Prague, 14 Aug 2000 (RFE/RL) - Much of Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the U.S. west coast city of Los Angeles, where the Democratic Party begins its presidential nominating convention tonight. Incumbent Vice President Al Gore is due to be formally named the party's candidate later in the week, and will face Republican candidate George W. Bush, named by his party two weeks ago.
Gore has already indicated his choice for his vice presidential running-mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. So the convention is not likely to provide any big surprises -- except, perhaps in President Bill Clinton's speech tonight. But that is not stopping commentators from analyzing the importance of the meeting for the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
Yesterday, three major U.S. national newspapers ran editorials on the convention. Under the headline "The Stakes in Los Angeles," the Washington Post writes: "The Democratic Party that gathers this week in Los Angeles presents something of a paradox. The usual rules of politics suggest that, who will become the party's official presidential nominee, should be headed toward victory. The Democrats are broadly united around popular, centrist policies." The paper goes on. "The country is at peace. The economy is experiencing its longest boom ever. And yet," the editorial notes, "the candidate is lagging in the polls. Many Americans are said to regard Gore as a weaker leader than his less experienced rival, even though he has been the most powerful vice president in recent memory."
Why, then -- the paper asks -- "is the vice president not faring better? The conventional answer," it says, "is personality, and in some sense this is true: Gore at times comes across as a priggish lecturer, at times as a stop-at-nothing opportunist." But there is more than what the paper calls this "question of personality. Clinton," it says, "moved the Democrats a long way to the center -- far enough to win two presidential elections. The political dividends from that shift are starting to decline," it argues. "Voters may now take budget balance and centrist incrementalism for granted. The Republicans themselves in the person of Bush have meanwhile moved toward the center, providing less of a target.
The paper concludes: "Gore has yet to project a fresh sense of momentum. His best chance to do so comes at this week's convention."
Los Angeles Times:
The Los Angeles Times says briefly in its editorial: "What the vice president needs to do this week is to show voters the real Al Gore, standing finally by himself on the top step of American leadership, not as the awkward sidekick of Bill Clinton. Gore, the Tennessee Democrat, must appear presidential, comfortable and confident, toning down his primary campaign image of policy whiz and political slasher."
New York Times:
The New York Times runs the longest of the three editorials, commenting in detail on what "Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. needs at the convention if he is going to win the office to which he has aspired since boyhood." First, says the paper, Gore must deal with what it calls his "Clinton problem, that is, achieve a separation from President Clinton's conduct and personal reputation in ways that go beyond simply failing whenever possible to mention his name."
Second, the editorial says, Gore needs what it describes as "a crisp agenda. Anyone who paid even marginal attention to the Republican convention," it writes, "came away with a clear idea of what Bush plans to do if elected. He will spend most of the surplus on tax cuts. He will strengthen the military and emphasize a new missile defense system. He will build a private-investment component into Social Security and take unspecified steps to improve education. Gore," the paper emphasizes, "needs to leave an equally crisp paragraph in the heads of the voters after his convention."
Finally, according to the New York Times, there is the matter of what it calls Gore's "performance." The paper writes: "The plain fact is, if the man could loosen up he would already have done it. Moreover, he will come to the lectern in Los Angeles trailing many unfortunate sound bites on gun control and abortion financing, exaggerations about Clinton's place in history and evasions about White House fund-raising. They all cast doubt on the steadiness of his convictions and identity."
The paper sums up: "In the weeks and months ahead, Gore's political fate will be determined by his ability to convey that conviction without shouting, waving his arms or relentlessly flailing his opponent and the public with yet another bunch of impeccably bundled facts. In the end, when choosing between the guy with the smirk and the smartest boy in the class, the voters will go for the man who seems anchored from within by some core of incorruptible belief."
Christian Science Monitor:
The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor writes today in a news analysis that the "Democrats are famous for their messy conventions -- for fights inside the hall, protests in the streets, bruising conflicts over the party platform. But this year, as the Republicans did two weeks ago, the Democrats will present a unified party."
The analysis continues: "In a way, the Democrats face a tougher challenge. Their presidential candidate, Al Gore, has chronically trailed in the polls throughout the campaign. And at the very moment when Mr. Gore needs to separate his political identity from that of Bill Clinton, the president is carving out a large presence, raising money for his presidential library and delivering what promises to be a closely watched speech tonight."
The paper also says: "Throughout the campaign, the public has consistently told pollsters that they see Mr. Bush as more of a leader than Gore. This is in part a hazard of holding the vice presidency for eight years, an understudy role that by definition does not carry an aura of leadership, even though Gore has been a key adviser and handled substantive issues in the Clinton White House." It adds: "Voters also find Bush more likeable than Gore. But don't watch for any dramatic efforts to remake Gore's personality here in Los Angeles," the analysis concludes. The party plans to show the public Gore is the man for the job by highlighting his stand on key issues."
Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal Europe says today that "Lieberman was chosen to fill out the Democratic ticket in part for his integrity and character." The paper worries, however, that "some of Al Gore is already rubbing off on Lieberman." It notes what it considers shifts in Lieberman's policy stances since Gore selected him as running-mate on such key domestic issues as partial private financing of social security and education vouchers. The editorial cites an interviewer who, it says "asked a Lieberman adviser if he still backed those ideas. The interviewer replied: 'Not any more.'"
The Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial acknowledges that, "on one level, it's easy to make too much of Senator Lieberman's policy changes. In truth," it says, "he's been a career politician since age 28, and has almost always saluted when party leaders needed him. Still, it adds, it's obvious that political diversity is verboten in Al Gore's world."
The paper sums up on the policy changes made both by Lieberman and his Republican counterpart Dick Cheney since they were chosen as vice-presidential candidates: "Don't expect them be held responsible for changing on beliefs that seemed to hold as yesterday."
Britain's Financial Times daily begins with a comment about the expected media extravaganza in Los Angeles. It writes: "For all the confetti, balloons and tightly scripted 'spontaneity,' the convention will be a severe test of whether the party is finally starting to gain traction in the presidential race. The party has a strong message," it says, "but, so far, a weak messenger. Al Gore has stumbled through the past few months of the campaign, ceding the advantage to Bush and struggling to create a political identity that resonates among the majority of American voters."
The editorial goes on: "Mr. Gore is certainly qualified to be president and his party is holding together, despite the differences between the New Democrats and old-style liberal Democrats. But policy does matter, and Mr. Gore must make clear to voters the differences between the parties. The unforgiving Republican line on the U.S.' projected theater missile defense will stir tensions with allies and perceived foes, while the Democrats are right to argue that the projected budget surplus should be used to pay the national debt and to introduce targeted tax breaks."
It says further: "The character contradiction of Mr. Gore was highlighted last week by his wise choice of Senator Lieberman as running mate, and his unwise invocation of God as the third member of the ticket. It is in Mr. Gore's interest to admit that he has stylistic flaws, and to emphasize modestly the professionalism of his leadership and the depth of his policy understanding." The paper concludes: "To have a chance of victory in November, Mr. Gore must get a significant bounce in popularity from this week's convention. He has policies and integrity but he needs to find his voice."