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Thursday, October 26, 2000

Gore appeals
to swing voters
with moderation

Bullet The issue: Vice President Al Gore has toned down his populist message and focused on such issues as balancing the budget and cutting government.
Bullet Our view: Bill Clinton was successful with this moderate approach and Gore hopes it will work for him, too.

AL Gore posed as a militant populist when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, vowing to fight for the common people against the evil special interests and spend whatever it took to solve their problems.

Some of that rhetoric has survived in the vice president's campaign, as when he accused Big Oil of driving up fuel prices. But Gore has turned back toward the middle of the political spectrum in pursuit of the elusive swing vote. Taking a page out of Bill Clinton's playbook, he's focusing on traditionally Republican themes such as cutting the size of government and balancing the budget.

Clinton undercut former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the rest of the Republicans by supporting such measures as providing funding for more police officers and reducing the welfare rolls. Such "New Democrat" themes left the GOP scrambling to hold the moderate vote, often unsuccessfully.

As Jonathan Salant of the Associated Press reported, Gore is even trying to pin the "tax-and-spend" label on George W. Bush, claiming his Republican presidential rival's tax-cut and spending plans would mark a return to budget deficits.

Campaigning in Little Rock, Ark., Gore charged that during Bush's administration as governor, the size of state government in Texas has grown. By contrast, he said, "I'm opposed to big government. I'm for a smaller, smarter government -- one that serves people better, but offers real change and gives more choices to our families."

Gore spoke of his deciding vote in 1993 to pass Clinton's deficit reduction package -- a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes on the wealthy -- as a point of pride. Republicans used the backlash against the vote to capture both houses of Congress in the 1994 elections. Even Clinton admitted later that he had raised taxes too much.

But Gore claimed, "That vote in '93 directly led to the strongest economy in our nation's history."

That is a vast overstatement, but the measure apparently had something to do with the remarkable performance of the economy in the years since. The result is a federal budget surplus, something not seen for decades.

Less persuasive is the vice president's claim that the Clinton-Gore administration has cut 400,000 federal jobs. Much of those numbers represented downsizing the military following the end of the Cold War, which seems to have gone too far.

Nevertheless Gore strikes distinctly conservative notes when he speaks of balancing the budget and reducing the size of government. How he is going to achieve these goals while proposing a bewildering number of new federal programs along with tax cuts is a question.

But the vice president is now clearly campaigning as a New Democrat -- call it a Clinton Democrat -- even though he works hard to avoid mentioning his boss by name.

If swing voters get confused between the moderation of the new Al Gore and the "compassionate conservatism" of George Bush, well, that's the idea.

Ulster peace hopes
kept alive by pledge

Bullet The issue: The Irish Republican Army has allowed international re-inspection of some of its hidden arms caches.
Bullet Our view: The gesture keeps the peace process on track but is hardly worth celebrating.

HOPES for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland have been kept alive by the Irish Republican Army's agreement to allow re-inspection of several of its arms caches. The pledge to reveal the location of the bunkers does not necessarily mean the IRA will allow any of its weapons to be destroyed. Ulster Unionists will need to exercise patience in further pursuit of disarmament and permanent peace.

The announcement keeps on track the 1998 Northern Ireland peace accord, which formed a joint Catholic-Protestant government in May. Shortly afterward, the IRA provided two international inspectors access to three bunkers in the neighboring Irish Republic.

The caches to be inspected reportedly are not the ones already seen by the inspectors. The caches are among dozens in which tons of weaponry is maintained by the IRA in rural areas that have been concealed from police detection.

The goal of Britain and Ireland continues to be the disposal of all weapons held by the IRA and the lesser armed pro-British groups by next June.

However, the Ulster Union Party's ruling council will consider a motion Saturday to insist that IRA disarmament be completed by Christmas of this year. The proposal is not realistic and would effectively scuttle the peace process.

In a written statement, the IRA said it would resume talks with Northern Ireland's independent decommissioning body headed by retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, whose efforts to achieve gradual destruction have been futile.

The statement also accused the British government of not honoring commitments made during negotiations in May, apparently referring to demilitarization and police reform in Ulster. Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson responded that 31 security bases have been closed and 3,500 troops have returned to Britain.

The IRA's agreement to allow re-inspection of arms caches does not speed the peace process, but at least it keeps it alive. That gesture alone is welcome given the fragility of peace in this centuries-old battleground.

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