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Monday, April 19, 2004
 
Bad Campaign Strategy

Mark Kleiman passed along a missive from fellow UCLA professor Amy Zegart, who suggests that Vice President Gore wasn't as focused on terrorism as statements by former Clinton administration officials would seem to suggest:

One way to test the Clinton Administration claim is to look at the 2000 presidential campaign. After all, next to Cheney, Gore has been the most involved Vice President in decades -- with a particular interest in and focus on foreign affairs. When I was on the Clinton NSC staff, Gore's own staff was in the loop. It stands to reason that if terrorism were job #1, (especially with all that Millennium tree shaking going on), then it would naturally figure prominently in the Gore campaign. It didn't. In fact, Gore's campaign foreign policy rhetoric consistently emphasized "new vital national security interests" such as HIV/AIDS in Africa, environmental degradation, and humanitarian crises. And where was Osama? Nowhere on the campaign trail, that's where.

I would suggest that, the more Gore viewed terrorism as a threat, the less he would have emphasized it on the stump. For better or worse, republicans have a long history of being widely perceived among the electorate as more competent on national security issues than democrats. Even given the diplomatic and strategic debacle that the Iraq Adventure has been from the start, Bush still has the approval of the plurality of Americans for his handling of the issue, despite the fact that he has given no coherent rationale for invading in the first place.

There had been terrorist attacks against Americans during the Clinton presidency. Having no record of his own to defend, Bush could have easily turned any Gore warning on the subject into a further indictment of the outgoing administration. Without the benefit of post-9/11 hindsight, who would Gore have been to tell anyone that Bush wouldn't take terrorism seriously enough? I doubt even he would have entertained the possibility that terrorism would have been strictly back-burner stuff in a Bush administration.

Would it have served Gore any purpose to sow apprehension among the populace regarding a threat they could themselves do nothing to counter? Bush would likely have rolled any such warnings into the familiar 'Democrats are negative and unappealing' narrative, which wouldn't have won Gore any points, either.

The Clinton adminstration, Gore included, may not have had its collective hair on fire as their recent statements suggest, in fact it's likely they weren't. But they did take it seriously. During the transition, Clinton's NSA Director, Sandy Berger, warned his successor Condoleeza Rice, "I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism in general, and on al Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.''