Democratic Forum Revisited

by Joseph LaBracio | 10/29/99 5:00am

The vice president redefined the word contrived at the town meetings in Moore Hall on Wednesday night. Who is Al Gore trying to fool? Clearly, he thinks he is relaxed and reaching the people with his new style, his new wardrobe, his new way of interacting with the people. You can see him jumping around when talking to and greeting voters like some awkwardly hyper child.

Before the debate had even begun, the vice president decided to show some pseudo-spontaneity and bounce across the stage asking people for questions before the cameras were ready to roll. Throughout the debate, he donned an act of wanting to get to know people, wanting to reach out by asking questions about their home, their families, and making jokes that people only laughed at because of obligation. Anyone who follows Gore knows how much he has overplayed that awful HMO joke.

The icing on the cake was when the vice president interrupted CNN's Bernard Shaw before the closing cue. Gore invited everyone in the audience to come up after the meeting and ask him questions because he was going to stick around for a while. Perhaps the vice president was being sincere and doing everything out of sincere interest in answering the questions of the people of NH and Dartmouth College. Honestly though, I don't think the majority of the 400 audience members and the press core of 300 reporters were fooled.

The vice president is plastic. He is an act. Everything he says and does is carefully calculated. The overwhelming support for Bradley in the streets of Hanover should be a testament in itself that people do not want to see Al Gore in the White House and that he has a long road to haul in pursuit of the nomination. Gore is the incumbent. So why was he acting like the disadvantaged underdog?

Then again, it would be a mistake to say that Bradley stole the show. He was anything but inspirational. These town meetings were the perfect opportunity for Bradley to take Gore to the hoop. Bradley did not exhibit the molded, coached, and fake image that Gore presented to the audience. At the same time, however, Bradley did not do enough to enliven the discussion, evidenced by audience members fighting off the weight of their eyelids. Bradley is a genuine man. He is also an intellectual who seems at times simple though pensive. He does not speak in soundbites. Rather he speaks in paragraphs, taking the time to seriously contemplate what it is he is saying and what the questions he is addressing are asking instead of reciting a rehearsed line.

Still, one has to respect Bradley for not playing the game that Gore was attempting to engage. Bill Bradley came to these debates prepared to talk to the people and to be himself. He described his substantive views on campaign finance reform, gay, lesbian and bisexual rights, education and healthcare. Though not exciting or awe-inspiring, he told it to the audience and the viewing public straight up. No spin, no rhetoric. It was Bill Bradley talking to the people of N.H. and the United States via CNN and WMUR. Still one must wonder if this will be enough for Bill Bradley provided he gets the nomination and faces George W. Bush.

At this point though, it is still too early to see what is going to happen. While Gore has been picking up some serious endorsements and seems to be regaining some ground. Bradley continues to compete and attract the support of many people. Recent polls in several key states like N.H. and N.Y. show him comfortably ahead of the vice president. Indeed these figures might change over the course of a few days.

Lastly, consider the ideological differences between the vice president and Bill Bradley. They are difficult to define because Gore and Bradley are so very similar. In fact, in the years that they served together on the same aisle of the Senate, their votes were concurrent more than 80 percent of the time. The question remains: do you want phony or genuine, old leadership or new leadership, Gore or Bradley?

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