Only the hardest decisions make it all the way to the President's desk. That's something both men who are running have had a chance to see from front-row seats. "It's a revelation," says Al Gore, "the way excruciating, world-class problems tend to come in clusters." And George W. Bush knows from seeing his father renege on his "no new taxes" pledge how a single judgment can end up crippling a presidency. So, says Governor Bush, "you just gotta be confident enough in your positions and tough enough in your hide to be able to stand the heat if it comes."
It is impossible to know precisely what problems George W. Bush or Al Gore will face as President, but there surely will be some that nobody will have anticipated. What is also certain is that the two would bring dramatically different approaches to solving them. Bush comes to a decision by putting his faith in the advisers he picks; Gore, in the information they bring him. Bush's goal in mastering a new issue is to learn the lay of the land; Gore isn't convinced he knows the terrain until he runs his fingers through the soil. Bush's experience tells him there are few adversaries he cannot bring around with his irresistible charm; Gore's experience tells him there are few he cannot conquer with an irrefutable argument.
The two men who would like to be the next President are so different in their management styles that it's easy to overlook their similarities. But there are some. Both Gore and Bush have earned reputations as decisive leaders--more decisive, in each case, than the men whose presidencies they've watched up close. Bill Clinton's penchant for agonizing over every decision--and then rethinking it again after it was made--only reinforced the Vice President's natural aversion to second-guessing. A President Gore would be a decided contrast to the candidate who reinvents his campaign as often as he changes his wardrobe. "Once he locks in, he'll lock in and be much tougher to move, whereas Bill Clinton used to continue to cogitate even after he made a decision," says former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta.
Bush's father rarely looked back on decisions, but he often took his time in making them. His son, on the other hand, became famous in Texas for cutting meetings short, demanding a cogent recommendation from his advisers, making a decision and moving on. Bush also has less patience with the status quo than his father did. If Bush the elder's governing philosophy was "first, do no harm," then his son's is "do something." Since his first campaign in Texas in 1994, George W.'s style has been to develop a limited, specific agenda and then focus almost exclusively on it until he could check all the items off the list. "He realizes that if you have too many goals, you don't have any goals," says Bush campaign chairman Don Evans. What's more, some advisers suggest, Bush plans to push the hardest ones first: his gaudy tax cut, they say, will probably take a backseat to the arduous work of transforming Social Security.