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Opinion Column
For the week of October 11 through 17, 2000

Gore’s campaign tactics could propel him down a familiar road

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


He was the shoo-in presidential candidate. Right up to Election Day, polls said he’d win. He was cocky, confident, self-assured. Even smug. He was polished, experienced, urbane.

His opponent was unpolished, his speech countrified. This was his first race for the American presidency. Polls had him trailing.

Al Gore vs. George W. Bush?

Nope. This was 1948, Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican, against Harry S. Truman, the Democrat who’d become the accidental president upon Franklin Roosevelt’s death.

So certain was it that Dewey would easily sweep to a victory, The Chicago Tribune printed its early edition before results were in with a huge front page headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman."

But Truman defied the polls and the pundits and crushed the favored Dewey.

Eerie parallels to the 1948 election have crept into today’s presidential race—the smug, self-confident, more experienced and polished Gore running against the less polished Bush, with polls generally favoring Gore.

But like so many relatively unimportant events in presidential campaigns, Gore has wounded himself with his over-eager, pushy, condescending, know-it-all conduct during the first debate with Bush.

But worse, his attempts to gild the lily by stretching the truth or telling outright falsehoods has handed the Bush campaign a major issue—that Gore as president couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth, just as Bill Clinton can’t be trusted.

Psychoanalysts have a more skilled explanation of why a man who was leading in the polls felt compelled to resort to lies. My own untutored sense is Gore is a man suffering from a terrible need to prove he’s not only good, but also better than others. The word insecure comes to mind.

If Gore’s fortunes vanish, and he loses the election because of unnecessary tactics, he’ll join illustrious company. It was an unwillingness to come clean about Oval Office tapes that brought down Richard Nixon. Gerald Ford’s claim during a debate with Jimmy Carter that Poland wasn’t under Soviet domination was politically fatal. And George Bush’s impatient, bored glance at his watch during the debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot turned voters against him.

#

So, what’re school children of America learning this week about Columbus Day? Is it Oct. 12, as the official 1937 proclamation by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dictates, or was it two days ago on Monday the 9th?

Students can be forgiven if they’re confused. Columbus Day is indeed Oct. 12, but adults who just want longer weekends have been tinkering with when to observe legal holidays.

So now, instead of holidays being observed on the actual days designated, Mondays now are observed for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

And do Americans use holidays for somber reflection and prayerful remembrance of those who’re being glorified?

Nope.

They’re days for football games, shopping mall sales, family picnics, sleeping off a hangover, a paid day away from work. So much for American History 101.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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