Survivors in Real Campaigns

Some presidential candidates are born into controversy.

Some achieve controversy.

And some have controversy thrust upon them.

For Al Gore and George W. Bush, their quests for the White House are a mix of all three.

Both were born into privilege, their fathers having held top posts that helped boost the sons into office, but leave doubts about the sons' merits.

Both take controversial stands - Bush on abortion, Gore on health insurance - to win the nomination and define themselves.

But once in a while in a campaign, we witness controversies that are thrust upon a candidate, one that tests his mettle and teases out his real values.

Let's face it, campaigns are boring if candidates control the agenda. Spin doctors and polling have ruined the authenticity of campaigns. Voters know when they are fed what they want to hear. Even organized debates on TV are too scripted.

Real sizzle comes when reality forces a candidate to defend himself. Gore and Bush were both thrust into sizzling frying pans last week.

First, Gore. The head of the Justice Department's campaign finance team has requested that Attorney General Janet Reno appoint a special counsel to determine if the vice president was less than truthful in denying he knew anything about illegal fundraising at a Buddhist temple in 1996. One person has already been convicted for illegally disguising campaign donations from the temple. (See story on page 2.)

Gore reacted by releasing his April 18 sworn testimony on the matter, trying to claim the high ground of openness and cooperation. He saw the event as "community outreach" even though he had briefing papers that tied it to campaign fundraising.

So did he lie? The issue will at least bring out more of Gore's character. But he's now beholden to Ms. Reno.

Will she say there's not enough evidence to prosecute, a decision that would highlight her apparent conflict of interest as a Clinton-Gore political appointee? Or will she avoid that potential taint, appoint a special counsel - but then force Gore to defend his veracity during the campaign while he faces more legal probing?

This issue could have been resolved earlier by Reno. Now voters are faced with the prospect of electing a president who may later be shown to have committed perjury. How Gore handles this will be a test of whether he should be president.

Next, Bush. Last week, a Texas man was executed for murder. He was convicted on the testimony of one eyewitness and without adequate defense counsel. The Texas governor felt compelled to approved it. The state has 15 more executions planned by the Nov. 7 election. Will Bush again claim, as he did last week, that he knows for certain the guilt of each person facing the death penalty?

Illinois recently found 13 convicts on death row to be innocent. Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions until the state's justice system can convict with certainty. His action has sparked nationwide concern about the fairness of capital punishment since it can be so flawed.

Bush claims the 135 people executed during his watch as governor were guilty. He, like Gore, will be tested beyond campaign slogans to account for his actions.

It's the kind of real moral accountability that a campaign needs.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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