A Long, Strange Journey
The race was tight because the runners were so alike
"I'll fight for you." Ben Affleck is a surrogate, a supporter of Gore. He gets to say the things that Gore does not. When Gore takes the stage, he is gravel-throated and passionate, but he stays away from anything resembling a personal attack. "I am getting a very powerful message from your cheers, from your faces, from the feeling in your hearts we are going to carry Florida," Gore says, jacketless, but wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a red tie. "We're going to win the White House! Are you ready to win? Will you fight to win? Are we going to win?" The crowd roars. "I am for the people, not the powerful. I want to fight for you and your families and your future and your communities, not the wealthy, not the well connected. Are you with me?" The crowd continues to roar. "My friends, South Florida is a place where America's future is being born. And I came here on Election Day--just barely--to ask for not only your vote and your commitment but your enthusiasm and your heart because that's what's required. I know, as I've said before, that I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I will work hard for you every day, and I'll never let you down. And I'll fight for you with all my heart, and we'll win these battles together."
As much as they could, Gore and Bush avoided hot-button issues like abortion and gun control for fear of scaring off middle-of-the road voters. "Both campaigns are going after the same undecideds," a senior Gore aide said just before Election Day. "Undecideds classically break for the challenger, but who is the challenger? Is Bush the challenger? Are we the incumbent? Who knows? We do know that the voters don't want big change; they just want some change." So each campaign played it very carefully, reducing their messages to a few, nonideological words. Bush wanted to be "a uniter, not a divider." Gore was "fighting for you." And if those slogans summoned up no sharp policy differences, that's because it was intended that way. Gore is a "new" Democrat, which means, among other things, he supports such formerly conservative causes as the death penalty. Bush is a "compassionate" conservative, which means, among other things, that he has moderate views on issues like immigration, was careful not to be seen with such divisive figures as Pat Robertson, and downplayed the role at the Republican convention of party conservatives who were out front in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Even when Bush let his guard slip and indulged in old politics, he got little coverage from a media obsessed with the likability and performance abilities of the two candidates. When Bush launched an attack in Perrysville, Pa., on "thinkers," "planners and thinkers," and "thinkers and planners and plotters in the nation's capital," it received scant attention. It is hardly a surprise that the two major parties have produced similar candidates. To get a major-party nomination, Republican or Democratic, the same qualities are necessary: a certain amount of name recognition, which gives you the ability to raise vast sums of money, which allows you to go on TV, increase your name recognition, and raise even vaster sums of money. That George Bush, with a much thinner political resume than Al Gore, was able to fight him to what appears to be a draw, demonstrates how little Americans care about political service. Bush understood (as Clinton did) that campaigns are not about service but seduction. Al Gore viewed the presidential campaign as a job interview; George Bush viewed it as a date.