Lieberman blasts cultural "pollution"

Gore and Bush take a whack at voters' funny bones, the Democrats try to dent the solid South and Nader strikes -- and retreats -- in California.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 25, 2000 6:41PM (EDT)

The unending cultural crusade of Democratic veep nominee Joseph Lieberman stopped at the University of Notre Dame on Tuesday. The Washington Post reports that Al Gore's running mate is still preaching to the family-values crowd -- blasting the "pollution of our culture" and pledging to spark a national moral reawakening. "Vice President Gore and I want to bring truth to power -- the truth of faith and the power of values that flow from it," Lieberman said. "We share a commitment to using our office and our influence to support and encourage this new burst of moral and cultural renewal." In his 45-minute lecture, Lieberman quoted liberally from the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament.

While his speech was for the most part warmly received, one audience member did talk back. "What about abortion?" a student shouted out during the pro-choice politician's remarks. Lieberman responded with cool civility: He acknowledged the student's opinion, and requested that he be allowed to make the rest of his speech in silence from the crowd.

Funny as a crutch
When they're not busy trying to be pious, the presidential candidates seem to be trying to beat each other to the punch line. The New York Observer reports that George W. Bush and Al Gore have been falling all over themselves to get on shows that regularly and mercilessly mock them. Both major-party candidates jumped at the chance to be part of a "Saturday Night Live" special airing the weekend before the election. The candidates' eagerness to slip into self-mockery is a sign of the times, according to comedy writer Robert Smigel. "You know, everybody has turned into David Letterman in the last 20 years, only not as funny," he said. Jim Downey, who co-wrote the opening of the "SNL" special with comedian Al Franken, thinks the candidates are trying too hard by touring late-night comedy shows. Voters, Downey asserts, "don't need to think the candidates have a great sense of humor or are funny. They like to think of them as personable and warm and friendly, and I think that they could probably get that point across in other ways."

Song of the South
Gore wasn't going for laughs when he took his populist show on the road through Southern states, Reuters reports. Instead, the vice president tried to flip the script on Bush, essentially calling the Texas governor a big-government conservative. "I know Governor Bush will keep accusing me of supporting big government, but ... the evidence demonstrates clearly that he is the one who proposes massive spending increases and tax cuts for the wealthy that aren't even paid for," Gore said to supporters in Little Rock, Ark. "Maybe he wants to hide the fact that he would turn government over to the special interests and give them more power over our lives." But Bush wasn't taking that lying down, not even when traveling through Gore's home state of Tennessee. "He's the biggest spender we've ever had in the history of politics," the Texas governor told reporters in Knoxville.

A sharp left hook
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is spending big time in swing states, and it has begun to pay off at the polls. He has also gotten the attention of the vice president, who is beginning to battle Nader on his own green turf. The New York Times reports that Gore has enlisted some liberal stars to pull the left wing back into the Democratic fold, sending out luminaries like Jesse Jackson, Robert Redford and Gloria Steinem to Nader strongholds in Oregon, Wisconsin and Washington. Rather than the dismissive tone that the Gore campaign previously used when discussing Nader, the Democrats are now trying to tear him down and build him up at the same time. "Mr. Nader is a good man, he's raised important issues," said Mark Fabiani, deputy manager of Gore's campaign. "But he himself admits that he can't win. What could be lost in this election is a woman's right to choose, what could be lost are tough environmental protections." For his part, Nader seems amused that Gore has changed his tune. "Their policy for six months has been to ignore me. So obviously we welcome this enhanced attention," he said.

Playing for keeps or playing possum?
There's some evidence that Nader and the Green Party aren't completely enjoying their time in the spotlight, according to the Associated Press. As the race between Bush and Gore tightens in California, some of Nader's forces are in retreat. New York businessman Greg McArthur, who just this week announced plans to run full-page Nader ads in California newspapers, has had a change of heart, at least as far as the Golden State is concerned. The message "a vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush" no longer rings completely true, McArthur believes, after a state poll showed Gore with just a five-point lead. "I still think Gore is going to win California, McArthur said, "but if the perception is such that it's a tight race, then that's the wrong market for me to be advertising in." The ads will still run in states that are considered noncompetitive.

California dreamin'
However close the race for the Golden State truly is, it's too close for comfort for Gore. The Los Angeles Times reports that Gore leads its latest survey by seven points, scoring 48 percent to Bush's 41 percent, with a four-point margin of error. That poll shows Nader earning 5 percent of the state's vote, with the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan trailing at 1 percent. Even though the Republicans have pumped $6 million worth of ads onto state airwaves, the Democrats have so far refused to return fire. Gore has President Clinton to thank for being able to run his California campaign on autopilot, as fully two-thirds of voters surveyed say that they approve of Clinton's job performance, while 20 percent say that they want substantial change in the nation's policies.

On the trail
Bush: Florida.
Buchanan: California.
Gore: Tennessee and Missouri.
Nader: Washington.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Gore 46 to Bush 45 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 21-23).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 42 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 21-23).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 46 (ABC News Oct. 21-23).
  • Bush 46 to Gore 46 (Washington Post Oct. 21-23).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 41 (Newsweek Oct. 18-20).
  • Gore 44 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 21-23).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 21-23).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (ABC News Oct. 21-23).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post Oct. 20-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).
  • Nader 5 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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