Is this any way to win?

Mona Charen

9/6/2000 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
George W. Bush seems to have been rocked back on his heels by recent polls. It's easy to see why. Lay observers, too, are scratching their heads and pondering why the electorate would be seduced by a staged kiss between nominee and wife. But the Bush team's response -- a TV spot that teased Gore about the Internet -- is a wet noodle. In the first place, the Internet quote is fine for late-night comics. But it is hardly the sort of thing that will make swing voters think hard. Besides, paid media is for conveying messages voters would not otherwise get. The Internet gaffe has been well plowed. And for this gentle poke, the press is all over George W. Bush like Carrie Nation confronting the local saloon keeper. "He's going negative!" they cry (strangely enough, the very same thing the Gore campaign is saying). Twaddle. But there's a lesson here: If you're going to take heat for being negative anyway, go for the gusto. If Bush wants to put his millions to good use, he need go no further than Mr. Peter Wehner of Empower America, Bill Bennett's colleague and collaborator. Wehner has kept a Gore file that can fill 50 television ads with damaging reminders of the vice president's past. The Internet is the least of it. In 1988, four years after his sister died of lung cancer, Gore campaigned in tobacco country bragging of his tobacco-growing youth. "I've hoed it. I've chopped it. I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it, and sold it." In 1996, Gore tore at America's heartstrings with an intimate description of his sister's last minutes. "She looked up and from out of that haze, her eyes focused tensely right at me ... 'Do you bring me hope?' But all I could do was say back to her, with all the gentleness in my heart, 'I love you.' And then I knelt by her bed and held her hand. And in a very short time, her breathing became labored and then she breathed her last breath. ... And that is why, until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking." Any politician who is willing to use a family member's suffering for his own political purposes is beneath contempt. Oh, and if you believe he knelt by her bedside, there's a nice bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in. He did something quite similar a few years later, when his then 6-year-old son was hit by a car and badly injured. Fund raising: When questioned about illegal fundraising during the 1996 campaign, Gore at first claimed that "we have strictly abided by all of the campaign finance laws, strictly. There have been no violations." Later, when it became clear that Gore had made at least 86 calls from his White House office -- despite a warning from White House Counsel Abner Mikva that such calls violated the law -- he reverted to the "no controlling legal authority" dodge. Gore claimed to have been a co-sponsor of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform act. But the bill was not introduced until 1995, three years after Gore left the Senate. The vice president has implied in the past that he saw combat in Vietnam, and that his work as an investigative reporter for the Nashville Tennessean put people in jail. Neither is true. Gore has often told black audiences that a formative influence in his life was seeing his father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., defeated because of a courageous vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in fact, the senior Gore voted against it. Before the vote on the Gulf War, Gore went to then Majority Leader Bob Dole and demanded to know how much television time he could get if he switched sides and voted with the Republicans. Former Sen. Alan Simpson says that he continued to bargain with both party leaders up to the last minute, and came to the Senate floor with two speeches in his pocket, one anti- and one pro-war. His vote on a matter of pressing national interest seemed to be for sale to the side that could offer him more face time. And there's so much more. George Bush: Call Pete Wehner.