans have a “right” to taxpayer-funded Viagra and heart pills, but the Boy Scouts can be rearranged like pieces on a chess board.

The whole idea that a “right” granted by government is no right at all has been turned completely on its head. Indeed, pay attention to how Gore speaks of rights. Few men have been more willing to mint new rights in their own cause. My favorite recent example was his first response to George Bush’s — in my opinion meager — debate counter-offer. “What is needed,” Gore said soberly, “is to respect the right of the American people to see these debates on all networks in prime time, the way it’s been done since 1988.” Good lord, what kind of nickel-and-dime right is that? “The way it’s been done since 1988″?! Doing something for twelve years or three elections makes something a “right”?

Okay, so it’s a small example. But Gore constantly couches his new entitlements in rights-talk. He consistently invokes the dangerous idea that the Constitution is created anew with every generation. For other leaders — like Wilson, FDR, and Johnson — such a worldview encourages arrogant social-engineering projects. Fortunately, Gore is a reactionary liberal. So instead, he invests huge importance to already existing entitlements. In the process he belittles the idea that average Americans can make decisions for themselves. Putting a few dollars of your Social Security money in the stock market is a wild and risky gamble. Allowing elderly people to pick their own insurance plan invites too much unpredictability for his tightly ordered plans. Or take his tax plan. The establishment thinks Gore’s “tax cuts” are superior because they bury thousands of tiny pieces of cheese in the national maze. If the American mice scurry in accordance to Gore’s plan, they get a tiny sliver of Velveeta. Bush’s plan is allegedly know-nothing because it actually says people can do what they want with their own money and will actually do better doing so (remember Bill Clinton saying he could cut taxes, but what if people spend it wrong?).

As long as the Republicans concede this philosophical ground to the Democrats, they will be doomed. Republicans can never compete with Democrats when it comes to over-promising goodies and overselling the ability of government experts to out-think the real world. Moreover, the call for “specifics” is a con. The Gore crowd thinks a plan is superior when it has more pages. That’s just pointy-headed stupidity. The American people have been spun into believing they want “specifics” when the media and everybody in Washington knows that that the specifics are almost entirely irrelevant. A new president will put everything on the table when he deals with Congress. The only relevant issues are on the order of first principles. Does a candidate work on the assumption that American people are smart enough to run their own lives? Or does he believe in the paternal omniscience of the government? It’s choice vs. diktat, freedom vs. security. Bush is not perfect on this score either, but he wins hands down compared to Gore. The trick now is to explain that to the voters. If they can do that, then I’ll be eating my way into the Bush administration.


1. Thanks again for making August the best month ever for NRO.

2. Last Friday, while you guys were ducking out early from your cubicle veal pens, NRO revealed that the New York Times had totally buttered its report about how the Boy Scouts are being treated around the country. Today, they issued a glaring correction.

3. Thanks for the suggestions and protests about Budweiser; my article on same will be up on the site tomorrow.

4. Speaking of protests; in response to the angry notes in response to Friday’s column I’d like to make it clear that I don’t give a rat’s rump if you’re as gay as road rash on velvet. Being pro-Boy Scout does not make me anti-gay, whatever that means anyway. We’ll come back to this topic again soon enough.

5. If anyone has back-to-school topics you think we should cover, let us know.

6. Oh, and by the way, I am pleased to announce that Monday will be the TWO-YEAR anniversary of this column and, I guess, the new NRO (even though that was about 5 redesigns and dozens of Laotian web boys ago). To commemorate the joyous day, everything on NRO will be for free and the pop-up ads will be only half as annoying.


The Latest