Drew Westen responds to a shallow book review written by David Brooks. He imagines a comeback Gore could have given to Bush:
George Bush wants to make character an issue in this election. Governor, I wouldn’t go there if I were you because it’s not exactly your strong suit.
But let me say something about Bill Clinton, so the American people know exactly where I stand.
No one in America, not you, not me, not Bill Clinton, is proud of what happened between him and Monica Lewinsky. A day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think about the pain he caused his family, knowing that every time Chelsea turned on the television set for a year all she heard about was her father’s affair. We are all well aware of the pain he and an out-of-control Republican Congress, determined to destroy the president no matter who they had to take down with him or how much filth they had to expose our children tfo on the evening news, caused this nation.
Am I proud of what Bill Clinton did with his personal life? Of course not. But I’ll tell you what I am proud of.
I’m proud of what Bill Clinton and I have accomplished together over the last eight years. We began with an economy in disarray, left that way by Mr. Bush’s father. We were deep into a recession that was costing Americans their jobs, with a federal government out of control, spending your grandchildren’s money by the bushel, running up enormous deficits.
Now look where we are today. We’ve created millions of jobs, we’ve cut unemployment to historic lows, we’ve put a hundred thousand new police on our streets protecting our children, we’ve cut the number of people on welfare by more than half, and on top of that, we balanced the budget for the first time in thirty years. We’ve cut the numbers of abortions for the first time in twenty-five years, and we’ve given every woman in the United States the right to stay home for three months with her new baby without fear of losing her job. We’ve taken guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting the rights of hunters, and we’ve dramatically cut the crime rate.
So Mr. Bush, let me give you a little word of advice. If I were you, I don’t think I’d make integrity and values your campaign theme. If someone is going to restore dignity to the Oval Office, it isn’t a man who drank his way through three decades of his life and got investigated by his father’s own Securities and Exchange Commission for swindling people out of their retirement savings. If you want to be president, you’re going to need to convince the American people that they should abandon everything Bill Clinton and I did that has made Americans safe, secure, and prosperous again, and instead vote for a man whose biggest concern seems to be that the yacht tax is too high.
Had Gore begun his campaign that way, he would have made clear that what united him and Clinton was not Clinton’s handling of Monica Lewinsky but their administration’s handling of the country. As importantly, he would have warned Bush and Rove that if they took off the gloves about character, so would Gore. The way you respond to your opponent’s first attacks sends a crucial signal not just to the public but to the other campaign. A weak response does nothing but embolden the opposition. And a swift response to the character issue that included a brief reference to Bush’s own moral failings would have prevented Bush, and ultimately the media, from framing the campaign as a contest between a man with questionable integrity and a man with questionable experience and intellect. Americans don’t care much about experience and intellect, but they do care about integrity.