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Time Capsule: October (October 6, 2000)

Time Capsule: September (September 1, 2000)

Time Capsule: August (August 3, 2000)

Time Capsule: July (July 6, 2000)

Time Capsule: June (June 7, 2000)

Time Capsule: May (May 12, 2000)

Time Capsule: April (April 6, 2000)


An informal and proudly unscientific means of tracking the conventional political wisdom through the campaign season

by James Fallows

November 6, 2000

When people look back on this election, starting the moment it becomes clear who the winner is, the results will quickly take on the air of inevitability. Of course it was natural that a candidate with a resumé as thin as George W. Bush's would be unable to unseat an experienced incumbent, at a time when more people felt more prosperous than ever before. All the more so because he chose a running mate who added nothing to his electoral support -- except to offer a reminder that familiar characters from the first Bush era would re-appear to keep George W. out of trouble. So considering the obstacles, it's a credit to Bush that he came as close as he did.

Or: Of course it was natural that a candidate with as few natural political talents as Al Gore went down to defeat, considering all the circumstances conspiring against him. He suffered the classic Vice Presidential Dilemma in the most acute form since Hubert Humphrey, in 1968. He wanted to run on all the good parts of the Clinton record -- mainly the prosperity -- and run away from all the obvious bads, but it turns out that it would take a politician as deft as Clinton himself to pull that off. Plus, the Democrats weren't as hungry as the Republicans any more. And the press was unreasonably snippy toward Gore, making the awkward parts of Gore's personality seem like sins rather than annoyances. And this Nader guy! Considering the bind any Democrat would be in, sweeping up after Clinton, it's a credit to Gore than he kept going as well as he did.

In the public consciousness that begins on November 8, 2000, one of these will soon be established as the inevitable, obvious view. But let this last pre-election Time Capsule record that, two days before the election, it is impossible to declare with any confidence which of these views it will be.

After the election, Time Capsule will return for one final installment. This will reflect what we've learned not about the candidates or campaigners but about the real subject of this exercise: the shifts in received truth as conveyed by the press. Until then -- be sure to vote!

Political Readings as of November 6, 2000
This list will be updated around the first of every month until Election Day. Note: The unemployment, inflation, and trade-deficit data are the latest figures released by the beginning of each month, often with a reporting delay of a month or two. For instance, the latest trade figures available as of November 1, 2000, were for August, 2000. But the figures noted here are the latest ones each candidate, and the electorate, has to deal with as of the start of each relevant month. The price of oil is the NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil price per barrel.

Scroll to the right to read previous months.

November 6
October 6
September 1
August 1
July 1
June 1
May 1
April 1
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 10971 (+2.7% from previous month, -0.1% from April 1) 10680 (-4.8% from previous month) 11215 (+6.3% from previous month) 10552 (+0.7% from previous month) 10448 (-1.9% from previous month) 10652 (-1.5% from previous month) 10812 (-1% from previous month) 10980
NASDAQ: 3370 (-8.5% from previous, -24.5% from April) 3680 (-12.5% from previous) 4206 (+11.7% from previous) 3767 (-5% from previous) 3966 (+10.7% from previous) 3582 (-9.5% from previous month; -19.7% since April 1) 3958 (-12%) 4458
Unemployment Rate: 3.9% 4.1% 4.0% 4.0% 4.1% 4.1% 3.9% 4.1%
Inflation (CPI): 3.5% 3.4% 3.5% 3.7% 3.1% 3.7% 3.7% 3.2%
Price of Oil: $32.70 per barrel $32.05 per barrel $33.32 per barrel $27.43 per barrel $32.72 per barrel $30.13 per barrel $25.87 per barrel $26.90 per barrel
Monthly Trade Deficit: $29.4 billion $31.9 billion $30.6 billion $30.3 billion $30.4 billion $30.2 billion $29.2 billion $28.0 Billion
Political Flap of the Day: Three specific flaps: last-minute revelation of GW Bush's arrest in 1976 for drunk driving; Bush's beyond-parody statement that Democrats think Social Security "is some kind of federal program"; and open war between Ralph Nader and the Democrats.

Larger, transcendent flap: with absolutely no consensus on who will win or by how much, bitter "precrimination" arguments -- Michael Kinsley's term -- begin, getting the assessment of blame all lined up for whatever the result turns out to be. Also, through the year the press has shown a "Beta Male" mentality -- giving better coverage to whichever candidate it thought would win. Therefore both campaigns try to exude the sense that history is on their side. "Big Mo," the senior Bush used to call it.
Through the middle of the month a variety of "issues" issues clamored for attention. Prescription-drug coverage under Medicare. Who would get what from the Bush tax cut? Who would appoint whom to the Supreme Court? Who has the better plan for coping with rising oil prices?

But as the final month of the campaign begins, with drama intensified by the debates, there's only one big flap, and one big issue. It's the one that could have been predicted six months ago: which of these men, as a man, can we stand to have in office for the next four years?

Less polite version: Do we want the dope or the stiff?
We're having fun now! Everything's an issue. Prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Who needs a tax cut, and how much. Whether G. W. Bush will have to debate -- and whether Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader will get to. What Dick Cheney is going to do about his oil-company stock options. And, by the way, whether "Restore Military Morale!" will move any undecided votes in Bush's direction. Policy differences drift into the ether, leaving big disputes over procedure: whether the Democrats are fighting too dirty, and whether the Republicans look too much like fakes. Background complaint against Democrats involves Al Gore's tough-guy attack mode. Foreground complaint is Bill Clinton's ridiculing of emerging Bush dynasty even when -- gasp! the lack of manners! -- the Republican convention is underway. Complaint against the Republicans involves that very convention, where the diversity of speakers and performers seems ill-matched to the realities of the party's delegates and its platform.

Background theme from the press: outright glee that undisguised rancor between Clinton and elder Bush has given the race a Mario Puzo-esque element of dynastic contention.
What's not a flap? Many of them piling up as campaigning gets more serious, like sailboats jockeying for position before the starting gun. Gasoline prices. Abortion rulings, and therefore Supreme Court nominations. Also prayer and gay-rights rulings. The death penalty, in theory and as practiced in Texas. Turmoil within Justice Department about investigating Gore's fund-raising activities. Continued rise in prescription drug prices. Even more amazing continued rise in federal-surplus estimates, with consequent argument over whether the surplus will be real and what to do with it if it is.

One issue that will look amazing in retrospect but is barely being debated at the moment: total elimination of the estate tax.

Meanwhile, previous hot items -- guns, China, and of course Elián -- on hiatus, Elián probably for keeps.
Several came and went during the month without retaining full "flap" status as of June 1. Ten days earlier, permanent trading rights for China seemed the most complexly divisive issue of the campaign so far. Clinton Administration, George W. Bush, and congressional Republicans on one side; labor and labor's man, Al Gore, on the other. (Gore was officially for the bill, meanwhile winking hard at labor.) But when the bill passed with a surprisingly comfortable margin, Gore was plunged back into Elián territory. That is, for political purposes he'd kept his distance from the Administration and ended up looking like he'd postured for no reason, as his side lost the vote and the PR battle. Gun control also rose and fell within the month, with the Million Mom March (and counter-efforts by the NRA). Microsoft controversy becoming more and more about Microsoft rather than about the Administration's management of the tech economy. Bush proposals on Social Security have emerging flap status. What was that kid's name, again? For several days after the bloodless-but-frightening commando raid Elián seemed to have potential as a lasting issue. But outrage and attention dwindled, and Republicans grew antsy even about holding hearings. Headed for complete non-factor status by Election Day. Instead a pileup of issues with political potential: the Microsoft breakup; guns in general, highlighted by the Million Mom March; Social Security reform yet again; trade relations with China; and the strange growth of Clinton nostalgia. Elián Gonzalez: Initially a balance between family values and political freedom. By now a bizarre test of federal authority: will Miami officials really urge defiance of federal marshals if the INS says Elián belongs back with his father? Op-ed column in The New York Times calls Miami "out-of-control banana republic" inside the United States. Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, neither running for re-election, support INS and judicial rulings to repatriate Elián.
Candidates' Positions on Current Flap: Bush: About DUI -- gee, it's an awfully big coincidence that this should leak just before the election. Al Gore says he had nothing to do with it -- sure, that's just what he'd say! About Social Security: you know what's in my heart. Let's move on. About Nader: no need to say anything. About momentum: ha ha ha that Gore has to campaign in his own home state! By contrast, Bush is confident enough to spend precious campaign days in Gore's presumed territory, California.

Gore: About DUI, no need to say anything. But must be wondering: Why doesn't the press treat Bush's concealment of the arrest as "exaggeration" or "lying," as it certainly would in Gore's case? About Social Security: time to come out of the closet, with ads and rally speeches calling Bush's misstatement "outrageous" and showing that he is not "ready." About Nader: unleash the liberals, and hope that the close race will boil them out of the Nader camp. Meanwhile, like Bush, trying to project confidence mainly so press doesn't spend last two days treating him as dead meat.
Bush: First debate could well have been a disaster, given his months-long previous record of factual flubs and malapropisms. But he survived with fewer gaffes than expected -- the main ones were his implicit ignorance about how long the FDA had been studying RU-486, and which side the Russians favored in the struggle over Milosevic's future in Serbia. Did not match Ronald Reagan's achievement in 1980 against Jimmy Carter, that of making mastery of the details look small-minded and unworthy of great leaders. But got through the debate with his fundamental message -- I'm a nice, reasonable guy who's against Big Government -- intact.

Gore: First-day reaction to the debate: he won, or at least avoided losing, by being careful not to seem too "vicious" toward Bush. Meanwhile, for those scoring this meeting as they would a college debate, he won points for hammering home his "tax cut targeted to the top 1 percent" theme, which Bush tried lamely to rebut with his "fuzzy math" line.

Second-day revision: Gore lost a little. The debate inevitably is scored not as a logic contest but as a display of personalities. Therefore Gore suffered because he offered reminders of the worst aspects of his personality, while Bush (by avoiding factual howlers) did not. Gore's reminders were his whoppers about his background and achievements -- notably, that he'd been there with the FEMA administrator when disasters hit Texas. Not even Texans cared whether Gore made that trip -- until he falsely claimed he had. Extra-credit question: WHY does he do this???
Bush: Every one of these is working against him at the moment. Promises a prescription-drug plan but hasn't released it by the end of the month. Scrambling to explain details of his tax-cut plan -- and to cope with analyses showing that its benefits go largely to top 1% of income distribution. Too cute by half in debate negotiations -- saying he wants "most in history," but that means rolling out Dick Cheney for extra duty against Lieberman. "Military is shoddy" argument drives some military leaders into Gore's camp, out of wounded institutional pride.

Gore: Converse of all of the above.
Bush: Convention is obviously the moment of unveiling the new, improved, general-election version of the candidate. Opening speeches strike three themes: "Big Tent" party, welcoming minorities, gays, sinners, and so on; "steady hand at the tiller" supporting cast of familiar figures around untested candidate, epitomized by Dick Cheney as VP; "it was good enough for the Adamses and the Roosevelts, so why not for the Bushes?" embrace of dynastic succession, rather than pretending that this would be the first President George Bush.

Gore: This is his moment out of the limelight. Two advantages to his position right now: gets to choose a VP, and a tone for convention rhetoric, after watching what the GOP comes up with. And, has rare luxury of letting a sitting President, and rhetorical whiz, be his attack dog, tweaking the Bushes on the riding-on-daddy's-coattails theme.
Bush: Not a lot of forward movement on any of these fronts. Spent the month largely waiting for Gore to trip over himself -- and over the pack of hostile reporters, and over the disaffected Greens. Bush's big moment was seeming furrow-browed as the execution of Gary Graham went forward. Danger had been appearing flippant about this execution, as he had about previous ones.

Gore: Playing defense on scandal, hoping short attention span will make it go away, and offense on a variety of populist issues: inquiry on rising gas prices, assault on pharmaceutical companies.
Bush: He let China debate unfold without deep engagement, and let NRA fight back against Million Moms. Bush realizes that Charlton Heston's declaration of war on Al Gore is probably Gore's best news of the month. Under pressure to be more specific about Social Security plans.

Gore: Hopes no one mentions China again for the rest of the year. Crucial hope is Social Security -- the more volatile the market in the next few months, the stronger the background queasiness about putting Social Security funds there. Meanwhile, opening new charm offensive with proposals for mental-health care and cancer programs.
Bush: Most of these issues cutting his way right now. Last month's Elián flap all to the good from his point of view: he was consistent, but not so far out on a limb as to be embarrassed by success of raid. Bush is in good shape on Microsoft -- if it drives a market crash, he can blame it on the Democrats -- and he's losing no support by backing China trade. Guns are his big problem, threatening his appeal to center and women's vote.

Gore: Gore caught in triple back-flip pander on the Elián issue: first changed his position to appeal to Florida Cubans; then criticized his own Administration when the raid looked like it would cause a stink; then was left somewhat chagrined by that stand as the issue went away. Lying low on Microsoft and praying (perhaps to Buddhist deities) that it does not prove to be the domino that undoes the 1990s boom. Sticking with the Administration on China. Pushing hard to portray Bush as the pawn of the NRA, and as the agent of a "secret plan" to destroy Social Security.
Bush: Anti-repatriation from the start. Made much of this in Republican debates.

Gore: At end of March says he backs special legislation that would make it easier to keep Elián here. Claims this has been his stance all along and has nothing to do with the battle for the Cuban-American swing vote in Florida. Widely disbelieved.
Prevailing Pundit View of Campaigns: Bush and Gore: OK, get back to us on Wednesday, and we'll tell you what they did right and wrong. At the moment our guess is no better than yours.

Nader: He's come out of the closet and made clear that he would actually welcome a Bush victory. Stated reason is "intensify the contractions" thinking: Republicans in charge would energize the environmental movement, and Democrats in chaos would position the Greens to fight for control of the progressive opposition. Real reason must also involve some deep personal antipathy to Gore.
Bush: Warming trend. No pundit officially wiling to say, "He's going to win." Hey, it's been two months since that was the prevailing view! But continuing emphasis on "tightening race," "swing states up for grabs," and "renewed doubts about Gore." Pundits simultaneously preparing for the next month of a close campaign and post-election analyses of how Bush blew it.

Gore: Will eke it out, despite himself.

Post VP-debate punditry: Cheney rehabilitating himself from previous month's dead-weight/"why did they choose him?" status. Lieberman not brilliant, but by unavoidable comparison emphasizes how artificial his ticket-mate Gore always sounds.
Bush: "Who cares what we were saying only three weeks ago? Now we can't understand why the guy has the effrontery to run on 'charm' and 'popularity' alone. What does he think this is, a contest for fraternity president?" Wave of "expert" analysis in mid-August fretting about Bush's lassitude and lack of drive; authors are same experts who declared two weeks earlier that his sunny optimism was a relief compared to Gore's workaholism.

Gore: "Who cares what we were saying only three weeks ago? We were sure the guy couldn't win; now we secretly think he can't lose." At least there's an excuse for this turnaround, as there isn't in the assessment of Bush. Actually three: the Veep, the Speech, and the Kiss. The choice of Joe Lieberman for VP added a note of surprise to an otherwise canned convention. The speech became fodder for countless "he is now his own man" columns. And the kiss...

For the moment, Gore's anti-charm becomes charming. Hey, he's a guy who cares only about winning! What's wrong with that, in a political contest?
Bush: Convention coverage still infused with the message, "we're looking at the winning team." But also preparing for the pundit backlash and revisionism of the coming month -- otherwise, how could the race seem close? Choice of Cheney initially suggests confidence -- Bush can look toward a "governing" Vice President, not a "campaigning" one. But does it also suggest narrowness and staleness? Potential time bombs in convention endorsement by Ma Bush and Stormin' Norman -- "wouldn't it be great to have another President George Bush." Wasn't this what we got rid of with King George III?

Gore: Things have to get better, soon. For sportsmanship reasons, pundits will be ready to give him a favorable look at the Democratic convention.
Bush: Mild, respectful critiques through the past month, written in the "Well, they're not perfect" tone of sports articles about the team nonetheless favored to win the Super Bowl. Absence of big, debate-type events spares Bush the moments where he's proven most likely to stumble. Instead he winningly chats up reporters on the plane and supporters at dinners. Betting pool at pundit central would surely show 2-to-1 expectation of Bush victory.

Gore: Would never admit it in their coverage, but most reporters don't think he can come back. Double whammy: he seems not to get credit for economic boom (which people have gotten so accustomed to that they freak out over gasoline prices), and, Gore's lack of intrinsic charm-the-onlooker skills now thought to be decisive. Killer data point: Bush has many people who obviously have risked everything trying to get him elected. Almost no true believers around Gore.
Bush: Wonkery is overrated! Most press reports sound amused and charmed rather than testy about Bush's ability to rise above the details. He is making himself look more like Reagan and less like Quayle. Only explicit cautionary note is the 1988 parallel (see below). Unstated caution is that if opinion is so positive now, it's bound to change.

Gore: Remember 1988! The bad news for Gore is: no matter what he does, he never seems to make the press warm to him, or get crowds excited. The good news is: the last time a Vice President was in this predicament -- lackluster support, far behind a challenger in June, tepid appearance compared to incumbent president -- he came back to win. This is the Lesson of '88 that appeared in many stories in late May.
Bush: Things are getting better! Hyper-cautious press-relations strategy in the primary season made for crabby press coverage. Now a charm-and-accessibility offensive is paying off. End of primary debates means no attacks from fellow Republicans and no exposure to annoying knowledge tests. McCain rapprochement lacks warmth and sincerity but at least ends open hostilities. Upbeat, affable personality is coming to the fore. How soon until we hear the term "Reaganesque"?

Gore: Things are getting worse. Drift of the economy and markets adds nervous background threat to what has been Gore's killer issue. Speaking of killers, beginning of nasty pundit reaction against Gore's tough-guy campaign tactics. The more nostalgic even his enemies grow about Clinton's bravado, the bigger the image problem for Gore.
Bush: After the Republican primary, things can only get better. That is, unless the costs of the primary -- using tons of money, embracing the far right to beat McCain, leaving McCain angry, sounding dopey in debates -- carry over and prove too burdensome against Gore.

Gore: After the Democratic primary, things can only get worse. That is, unless the strengths he developed in the primary -- relentless demolition of opponents, unified party behind him -- carry over and prove decisive against Bush.
Best Issue: Bush: Pushing the perception that whatever Gore says is, by definition, false. Serves as all-purpose rebuttal to any of Gore's criticisms, no matter how detailed.

Gore: Pushing on Bush's "missing trillion dollars" Social Security plan. Stated objective is mobilizing senior citizens by playing up fears of reduced benefits. Bonus objective is implication of half-baked planning by Bush.
Bush: Increasingly clear that his best argument cuts through disputes about taxes, education, the "unready military," or anything else. It's simply: I will be a more acceptable presence on your TV over the next four years than Al Gore would be.

Gore: A) Don't rock the boat (see April entry). B) Don't put the ship's dimwitted social director at the helm.
Bush: Has to find a way to make Gore's shrewd version of "class warfare" (in which nearly everyone except HMO executives and people from oil or tobacco companies can feel like part of America's deserving downtrodden) look like old Democratic tax-and-spend. Has to remind people that only a month ago, nearly half of respondents said in polls that "under no circumstances" would they vote for Gore.

Gore: He's been embarrassed out of using the phrase "risky tax scheme" any more, by deft ridicule in G.W.B.'s acceptance speech. But that's still his argument: things are going well for most people, tax revolt is not really a major issue (if it were, Gore would be on it), so why tinker with the recipe when everyone likes the taste?

Backup strategy, if above falters: using code language to suggest that Bush is an airhead. That's the meaning of his new insistence on "intelligent, adult discussion" of the issues. How long until Bush finds a way to mock this?
Bush: Peace and prosperity still working in his favor, the weirdness of which is starting to wear off. If everything is ticking along, why not vote for the candidate you can most easily imagine seeing on TV, which right now is Bush. Issues cupboard amazingly bare at GOP convention. Typical rally sign: "Rebuild military morale!"

Bush also benefits from strange image flip in which Gore, not Bush, has become the "elitist" candidate in the race.

Gore: Election will turn on his ability to demonstrate that the bland, Eisenhower-like embrace of the GOP convention is a ruse. If he gets to run against Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, and Strom Thurmond, he wins. If he has to run against Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, he loses.
Bush: Weirdly, peace and prosperity starting to cut in his favor. Everyone knows the economy has been booming. Polls starting to indicate that many people think Republicans have a better chance of keeping it that way.

Gore: His campaign acts as if the prescription-drug issue is the secret weapon. This may in turn reflect interest-group math of directly addressing different constituencies. (Hey, Elián didn't help in Florida; maybe drug-price controls will.) Emerging issue may be Supreme Court nominations. This is the one way that volatile "social" issues, mainly abortion, have political outlet.
Bush: Jiu-jitsu of that discredited stalwart, "Clinton fatigue." Public does not seem tired of Clinton himself, who would win a third term if eligible. But Bush trying to make them tired of Gore. Emergent possible strong issue: nuke-reduction plan that wins praise from liberals.

Gore: Our old friends, peace and prosperity (NASDAQ still down, but so is unemployment, which matters more for election). Plus background concerns about Bush's experience: in weird reversal of roles, Gore attacks Bush's plan to reduce nuke arsenals as "risky" and a sign of naive thinking. Unclear as of June 1 whether this will aggravate Bush's vulnerability (know-nothing reputation) or Gore's (reflexive-attacker reputation).
Bush: No one "issue" in the dull old policy sense but instead renewed appreciation of personal charm -- and Republican sense that perhaps he can win.

Gore: See last month; also, guns.
Bush: Education reform.

Gore: Stay-the-course with peace and prosperity.
Biggest Vulnerability: Bush: No surprises left. People know what they're getting if they choose him.

Gore: Nader.
Bush: More gaffes.

Gore: More Eddie Haskell-like insufferability.
Bush: Nervous glances among Republicans about whether they've chosen the wrong vessel for their hopes this year. Whose idea was this, anyway? And what was so bad about that McCain guy?

Gore: Appearance of pandering, of exaggerating -- hey, we all know this by now.
Bush: Same as before -- but with new "daddy's boy" element highlighted by convention. Colin Powell gives Democrats their opening, with line in convention speech saying Republicans shouldn't resent a few minority students getting ahead because of affirmative action, when there are plenty of other unfair preferences around. Powell was shrewd enough not to end the comparison the predictable way: "... when the halfwit offspring of rich alumni donors are guaranteed admission."

Gore: No change.
Bush: Exactly the same as one month ago.

Gore: Ditto.
Bush: He's been coasting in the absence of debates. What will happen when he's pushed by questioners -- or Gore?

Gore: There's no polite way to put this: he's not very good at the basic political job of making people like him.
Bush: On the wrong side of several divisive issues, notably guns.

Gore: Intensified version of last month's concerns. Biggest asset has been ability to attack opponents; adjustments called for if that becomes a liability.
Bush: Lightweight cheerleader image.

Gore: Nixonian win-at-any-cost image, plus Clintonian pander-bear tendencies.
Political Nightmare: Bush: Ralph Nader and John McCain hold joint press conference on Monday evening, endorsing Gore.

Gore: Nationwide bad weather on election day, and election-eve polls showing Bush way ahead. Both these phenomena depress Democratic turnout; second steers some potential Gore voters to Nader.
Bush: A) Getting over-confident after surviving first debate, and setting himself up for gaffe-fest in numbers two and three. B) Genuine health problems for Cheney, which would fit the Internet-chain-mail urban legend that Cheney will be forced from the ticket for bogus health reasons, as a sign of desperation.

Gore: A really, really big provable lie in the next appearance on the stump.
Bush: Any replay of the last week of August, in which the reporters stop emphasizing his "charm" and keep reporting his "gaffes."

Gore: Switcheroo in the polls again, showing him far behind and making pundits revert to classifying him as a born "loser."
Bush: Gloves-off grudge match between Daddy and Bill Clinton, turning the election into a re-run of 1992.

Gore: Gloves-off attack on Bushes père and fils by Gore himself, rather than by the artful Clinton, in a way that leaves Gore looking like the heavy.
Bush: Embrace of extreme right wing less imminent-seeming problem right now. Things are going so well that the only potential problem is revelation of character or temperament issue: angry outburst at question, laughing at the next execution, some bonehead answer to foreign-policy question.

Gore: Appointment of Buddhist temple special prosecutor. Otherwise, living the nightmare now.
Bush: Endorsement from KKK, Charlton Heston, Jesse Helms, all on the same day.

Gore: Unchanged. Plus, the unveiling of a new "new Gore" at the beginning of every month, as polls suggest the old "new Gore" isn't selling.
Bush: With no debates scheduled, next nightmare is another outburst of schoolyard carnage, by 8-year-olds carrying gun-show Uzis.

Gore: Unchanged.
Bush: Bonehead comment during debate or press conference. Endorsement from David Duke.

Gore: Dow Jones average at 5300 and gas at $3.80 a gallon on Election Day. Also, new fundraising scandal.
VP Prospects: Category closed. Keep scrolling... Category closed. Keep scrolling... This category officially closed. See you in four years! Bush: Immediate reaction to Cheney positive: "solid fellow," no need to worry about Bush's lack of foreign-policy experience, etc. Second round: strained attempt to make him seem a right-wing zealot, when he has been a Washington, D.C., apparatchik. Potential third round: symbol of cautious, backward-looking, Restoration campaign?

Gore: Money is increasingly on Bob Graham of Florida. Gephardt also a contender. Pundit backflip: if Gephardt took it, that would be a heartening sign for the Democrats in itself, since he would have decided it was worth giving up potential role as Speaker of the House for the race.
Bush: A month from now we'll know, and in the meantime, he's being very discreet. Small tap-dance around the continuing McCain dream. Tom Ridge boomlet.

Gore: Bill Richardson's star dims, as he's made to handle all of the Administration's messy problems.
Bush: Time declares John Danforth -- former Senator, Episcopal priest, embodiment of rectitude -- the dream match. As long as Powell remains unavailable. Dick Cheney, former Ford chief of staff, in charge of the search.

Gore: No movement.
Bush: Despite Shermanesque denials, the dream has shifted to McCain. "Actual" list expanding with coy hints from Bill Bennett.

Gore: Coy hints from George Mitchell. Otherwise the same.
Bush: Dream candidate number one: Colin Powell. Number two: John McCain. Others actually available: Elizabeth Dole, George Pataki, Tom Ridge, John Engler, etc.

Gore: Dream candidate: Bill Clinton. Actually available: Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, Dianne Feinstein, etc.
All-Out Media Supporters: Bush: In a sense, the political press corps as a whole is on his side, by not holding him to the same "liar" standards applied to Gore. The Bush term for this is "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Gore: Significant -- and sad for him -- that the only entrant in this category remains his original patron, Martin Peretz (see April). Increasingly, liberal commentators launch attacks on Bush -- but their columns are more impressive for negative passion about Bush than positive enthusiasm for Gore.
Bush: Clear by now that the only times his base expanded beyond The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times was when pundits were sure he was going to win. Now that it's in doubt, no media friends are joining the bandwagon. But if he should win...

Gore: De facto the major papers beginning to line up on his side, principally by giving more emphasis to Bush's gaffes and organizational problems than to Gore's. Simplest explanation for this shift is simply that reporters are reading the polls and expect Gore to win. Sinister explanation: liberal bias.
Bush: No longer interesting to track this category.

Gore: Intriguing follow-up posy from William Safire (see May 1 entry). Scolding Bill Clinton for his tepid endorsement of Gore at the convention, Safire offers what the President didn't: a vivid, specific anecdote of Gore facing a tough decision under pressure, and making it the right way. (It involved a dilemma: continuing a flight in hazardous circumstances, or irritating diplomats waiting to see him. Gore figured out a third alternative.)
Bush: Same.

Gore: Still waiting.
Bush: Wall Street Journal editorial page reliably in his corner, now that the confusion of the primaries is past.

Gore: Some pro-Gore piece is due to appear somewhere next month, on contrarian grounds if for no other reason. The New Republic has some serious and sympathetic pieces.
Bush: May have to retire this category, if the press remains as standoffish toward both as now seems to be the case. But Bush did himself a huge favor with his performance on Hardball, where he spent an hour seeming affable and relaxed in the presence of Chris Matthews.

Gore: More and more heard from Bob Somerby, professional humorist who was Gore's college roommate (along with Tommy Lee Jones) and who writes truth-squad letters to publications that attack Gore.
Bush: General warming trend from the conservative press, led by Wall Street Journal.

Gore: Unchanged. Astonishing posy from William Safire, who in a column says that Gore has "wit," in contrast to Clinton's cruder "humor."
Bush: None yet evident. Many conservative columnists were plumping hard for McCain.

Gore: Martin Peretz (owner of The New Republic).
All-Out Media Enemies: Bush: Krugman (see previous two months) most effective at pointing out holes in Bush's proposals. Michael Kinsley, in Slate, writes best column about holes in Bush's persona, in which he points out inconsistencies in his positions. Column's conclusion: if Bush doesn't understand contradictions in his arguments, then he really is too dumb to be President. And if he does understand, he's more cynical than anyone has accused Al Gore of being.

Gore: No change.
Bush: Oddly, the biggest persistent thorn in his side may be Krugman (see last month's entry). Krugman's professorial sense of propriety is offended by Bush's loose claims about his budget. Precisely because he is a professor, his repeated attacks on the Bush platform carry more weight than, say, James Carville's would. Effect on the public probably minor; on the rest of the press, more significant.

Gore: No change.
Oddly, Bush's biggest press problem of the month may have been a column by Paul Krugman, in The New York Times, asking whether Bush's tax plan would, in fact, mainly help the very rich -- and concluding "Yes." No movement. May retire category unless things heat up. Bush: The late-night comedians are actually his biggest problem, reinforcing the lightweight image. On the other hand, Clinton survived their unending "fat boy" "lecher" jokes.

Gore: Two categories: right-wing press, from Wall Street Journal to Weekly Standard, hitting him on policy. Rest of the press just cold to him.
No movement. Bush: Republican critics beginning to pull their punches.

Gore: Jacob Weisberg of Slate not an enemy but has written an icy, unloving analysis of Gore's ruthless campaign style.
Bush: Numerous predictable ones. Unexpected hostility from conservatives (and ex-McCain supporters) William Safire, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol. Mockery from Maureen Dowd.

Gore: Numerous. Wall Street Journal editorial page and Rush Limbaugh least surprising and most committed.
Sleeper Issues: Anything still sleeping is too late to matter. Most explosive next-shoe-to-drop issues involve what will happen if Gore loses. How will that first conversation between Clinton and Gore after the election go? What will the Democratic Party try to do to Ralph Nader if he turns out to have made the difference? All of last month's sleepers have indeed gone to sleep. Not much time for sleepers anymore. It's down to the elemental question: which person do we like better? 1) The Olympics. Will everyone forget about politics for the next month? Probably depends on how well our Yank athletes do.

2) Religiosity backlash. For at least the first three weeks of August, Lieberman's worn-on-the-sleeve religious faith was a huge success for Democrats: defuses the Republicans' "restore honor to the White House" campaign theme; causes some resentment among black Democrats which is probably offset by unexpected appeal to evangelical Christians, fellow "people of the Book." His professions of faith are risky for anyone to criticize, for fear of seeming anti-Semitic. But at the end of the month, second thoughts are beginning to appear: Hey, wait a minute, wasn't there supposed to be a separation of church and state? And wasn't G. W. Bush pilloried for saying that he took all his cues from Jesus? Time Capsule predicts: less profession-of-faith by Lieberman in the month ahead.

3) Nader redux. Hard to believe that Nader's support is rock-solid. He claims there is no difference worth noticing between Bush and Gore; but in a pinch, much of his vote might migrate back to Gore, if they thought that a vote for Ralph really was a vote for G.W. So Gore's (at least momentary) rebound may empower the Nader folk: why not vote for Ralph, if Al's going to win anyway?
Nader still percolating along, with sophisticated ad campaign in the state where he can make the most difference: California. Other sleeper issue, electric power, also percolating in California, with widespread brownouts as the month begins.

Glimmer-in-the-eye issues: Trade deficit (up, up, up)? Illegal immigration (ditto)? Rebuilding military morale? GOP platform's approval of anti-sodomy laws that would put Cheney's daughter in jail?
Ralph Nader shifts from sleeper to front-and-center issue. Nader agrees that he and Gore are competing for the same votes (though his riff is, Gore is taking votes away from him rather than vice versa) and says flat-out that he wouldn't care if his candidacy effectively sealed the win for Bush. Gore doesn't even waste time trying to charm Nader into his camp: a spokesman unwisely dismisses Nader, to Sam Verhovek of The New York Times, as a "66 year old Corvair about to get rear-ended."

Still in sleeper status is the prospect of electric-system brownouts through the summer, suggesting one more vulnerability of high-tech/new-economy America.
A new category. In this case the role of third-party candidates, notably Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader. How seriously will they be covered? Whom will they help and hurt? In the last two elections, Ross Perot was widely assumed to have hurt the Republicans. But this time Nader in particular could draw leftie voters unenthusiastic about Gore.    

Join a discussion on Fallows@large and the Time Capsule Project in the
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More by James Fallows in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

More on politics and society in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

James Fallows is The Atlantic's national correspondent and the author, most recently, of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996).

All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
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