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A Textbook Lesson in Cynical Politics

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For the young people aspiring to high office one day, U.S. Senate candidates Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles offered textbook lessons last week on a skill needed by the modern campaigner: Having it both ways. Dole went first. No sooner had she declared victory in the Republican primary than she was challenging Bowles, the Democratic nominee, to debate. The two should forego paid TV advertising, Dole said, and instead buy blocks of television time together so that their debates could be watched by grateful voters. Dole noted that her proposal was the same one offered in the '98 Senate campaign by Democrat John Edwards to the then-incumbent, Republican Lauch Faircloth (who rejected it). It was a good idea then, Dole said, and is still a good idea.

Of course, when he made the proposal in '98, Edwards was coming off a primary season in which he debated his Democratic opponents early and often. Notwithstanding that his personal wealth allowed him to bury them in paid TV ads, Edwards showed enough respect for the small-d democratic process to actually stand on the same stage as his opponents and exchange points of view. Contrast that with Dole, who studiously avoided all contact with her hapless primary opponents. Debate them? Why bother? But when confronted by Bowles, an opponent rich enough to bury her in paid TV, she's suddenly all about democracy.

Then it was Bowles' turn. His first post-primary TV ad was a doozy. This staunch supporter of open markets, trade with China and fast-track trade negotiating authority for the White House when he was President Clinton's chief of staff is now shocked, shocked to find that Chinese textiles are pouring into the country--through Mexico! Who'd have guessed it--and it's costing North Carolinians their jobs. He'll vote against fast-track and China trade, he vows. Aren't those issues already decided?

And finally, Dole again. She's not for privatizing Social Security, she says. She's simply for letting younger folks choose whether they want to invest in stocks and bonds. That's the same money that pays for current retirees' checks in a public system, and it would be diverted instead to private investments, but somehow, that's not privatization?

See how it's done, kids? The key is to keep a straight face and practice, practice, practice.

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