Last night's Presidential face-off did little to illuminate the differences between George W. Bush and Al Gore because on many issues, there are no differences.
Gore, who seemed to be pouting for the first half of the debate, and Bush, who is not the swiftest salmon in the stream, could barely distinguish their positions one from another on most foreign policy issues.
For Democrats who oppose mindless U.S. interventionism in Latin America, it must have been painful to watch Gore endorse Reagan's illegal war against mighty Grenada and Bush's illegal war against Panama.
And there was Gore again bragging about being in favor of the Persian Gulf war, with no hindsight about the effects that war--and the ongoing sanctions--have had on hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
On Israel, Gore and Bush spoke with one voice in reflexive support, despite the brutality of Israeli troops over the last week. And Gore managed to say with a straight face, "We stand with Israel but we must maintain our role as an honest broker."
Well, how honest can it be if the U.S. government throws its lot in with Israel at the start?
On Rwanda, Bush was disconcertingly callous when he said, "I think the Administration did the right thing there" by not getting involved. It was, after all, the lack of U.S. involvement--more precisely, the unwillingness of the U.S. to approve a stronger presence by the United Nations--that helped allow 600,000 Rwandans to be slaughtered.
Clinton has already apologized for this; Bush defended it.
And Gore tried to have it both ways. He said, "In retrospect, we were too late" and we "could have saved more lives." But then he said, "We shouldn't have put troops in to separate the parties."
On domestic issues, Bush showed his eagerness to execute murderers. In a discussion of the racially motivated killing of James Byrd Jr. in Texas, he said Texas didn't need a strong hate crimes law because the convicted killers "are going to be put to death."
And while he acknowledged the problem of racial profiling against Arab Americans by rightly citing the INS's pernicious practice of using secret evidence to prosecute Arab immigrants, he failed to mention other examples of racial problem areas when asked directly by moderator Jim Lehrer. Instead, Bush just coughed up paragraphs from his stump speech on education.
Neither Gore nor Bush came out for gay marriage, but Gore made a strong statement in favor of legislation to ban the firing of gays and lesbians on the basis of their sexual orientation--a practice that is indefensible, and that Bush could not defend except by saying that gays shouldn't have "special rights."
As in the last debate, Bush was again at a loss on how to defend his own programs and policies. When Gore opened fire on Bush's record on health care in Texas (which, Gore said, ranks forty-ninth in child health insurance, forty-ninth in women's health insurance, and fiftieth in family health insurance), the governor could barely respond.
But for the most part, the debate was subdued, and the areas of agreement far exceeding the differences.
Had Ralph Nader been in the debate, he could have spiced things up on issues like U.S. intervention, Pentagon spending, the IMF and the World Bank, the death penalty, even gay marriage.
Without Ralph Nader in the debate, the walls began to close in, and I needed air.
© 2000 by The Progressive