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'I stand here . . . as my own man'


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- "For all our good times, I am not satisfied."

Those were the words that Democratic nominee Al Gore chose Thursday night to explain why he, not Republican George W. Bush, should be elected president.

[AP photo]
Vice President Al Gore, who has struggled to outrun President Clinton's shadow since launching his campaign 14 months ago, told Americans: "We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president."
In a simple, but powerful sentence, he sought to remind Americans they owe their prosperity to the current Democratic administration and to promise something even better for them with him at the helm.

"Tonight," he said,"I ask for your support on the basis of the better, fairer, more prosperous America we can build together. Together, let's make sure that our prosperity enriches not just the few, but all working families."

He did not mention his opponent's name, but the implication was clear. By electing Bush, the nation would be making a decision to, as Gore put it, "squander this moment" of real prosperity.

Gore's long-awaited speech at the close of the Democratic National Convention was the culmination of a lifetime of preparation by this son of a senator who was groomed for national office. It was also an exercise in political heavy-lifting in which the candidate was depending on his own persuasiveness to reverse what polls show is a popular trend toward Bush.

A former newspaper reporter, Gore wrote his own speech with some help from advisers. It contained many of his trademark lines and reflected his preference for complex sentences. But he delivered it with genuine enthusiasm, sometimes reading so rapidly from the TelePrompTer that he talked over the applause from the audience.

He declared himself "my own man" -- meaning that he is neither beholden to special interests nor weighed down with the baggage of the sex scandal that undermined the administration of President Clinton.

"I want you to know me for who I truly am," he added, a tacit acknowledgement that serial reinventions of himself throughout the campaign have left many Americans befuddled about his core values.

As Gore has done so often on the campaign trail, he portrayed himself in his speech as a leader who is always willing to do combat with powerful special interests on behalf of the common man and his family.

"My focus is on working families," he said, "people trying to make house payments and car payments, working overtime to save for college and do right for their kids. . . . For 25 years, I've been fighting for people."

He named a number of people he met on the campaign trail: Mildred Nystel of Waterloo, Iowa, who has a job training electricians as a result of welfare reform; Jacqueline Johnson of St. Louis, Mo., who at age 72 spends over half of her Social Security check on prescription drugs; George and Juanita Gutierrez of San Antonio, Texas, whose child goes to a dilapidated school, and Ian Malone of Everett, Wash., a boy whose HMO refused to pay for the full-time care that he needs.

Gore promised to help these and people like them with new government programs that he has previously proposed for creating jobs, educating children and providing affordable health care.

He said that as president he would muscle aside special interests such as the oil, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries, the powers he said are making life tough on working families. He suggested that Republicans are too close to these industries.

"They are for the powerful; we are for the people," he said. "So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seemed stacked against you -- even as you do what's right for you and your family."

Perhaps to demonstrate his willingness to stand up against powerful interests, he used this opportunity to take what seemed to be an unusually nasty swipe at the dominant local industry: entertainment.

"To all the families who are struggling with things that money can't measure, like trying to find a little more time to spend with your children, or protecting your children from entertainment that you think glorifies violence and indecency, I want you to know: I believe we must challenge a culture with too much meanness and not enough meaning," he said.

"And as president, I will stand with you for a goal that I know we share: to give more power back to the parents, so that you can choose what your own children are exposed to and pass on basic lessons of responsibility and decency."

Gore also borrowed a line from his primary opponent, Bill Bradley, when he said he has been listening to Americans speak for 25 years in public life and will continue to do so. "I've learned a lot," he said. "And if I'm your present, I'm going to keep on having open meetings all over this country."

On the issues, Gore promised to be specific, implying that Bush had failed to offer details of his proposals. In fact, his speech contained references to so many specific programs that it sounded more like a State of the Union address.

He left no doubt that he would oppose the tax cut proposal of his Republican opponent: "I will not go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else and wreck our good economy in the process."

Instead, he promised targeted tax cuts to help working families save for college, buy health insurance and obtain child care. He also pledged to support legislation to cut the estate tax and the so-called marriage penalty, but did not mention that he opposes the more generous GOP version.

Gore said as president he would work to create universal health care, to spend more on schools, to provide a prescription drug benefit for all Medicare patients, to shore up Social Security, to raise the minimum wage, to protect a woman's right to seek an abortion, to oppose hate crimes and to stand up to dictators.

As he closed his speech with references to the humble beginnings of his parents, Gore was self-effacing: "I know my own imperfections. I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy. Maybe I've done that tonight."

He continued: "If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."

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