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Published on Saturday, April 8, 2000 in the Raleigh News & Observer
Al The Pander Bear: Are His Hopes Extinct?
by Barry Saunders

Psst, hey pal. Wanna buy a vote?

Sure, it usually tilts to the left, but that can be fixed with a little tinkering.

I've got a feeling that, come November, there'll be lots of votes up for grabs -- formerly staunchly Democratic votes -- after that shameless political pandering by Al Gore last week.

Gore, lusting after the Cuban-American vote in his bid to become president, jumped into the Elian Gonzalez controversy by stating unequivocally that the kid and his family in Cuba should be granted permanent residency status -- even though they haven't requested such status.

I'm guessing that for every Cuban-American vote Gore snared with his transparent kowtowing, he probably lost one or more votes of people disturbed by his willingness to politicize what is, ultimately, a custody battle. Not only that, he probably alienated some Cuban-Americans who are not as hard-line and extreme as those threatening civil disobedience and worse.

Gore's foray into the conflict was distasteful not only because of that, but also because he, both as a father and as a man, showed absolutely no regard for the law or empathy toward the boy's daddy, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

That, sadly, is understandable given Gore's unseemly -- and to some, disqualifying -- ambition for the presidency: Juan Miguel, as a native of Cuba, doesn't vote in U.S. presidential elections; hundreds of thousands of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans do.

Another reason Gore landed on the side of the anarchists -- who include in their number Miami-Dade County's mayor -- who've vowed to prevent the INS from returning the boy to his father is his desire to distance himself from President Clinton. Gore likely considers the boss a liability because of moral lapses and legal troubles.

Gore obviously viewed Clinton's pleas against politicizing the case as an opportunity to assert his independence, to show he's his own man.

I was planning to hold my nose when I enter the voting booth in November and pull the lever for Gore. I viewed him as only a slightly more palatable presidential choice than the intellectually lightweight George W. Bush. Bush, like his daddy, has a problem with "that vision thing."

Now, being the open-minded dude I am, I've concluded rather late in the game that Gore is indeed, as his enemies say, the guileful political mercenary who'll do anything to be elected.

Remember the famous declaration "I'd rather be right than president"?

Not our pal Al. Gore struck a discordant note with many voters in 1996 when, during the Democratic National Convention, he told a sad, tearful story of his sister's death by cancer related to smoking.

Of course, nowhere in this heartfelt eulogy for his sister and condemnation of Big Tobacco did he mention the thousands of dollars in political contributions those same tobacco villains had lavished upon his various campaigns.

The presidency, as has been shown, is virtually foolproof, which means no one -- regardless of his level of incompetence -- can do much damage. Thus, the spectre of a Bush presidency isn't so terrifying, certainly not when his opponent shows himself lacking in that "principle thing."

Another good thing about a Bush presidency is that it might put a whole slew of rabid, right-wing radio talk show hosts out of business. With a Republican in the White House, against whom would Rush and others of his ilk rail against all the livelong day?

In order for the Republicans to capitalize off my disdain for Gore, though, they have to at least show they want my vote, which they haven't done, and which allows the Democrats to take it for granted. Just court me a little bit, whisper sweet-nothings in my ear, and mine could be yours.

The News & Observer Publishing Co.


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