Only a few months ago, a group of historians pooled their knowledge
of past presidential elections and informed us that no challenger could
defeat an incumbent sitting atop a flourishing economy. Al Gore would be
our next president.

This conventional “wisdom” has the pundits and the experts scratching
their heads and mumbling that something isn’t right. They are asking
questions: Have we overlooked something? How is it that the economy is
fabulous and yet Al Gore is far behind in the presidential race and
still losing ground?

Indeed, it is difficult to fault anything about the American economy.
Interest rates are low, inflation is under control, employee
productivity is up, unemployment is almost nonexistent, wages are
improving, profits are high, the dollar is sound, the general economy is
growing at a nice clip, the budget is balanced with a monstrous surplus,
and the economic future looks bright.

Despite this glowing picture, George W. Bush has a humongous lead in
the polls. Even when you factor in an understanding that polls are
volatile, sometimes unreliable, and sometimes don’t mean much this early
in the game, Democrats have to be disheartened and confused that Gore is
trailing in essentially all of them, and badly in most of them.

The Bush-Cheney lead in the bipartisan Battleground 2000 poll is 18
points, 49 percent to 31 percent. In the post-convention CNN/USA Today
Gallup poll, Bush leads by 17 points, 54 percent to 37 percent.

While Bush’s numbers will probably fade somewhat, and while Gore may
expect a bounce of his own at the upcoming Democratic convention, the
burden is on the Democrats to change a tide of public opinion that is
running strongly against them. Playing catch-up will be difficult. Gore
himself is a major problem. The more people see and hear Bush, the
better they like him, while the more they see and hear Gore, no matter
who he is pretending to be at the time, the more they dislike him.

Can the Gore people pull out a victory? In a word, the answer is
“no!” And the explanation has nothing to do with Gore’s unattractive
posturing. There is a growing consensus that, while the American economy
is fine, the American soul is in jeopardy. The people have given to
Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but also given to Caesar that which
belongs to God.

When participants in the Battleground 2000 poll were given a list of
11 issues and asked to name the one they thought was most important for
the next president to deal with, “Improving education” and “Restoring
moral values” came out on top, while “Strengthening the economy” was in
a tie for next to last place.

In Zogby’s current American Values survey, 71.4 percent of
independent voters said the moral climate in America is going in the
wrong direction. One need look no further to understand why these voters
are swinging toward Bush and away from the Clinton scandals and away
from those who were enablers of them.

It is clear that more and more Americans are becoming angry as their
moral beliefs are reviled and discarded. They fear for their children
and for their country. Americans aspire to be rich, but they also aspire
to be a good and noble people. Americans have never lived by bread
alone, and they do not wish to start now.

That which has happened to the old Johnny Carson show is a paradigm
of what has happened to our culture. Carson’s witty and softly naughty
nighttime show has been disfigured by Jay Leno into a vulgar,
mean-spirited parade of wall-to-wall smut, sexual innuendo and toilet
humor. Johnny Carson would not have made cruel “fun” of Dick Cheney’s
heart attack any more than he would have mocked the tremors and shakes
of the seriously ill Janet Reno.

It has been a long time since national morality took center stage in
a presidential election. Perhaps never before in the history of our
republic has it been a critical issue whether a given political party
would help or hurt the moral foundation of the country.

The major issue in this presidential campaign is not America’s
economy; it is America’s character. Bush promises to “restore honor and
integrity” to the White House. Of all the promises made, this is the
solitary one that Gore will not make and cannot make, and that is why he
will lose the election.

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