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What to expect from the next president

Gore is enthusiastic and attentive to detail, but those qualities could work against him.

[AP photo]
Presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore cheers for his son Al Gore III's Sidwell Friends football team in its game Saturday in Alexandria, Va., against Bishop Ireton.

By MARY JACOBY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


WASHINGTON -- James Woolsey had been long gone from the Army when, around 1980, he was summoned to the office of a young congressman from Tennessee. Al Gore greeted his guest in shirt sleeves amid a pile of computer printouts.

"I understand you used to run Code 50," Gore told Woolsey, who would later serve as CIA director in the Clinton administration.

"Yes . . ." Woolsey said, puzzled as to why Gore would ask about his distant past working with a military computer program that predicts theoretical outcomes of nuclear war. "But that was a long time ago."

"Well, here's the problem. I don't think the government studies on arms control emphasize survivability enough," Gore said, as Woolsey recollected in a recent interview. "And every time they do a study, they say it derives from this old Code 50."

For the next 45 minutes, Gore took notes on a yellow pad as Woolsey tutored him in the computer program. His student wanted to understand the assumptions that went into the program to improve what he saw as flawed reports on nuclear arms.

Woolsey viewed the incident as evidence of Gore's work habits.

"Gore is someone who gets very much into the details of what he works on. There's good sides and bad sides to that," Woolsey said. "But he certainly is somebody who's willing to roll up his sleeves and get into the nitty gritty of how things work."

No one disputes that Gore has a deep grasp of policy questions. In fact, the vice president's experience and knowledge of the issues are among his strongest selling points to voters.

And within the administration, he has been granted extraordinary responsibilities for a vice president. He was the administration's point man on Russia and was given broad influence over areas such as technology. He was allowed to appoint loyalists to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry.

There were limits to his power. While first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was put in charge of crafting a high-profile plan for universal health care, Gore got the slumberous "reinventing government" initiative to trim the bureaucracy.

But he has worked hard on his signature issues: the environment, arms control and expanding access in schools to the "information superhighway," as Gore used to call the Internet back when it was still in need of some explanation and he was one of the few lawmakers talking about it.

Still, there are questions about whether a President Gore would delve too far into the issues. Would he get lost in esoterica? Will he know the right mix of politics and policy to be an effective leader? Can a man known for his hands-on style bear to decentralize decisionmaking, as any busy president must?

In other words, would a President Gore let someone else worry about the computer programs?

Gore, who's keen to the question, answers an emphatic yes. "I like to delegate," he said in an interview last week with the St. Petersburg Times.

Others are less certain.

"He's been a terrific vice president," said Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution. "And being a terrific vice president is absolutely no assurance to me that he'd be a terrific president.

"The functions he's had up until now have not been presidential. He's never been in charge of something major. He's had a wonderful opportunity to observe how the presidency works. I don't know the lessons he's learned from it," Hess said.

A bold move rejected

One lesson that he should have learned is how to judge what will fly in Congress and what will crash.

In 1993, Gore advocated an energy tax as part of Clinton's crucial first-year economic plan. Politically, it was a debacle.

A tax on energy would encourage conservation, Gore argued at the time. He also argued that any deficit-reduction plan should not only raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations but also on the middle class; otherwise the country would not be united in deficit reduction if the burdens were not shared.

Problem was, lawmakers from energy-producing states like Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana despised the tax. Gore assured Clinton the public would reward bold moves.

He was wrong.

Senate Democrats killed the tax in the Senate. But not before House Democrats from oil states, under heavy pressure from Clinton, voted for it. Their political sacrifice had been in vain, and the House Democrats were mutinous.

"It was obviously a pretty humiliating thing," said congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"I think Al Gore probably learned a lot from that," said former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., who served in the Senate at the time. And that lesson? "You can't get too far out on the cutting edge in this country," Bumpers said.

'Frenetically energetic'

Al Gore is known for his charts and tables and spreadsheets. He loves to probe the science behind the technological issues that are increasingly important for policymakers. He works hard and enthusiastically, especially on the issues about which he feels most passionate, colleagues say.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., accompanied Gore in a delegation to a United Nations "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

"I remember how almost frenetically energetic he was in going to every event and seeing every exhibit," Graham said. "He seemed to revel in making it as strenuous and all-consuming as possible."

Is such enthusiasm good, bad, or somewhere in between?

Those times when his enthusiasm seems to get out of control, it can arguably be bad. He can see his energies consumed on tasks that are not very important.

In one anecdote recounted recently in the Washington Post, Gore put his office to work for months on a commencement address he was to deliver at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1996. In staff meetings, an energetic Gore would draw diagrams and scrawl technical jargon on an easel pad, ripping off his favorite pages and taping them to the wall.

His aides wrote countless drafts of the speech. But as the deadline approached, Gore was not satisfied, according to the Post. He pulled an all-nighter, starting the writing from scratch. He dictated the last lines to typists as the sun rose.

All this for a speech that garnered little notice.

Yet Gore as a kind of mad professor is a one-dimensional characterization.

His counsel -- sometimes heeded, sometimes not -- often proved prescient over the eight years of the Clinton presidency.

In 1996 Gore was a relatively isolated voice inside the White House urging Clinton to sign a welfare reform bill. Clinton faced strong pressure from his wife and other political liberals to veto the reforms, a priority of the new Republican Congress that had been led to power by Newt Gingrich in 1994.

Clinton, who had campaigned as a moderate New Democrat in support of welfare reform, was wavering under pressure from the liberals. He turned to fellow New Democrat Gore.

"I think the system is fundamentally broken," Gore told Clinton, according to the New Yorker. "It's worth the risk."

Clinton signed the bill and, despite incurring the wrath of the Democratic left wing, cruised to re-election over Republican Bob Dole later that year.

The Clinton presidency has been an ideological hall of mirrors. His stands -- liberal on affirmative action, conservative on welfare reform, moderate on trade and labor issues -- seem to change as you move through the hall.

Critics call it unprincipled. But this political suppleness has allowed Clinton to bend according to where he senses the public majority is.

Would Gore be able to do the same?

"The president of the United States is the chief political officer, and I stress political," said the Brookings Institution's Hess. "From the campaign to date, I would not have confidence in Gore's political ear. But if he pulls a great victory, you'd have to say all his political calculations were correct."

Gore loyalists reject the complaint that he puts political expediency over principle.

Floridian Carol Browner, an aide to Gore in the Senate who now serves as director of the Environmental Protection Agency, cited the vice president's attendance at an international meeting on global warming in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

By going to the meeting, Gore took plenty of heat from business interests and congressional Republicans, who balk at subjecting the United States to more stringent standards for reducing emissions than developing countries.

"He heard that it's too risky because it will be a failure and you'll get blamed for it," Browner said. "But he made the calculation that this is something he cared about, this is something he was committed to, and despite all the political risks" he would go.

The global warming agreement produced at Kyoto languishes; Senate Republicans have refused to consider ratification.

A more hawkish perspective

Gore is widely considered more hawkish than Clinton, and he has a greater grasp of foreign affairs than George W. Bush or than Clinton when he took office.

He would likely be more resolute than Clinton in responding to threats to U.S. interests abroad, observers say. As early as 1994 Gore identified Bosnia and Kosovo as areas of the Balkans where the United States would eventually conclude it must get more involved.

"Gore was alone in predicting exactly what the dilemma was and how serious it was. Everyone else was pipe-dreaming," said U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, an envoy to the Balkans at the time.

Gore had done his homework, Holbrooke said.

"He had really studied the issues. He had read books about them. Not just one book. A lot of books. He talked to experts. . . . He had this huge (computer) screen on his desk and he was always out there tapping away.

"He's in communication with half the experts in the world" through the Internet, said Holbrooke, who is mentioned as a possible secretary of state in a Gore administration.

In 1995, Gore's then 21-year-old daughter, Karenna, told her father of her anguish in seeing a photograph of a woman in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica who had apparently hung herself in advance of a Serb onslaught.

At an Oval Office meeting in July 1995, the vice president mentioned the haunting image as he vented frustration at the administration's tepid response to reports that Serbs had slaughtered thousands of Bosnian Muslims. "He just erupted. He said this is nonsense, this is crap," Holbrooke said.

Ultimately, the United States organized a bombing campaign against Serbia that led to a peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio. The United States committed thousands of peacekeeping troops to Bosnia.

Former Sen. Bumpers recalled how Gore "agonized over the decision" to join nine other Senate Democrats in voting to approve President George Bush's use of force against Iraq in 1991.

"I had asked him why he made that decision when most Democrats were going the other way," Bumpers said in an interview. "He told me Saddam (Hussein) was a tyrant. That he could never be trusted, that if we didn't stop him now he was going to fan out all over the Middle East."

Bumpers opposed the Persian Gulf War, but he sticks up for Gore. At a campaign stop in Arkansas recently, former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary during Desert Storm, accused Gore of dragging out his decisionmaking process on the Gulf War in order to maximize attention from the media.

"That is distinctly not my recollection, and he was my seat mate," Bumpers said.

Pledges of bipartisanship

For all of Gore's Washington experience -- his supporters crow that he needs no on-the-job training but his opponent would -- Gore would likely have a hard time working with a Republican-controlled Congress.

"One larger point to make," said congressional analyst Ornstein, "is that neither of these guys is going to have an easy time governing. We're going to end up with one of the smallest majorities in Congress in probably five decades or more. There are weak leaders who cannot even command their own troops and sharp partisan acrimony."

Gore has particularly bad relations with congressional GOP leaders because of his links to past Clinton scandals.

Memorably, he declared in 1997 that there was "no controlling legal authority" preventing him from making fundraising calls from his vice presidential office. He denied that his famous visit to a Buddhist temple in California was a fundraising trip. And, on the day the House impeached Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair, Gore said history would judge his boss as "one of our greatest presidents."

Despite this past, Gore said he would be more skilled than Bush in dealing with lawmakers from the opposing party.

"In the event that Republicans end up in control again (of Congress), I will work in a bipartisan way. I know how to do it," Gore said in the interview with the Times.

Ornstein said that despite past missteps, "It's not like (Gore) has driven off the cliff on a regular basis. Just like Clinton in some ways, he showed if you get your butt handed to you, you sew it back on and start again."

-- Staff writer Bill Adair contributed to this report.

Speculation on potential members of a Gore Cabinet

Here are some of the people who might be considered for various positions in a Gore Cabinet:

SECRETARY OF STATE: Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell, former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Leon Fuerth.

DEFENSE: Former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig.

TREASURY: Lawrence Summers, current Treasury secretary; William Daley, secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration and head of Gore's campaign; former Fannie Mae chairman Jim Johnson; Steve Rattner, a Democratic contributor who is a partner in a private equity firm, Quadrangle Group.

JUSTICE: Charles Burson, former Tennessee attorney general and Gore's current chief of staff; Eric Holder, the current deputy attorney general; Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Surgeon General David Satcher; Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff and President Clinton's former budget director; Alice Rivlin, former Clinton budget director and Federal Reserve Board member; David Kessler, former administrator of the Food and Drug Administration; Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, former administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid.

EDUCATION: North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt; Delaware Gov. Tom Carper; White House domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed.

AGRICULTURE: Texas Rep. Charles Stenholm; Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif.; Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif.; and two Agriculture Department undersecretaries, August Schumacher Jr. and Jill Long Thompson.

COMMERCE: Norman Mineta, first Asian-American member of the Cabinet, might be asked to stay on; Labor Secretary Alexis Herman; top fundraisers Peter Knight and Terry McAuliffe.

EPA: Kathleen McGinty, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality in the Clinton White House; Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.

INTERIOR: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber; former Colorado Gov. Roy Roemer; Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada; George Frampton, acting head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and former director of the Wilderness Society; former Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth.

ENERGY: Sen. Bryan of Nevada; Tom Grumbly, who formerly headed a nuclear weapons cleanup effort at Energy; Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier. -- Associated Press

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