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Al Gore is telling George Bush to “put up or shut up” and begin
dealing with the specifics of campaign issues. My fervent hope is that
Bush doesn’t permit Gore to become his campaign manager.

Besides, Gore’s charge is inaccurate. Bush does have specific plans
on most issues, which are readily accessible to voters, and Gore knows
it. Reading between the lines, what Gore is really saying is: “Let’s
campaign on my turf. Let’s do what I do best to make sure the public
sees my strongest side and your weakest.”

There is no reason for the Bush campaign to panic. Gore’s recent
surge in the polls was inevitable. He just came off a media-enhanced
convention bounce during which he promised 2.3 trillion dollars worth of
giveaways. He recently chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate, sending
the media into a drooling frenzy over the prospect that he’d eliminated
the ghost of Bill Clinton in one fell swoop. The economy is still
booming. Plus, the media has quite conspiratorially slipped back into
their Bush-bashing mode. By capitalizing on a few malapropisms, they’re
depicting Bush as a spastic stumblebum.

With all these things going his way, Gore should be on a serious roll
right now — but he’s not. Despite these positive factors, Gore is
barely tied in the popular vote and decisively trails in the projected
electoral vote. He’s the one who should be sweating.

Gore set the tone for his campaign when he decided to ignore his
handlers and approach his convention acceptance speech, and the campaign
itself, as a real-life game of “Trivial Pursuit,” offering a specific
solution for every conceivable problem. Nowhere is it decreed that Bush
must follow suit.

Bush mustn’t allow himself to be dragged into the murky milieu of
minutiae. He must focus on a finite number of major themes, not to
impersonate Ronald Reagan, but because it’s what he believes in doing
and what he does best.

How quickly we forget the predictions of Bush’s doom preceding the
Republican primaries. “He’ll choke in the debates,” said the naysayers.
No matter how you score his debate performances, he acquitted himself
well enough to go on to vanquish his formidable opponents in the
primaries.

Gore is intent on showing he’s the smartest guy in the room — or the
universe for that matter. Bush should let Gore continue to caricature
himself as a mad scientist (see his book “Earth in the Balance”) and the
maniacal messiah of micromanagement, who offers a federal solution for
all of society’s ills, from AIDS to child poverty.

In fact, the more Gore reveals of himself, the better off Bush will
be, for Gore’s proclivity toward tinkering with every miniscule aspect
of life extends to global proportions, literally. For example, Gerald
Seib of the Wall Street Journal recently detailed Gore’s approach to
national security. Gore is trying to redefine national security to
include a plethora of issues, not remotely related to protecting the
United States, such as the overfishing of global waters, the spread of
AIDS and the rise of genetically engineered crops.

What this would mean in practice is that Gore would address small
problems abroad early and aggressively to ensure that they never
mushroom into major problems. What would mushroom is our military
deployments in the sovereign affairs of other nations. No benchmark
philosophy, such as safeguarding our national interests, would govern
which situations would warrant intervention. It would be an ad-hoc
foreign policy of breathtaking proportions. Under this expansive notion
of national security, Gore would call for intervention on the basis of
“environmental, scientific and social problems that could destabilize
the world.”

Bush should encourage Gore to talk about those specifics. He should
also, by contrast, continue to emphasize his belief that the president
should not approach governing as if the United States were one gigantic
math problem. The president will face issues he never anticipated and
for which there is no canned response, no cue card, no carefully-crafted
policy paper. In those cases, the president will need to summon his
common sense, sound judgment, maturity and the wisdom of his brightest
advisers.

If Gore isn’t careful, he may get what he wishes for: public
awareness of his unlimited willingness to use the power of government to
usher in his disturbingly bizarre concept of utopia.

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