Al Gore is telling George Bush to "put up or shut up" and begin dealing with the specifics of campaign issues. My fervent hope is that Bush doesn't permit Gore to become his campaign manager.
Besides, Gore's charge is inaccurate. Bush does have specific plans on most issues, which are readily accessible to voters, and Gore knows it. Reading between the lines, what Gore is really saying is: "Let's campaign on my turf. Let's do what I do best to make sure the public sees my strongest side and your weakest."
There is no reason for the Bush campaign to panic. Gore's recent surge in the polls was inevitable. He just came off a media-enhanced convention bounce during which he promised 2.3 trillion dollars worth of giveaways. He recently chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate, sending the media into a drooling frenzy over the prospect that he'd eliminated the ghost of Bill Clinton in one fell swoop. The economy is still booming. Plus, the media has quite conspiratorially slipped back into their Bush-bashing mode. By capitalizing on a few malapropisms, they're depicting Bush as a spastic stumblebum.
With all these things going his way, Gore should be on a serious roll right now -- but he's not. Despite these positive factors, Gore is barely tied in the popular vote and decisively trails in the projected electoral vote. He's the one who should be sweating.
Gore set the tone for his campaign when he decided to ignore his handlers and approach his convention acceptance speech, and the campaign itself, as a real-life game of "Trivial Pursuit," offering a specific solution for every conceivable problem. Nowhere is it decreed that Bush must follow suit.
Bush mustn't allow himself to be dragged into the murky milieu of minutiae. He must focus on a finite number of major themes, not to impersonate Ronald Reagan, but because it's what he believes in doing and what he does best.
How quickly we forget the predictions of Bush's doom preceding the Republican primaries. "He'll choke in the debates," said the naysayers. No matter how you score his debate performances, he acquitted himself well enough to go on to vanquish his formidable opponents in the primaries.
Gore is intent on showing he's the smartest guy in the room -- or the universe for that matter. Bush should let Gore continue to caricature himself as a mad scientist (see his book "Earth in the Balance") and the maniacal messiah of micromanagement, who offers a federal solution for all of society's ills, from AIDS to child poverty.
In fact, the more Gore reveals of himself, the better off Bush will be, for Gore's proclivity toward tinkering with every miniscule aspect of life extends to global proportions, literally. For example, Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal recently detailed Gore's approach to national security. Gore is trying to redefine national security to include a plethora of issues, not remotely related to protecting the United States, such as the overfishing of global waters, the spread of AIDS and the rise of genetically engineered crops.
What this would mean in practice is that Gore would address small problems abroad early and aggressively to ensure that they never mushroom into major problems. What would mushroom is our military deployments in the sovereign affairs of other nations. No benchmark philosophy, such as safeguarding our national interests, would govern which situations would warrant intervention. It would be an ad-hoc foreign policy of breathtaking proportions. Under this expansive notion of national security, Gore would call for intervention on the basis of "environmental, scientific and social problems that could destabilize the world."
Bush should encourage Gore to talk about those specifics. He should also, by contrast, continue to emphasize his belief that the president should not approach governing as if the United States were one gigantic math problem. The president will face issues he never anticipated and for which there is no canned response, no cue card, no carefully-crafted policy paper. In those cases, the president will need to summon his common sense, sound judgment, maturity and the wisdom of his brightest advisers.
If Gore isn't careful, he may get what he wishes for: public awareness of his unlimited willingness to use the power of government to usher in his disturbingly bizarre concept of utopia.