Everybody had a short list for Al Gore's running mate last week. Gore himself walked the beaches of Figure Eight Island, N.C., mulling his options and making up his mind. But 400 miles away in Philadelphia, George W. Bush made the decision for him. He picked Bill Clinton. "Our current President embodied the potential of a generation," the Republican nominee said Thursday night in his convention speech. "So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill...So much promise...Instead of seizing this moment, the Clinton-Gore Administration has squandered it...And now they come asking for another chance."
After losing twice to Clinton-Gore, the Republicans are confident that this year they can beat Gore-Clinton. By making the election a referendum on the President, Bush has seen to it that this campaign will be about 1992 as much as 2000--a chance for the son to avenge the father and for people to decide whether they got it right eight years ago.
As if to make sure no one missed what was really going on, the warriors of 1992 began sniping at each other. Clinton flashed his naughty, can't-help-myself smile at a Rhode Island fund raiser and told the audience that W.'s message is "'How bad could I be? I've been Governor of Texas, my daddy was President...Their fraternity had it for eight years, [so] give it to ours for eight years.'" President Bush shot back on the Today show with a threat to "tell the nation what I think about him as a human being and a person." (With those words, he did.) Then Dick Cheney, who was President Bush's Defense Secretary and is candidate Bush's running mate, sidled up to the lectern in Philadelphia and said, "Mr. Gore will try to separate himself from his leader's shadow, but somehow we will never see one without thinking of the other." It was hard to see Cheney without thinking of a gray sheriff from some late-period Clint Eastwood western, riding out of retirement to drive off the rascals who'd plundered his town. With a soft voice and a rusty delivery to make his attack lines go down easy, the man from Wyoming stole Al Gore's best bullet from 1992 and shot it back at him: "It is time for them to go."
America has always loved rematches, fierce rivalries full of emotion and tangled history: Yankees and Dodgers, Frazier and Ali, 49ers and Cowboys. And now Bush-Cheney-Bush against Clinton-Gore-Clinton. Let the rematch begin.
All week long, the Man from Hope was hovering over the Republican Convention. He was not merely its target but also its inspiration. When Bush said Thursday night that he is "not running in borrowed clothes," it was a deft dig at Gore but not altogether true, because Bush is fighting his father's fight with weapons borrowed from the enemy camp. His convention stole the script to Clinton's 1996 multicultural lovefest in Chicago, from the soaring gospel choirs to the fluffy centrist themes to the remote video hookups that beamed the candidate into the arena as he rolled through the heartland on his way to town. For the Bush video biography, his media team mapped the genome of Clinton's 1992 and 1996 convention films, cloning the wifely testimonials and the folksy candidate voice-overs. And then there was the speech.