Bob Maginnis 10/5/00

October 04, 2000|By Bob Maginnis

Candidates clash, nationally and locally

Thoughts on Tuesday's presidential debate:

After 90 minutes spent listening to the president candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush on Tuesday, I have to agree with most of the commentators I've heard, who feel that contrary to what many Republicans feared might happen, Bush held his own.

The Texas governor was definitely the more likable of the two, probably because he avoided Gore's irritating habit of disregarding moderator Jim Lehrer's questions and making short speeches about totally unrelated matters. Gore's repetitious manner didn't play well with me, and after the hundredth time he claimed that Bush's tax cut would be of the greatest benefit to the wealthiest 1 percent of the nation's citizens, I felt like a child whose slightly exasperated teacher was trying to pound some math facts into his head.

Bush's strongest counter to Gore's blizzard of numbers was the question - never answered - of why things like affordable prescription drugs for seniors weren't addressed during the two terms of the Clinton-Gore administration. Gore's feeble attempt at a reply - "I'm my own man" doesn't answer the question of what he was for the past eight years.


Unfortunately, at Lehrer's invitation, the governor also took a shot at Gore's past fund-raising peccadilloes. Gore treated the remark as if Bush had chosen to make a nasty comment about some unfortunate physical defect, like a harelip, and vowed he wouldn't do the same. My thought on that is that it's very easy to swear you won't use a gun if you happen to be out of bullets. If there was any real dirt on Bush, there's no doubt in my mind the Gore camp would use it.

The fault in both men's presentations was one that afflicts almost every political campaign - the tendency to treat a candidate's plan for this or that as something that would automatically happen if he or she was elected. The truth is that even with a Republican Congress, Bush's plans for things like the partial privatization of Social Security will be debated and modified a great deal.

The same goes for Gore's proposals. The man who wins the debates and the election could be the one who says something like the following:

"Look, we both know that whatever either of us proposes will look much different after Congress is finished with it. To say I'd insist on every detail of what I've outlined here would be foolish, and a recipe for gridlock, when what we need is progress."

Sixth District candidate Don DeArmon, who I hadn't heard from all summer, is revving up his campaign for a final stretch run against incumbent GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. Sue Tuckwell, a former member of the Washington County Gaming Commission and a candidate for county commissioner in the last election, is doing his press relations. The two stopped by The Herald-Mail recently, and DeArmon, normally as low-key a candidate as I've ever seen, was downright feisty.

The combative side of DeArmon emerged when I asked him about Bartlett's criticism of Rep. Lucille Royball-Allard's move to strip the Boy Scouts of their national charter, for their refusal to allow homosexuals in adult leadership positions.

Royball-Allard is DeArmon's boss - he's on leave during the campaign - and I asked him if the fact that her position is the opposite of his is a reflection of his influence (or lack of same) in her office.

DeArmon chided reporters for taking the bait from Bartlett, noting that he was on leave when the issue arose and that while staffers have input into such decisions, they don't have the final word. DeArmon said that as someone who became an Eagle Scout, he would not have voted the same way.

DeArmon also chided reporters for allowing Bartlett to have it both ways on many issues. Bartlett came to the dedication of the new MARC train station in Frederick, DeArmon said, even though he'd voted against funding it. And DeArmon said, Bartlett's proposal to re-water the entire C&O Canal, an idea that would be unimaginably expensive, is ironic, given Bartlett's vote against last year's bill containing the National Park Service appropriation.

The voters haven't raised a fuss, DeArmon said, because Bartlett has "just decreased the expectations of what an effective representative can do. For example, you've got a representative on the Armed Services Committee who can't get the Fort Ritchie problem solved."

The federal government and the Pen Mar Development Corp. have been trying to negotiate an agreement to transfer the now-closed base to local authorities, but it's been a long, difficult process.

For more on DeArmon's views, visit his web site at

For his part, Rep. Bartlett weighed in recently to complain that a Sept. 20 letter form John Ewald did not identify him as DeArmon's (unsuccessful) primary opponent. That's a fair point.

In addition, Bartlett said that Ewald's criticisms - that he introduced bills to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons and that he voted against farm relief, veterans' assistance and education help for the disadvantaged - were in error.

"I didn't introduce those bills, I co-sponsored them, "Bartlett said.

As for the appropriations bills, when they came back from the conference committee, the measures, particularly the veterans bill, had less funding than he felt was necessary. And so he voted against them.

"I don't vote against farmers. I've been honored by farm groups. Why would I vote against them?" he said.

Bartlett's web site is The two candidates meet at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at the Hagerstown Four Points Hotel, in a Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce forum.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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