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Western Press Review: Gore's Debut; Kursk Tragedy

Prague, 18 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary concentrates today on last night's (Thursday) key speech by Vice President -- and Democratic Party presidential nominee -- Al Gore to the party's Los Angeles convention. Commentators also continue to analyze last weekend's sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, many seeing it as a symbol of an impoverished Russia.


An editorial in today's New York Times sums up Gore's acceptance speech of the Democratic presidential nomination. The paper says his address was a forceful one, designed to humanize him to the voters and to free him from his role as President Bill Clinton's understudy. The editorial says that Gore implored Americans to see him as independent from Clinton, "[standing] here tonight as my own man." In a thinly veiled reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that has tainted the last two years of Clinton's presidency, Gore promised never to let the U.S. public down.

The paper highlights Gore's campaign promises to fight for working families, use budget surpluses to save Social Security and Medicare, provide prescription drugs for the elderly, and offer limited tax cuts to help the middle class pay for college and health care.

But the editorial says that despite Gore's sound intentions, he did not enter the convention hall in Los Angeles with what it calls "Mr. Clinton's gladiatorial dash through the corridors" on Monday night. The paper says:

"Instead he came down the aisle as a determined underdog with a clear tactical mission. His campaign hopes that the traditional convention 'bounce' [that is, popularity increase in opinion polls] will put him within a few points of [Republican presidential candidate] Governor [George] Bush. The paradox is that voters do side with Mr. Gore on many issues he emphasized last night, particularly the economy and social concerns like gun control, abortion rights and protecting the environment. But to the dismay of Democrats, their agreement has not translated into political dominance or public acclaim for him."


R.W. Apple Jr. writes a commentary for the New York Times that also focuses on Gore's lackluster public image. Apple says that, in his nomination speech, that Gore seemed to be laying the groundwork for an autumn campaign in which he would identify himself as the friend of the little man and Bush as the candidate of the rich, powerful and influential. Again and again, Apple writes, Gore spoke of unspecified powerful forces and powerful interests -- which he identified with the Republican Party -- standing in the way of working men and women.

Yet, despite his apparent noble goals, Apple writes, "Gore has been unable to generate the kind of electricity that follows Mr. Clinton everywhere."


Commentator Richard Berke writes in today's Los Angeles Times that Gore is juggling many tasks in his presidential campaign. Focussing primarily on his speech last night, Berke says that Gore "tried to accomplish a political feat so daunting tonight that even the maestro himself, President Clinton, might have had trouble pulling it off." Berke writes:

"Mr. Gore presented himself as his own man and virtually skated over his service as vice president as he sought to persuade the nation that he is more than the dutiful lieutenant. But he also tried to take credit for helping bring about 'the biggest surpluses' ever -- the grandest achievement of the Clinton era."

Berke say that Gore's campaign is based on an elemental contradiction. He says that Gore is trying to shake American impressions that he is boring, stiff and a bad public speaker, while asserting a campaign based on what Berke describes as the "dry timber of issues" rather than on the flash and dazzle of personality. Berke writes that Gore's conflicted agenda reflects the difficulties the Democrat party itself faces. He says:

"Mr. Gore's elaborate -- and often conflicting -- objectives [throughout] this convention week reflect the trying challenges he and the Democrats confront as they emerge from this convention. Forget the confetti and mirthful talk of harmony from the rostrum. For the Democrats, happy days are certainly not here again. They may not be panicked, but they are jittery about their standard-bearer. And they are jittery about [the November 7 election]."

There are several press comments, too, on the tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea this past weekend.


The British daily Independent runs an editorial today that says that Russians' anger over the Kursk tragedy shows that Russia is still a nation in transition. The paper writes the accident was initially hushed up, as it would have been under the old Soviet regime, and that at first, the Russian military and Putin refused to ask for outside help. More important, the paper says, at first there was little reaction over the tragedy from the Russian public:

"Russian pride demanded solidarity [and] the tradition of totalitarianism stifled doubt. But then the gates of democracy opened, and the whirlwind of accountability swept into President Putin's holiday dacha. Yesterday's Russian press was virulent in its criticism of his silence and inaction."

The paper says the Putin made a serious error in judgement in failing to ask for help immediately and then compounded it by taking a vacation. It says that Putin will now be subject to what it calls the "cruel blast of democracy and face the rages of public opinion." The editorial ends by saying that public accountability may force the "fresh air of democracy into the closed spaces of the Russian military and the Russian government."


In Norway, the Aftenposten newspaper says its editorial that the Russian military and Putin will have to answer the question of why they rejected the initial offers of help from the West to save the lives of the Kursk crew in such an arrogant manner. The paper likens Moscow's reaction to tragedy to the secretiveness and the lack of responsibility at the time of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, which later turned out to be a major political burden.

The paper also says that so far Putin has managed to drum up public support. But, it adds, taking a vacation on the Black Sea coast while refusing Western help for the dying Kursk crew members was a major political mistake.


Denmark's Information daily carries an article that calls the submarine tragedy both a question of technology and a question of time. It says the disaster could have been avoided if the Russian leadership had accepted Western offers of help early on, not three days after the accident, which was too late.

The paper also says that Putin's silence and removal from the tragedy has considerably diminished his authority in the eyes of both the Russians and the West. But the editorial cautions that a large chunk of the Russian media is still controlled by the Kremlin and that a press cover-up of Putin's failings is likely to ensue.

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)