After 16 years in Congress and eight years as vice president, Al Gore still felt it necessary to introduce himself to the American people in his Thursday night speech accepting the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Either the public doesn't pay much attention to what goes on in Washington or Gore doesn't make much of an impression.
It's probably a bit of both. The nominee admitted as much when, in trying to escape from the shadow of President Clinton, he proclaimed he was his "own man," adding he could not be as exciting or charismatic as some of the nation's recent presidents.
He tried his best to turn his policy-wonkery into an asset, stressing his experience, knowledge and grasp of issues - and reminding voters that electing a president should not be a popularity contest. Ability and competence must count most.
Up to this point Gore's speech went well, even though he had uttered no memorable phrases. His presentation, which included much "get to know me" autobiographical material, was relaxed and friendly, in welcomed contrast to his usual condescending stiffness.
He was persuasive in making the case that he was the best man to keep the decade-long economic expansion rolling and could, indeed, restore respect and dignity to the presidency.
In short, the vice president came across as a leader who would be an able, honorable, unintrusive, comfortable fit as president and, despite his own serious fund-raising problems, would make campaign finance reform his No.1 priority on taking office.
This is when Gore should have shut up. Instead, seemingly forgetting he hadn't been elected president yet, he went on to give what was, in effect, a State of the Union address.
He took every liberal issue imaginable, couched them in terms of "fighting for America's families" and pledged full prescription drug coverage for the elderly; health coverage for all children as a step toward universal health insurance; child care, after-school care; college tuition tax breaks and "the single greatest commitment to education since the GI bill."
In addition, of course, he would save Social Security and Medicare, and "target tax cuts" to middle class working families. Never mind the cost. Budget surpluses will pay for everything.
The easiest thing in the world a politician can do - and no one does it better than populist liberals - is to list failures in the human condition and then promise a Big Government program to fix them.
This is what Gore did, and though he thrilled his Democratic base, it possibly came at the expense of the credibility he built up in the first part of his talk. If all those problems still exist, why didn't the Clinton-Gore administration do something about them the past eight years?
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