Capital Letters: Stump Speeches
In which our man in Washington sees Dick Cheney check into an old folks' home, watches Bush and Gore debate via proxies, and meets good-looking Libertarians with full sets of teeth.
Subj: Cheney at the Old Folks' Home
It wasn't exactly exciting today when vice-presidential hopeful Dick Cheney addressed a crowd at Wesley Village, a residential community for the over-65 crowd in Shelton, Connecticut. Cheney started off on the wrong foot, showing up late. For all sorts of reasons, you don't want to keep the elderly waiting. He's not a dynamic speaker, either. In fact, he's so mellow that I thought he was tailing off into sleep in the aud-itorium's hot, stale air.
Gore, intoned Cheney in a hypnotic murmur, would put a bureaucrat in charge of health care and wouldn't implement his plan for years to come, while Bush's plan would provide people with immediate choice and relief. For proof, Cheney pointed to 103-year-old Effe Hobby, who has now apparently shaken the hands of vice-presidential candidates in both 1900 and 2000. Last year she spent $624 on prescription drugs. If Bush is elected and delivers on his promise, Cheney explained, she'll spend nothing at all. The implicit message, soft-pedaled by Cheney, was that if Gore is elected, Effe will be six feet under long before her benefits kick in.
Cheney didn't commit any gaffes, but he got a decidedly tepid response. The first, second, and almost only lines to garner applause from this hand-picked group were his promises that every senior would be entitled to the current set of Medicare benefits for the rest of their lives and that any changes to the program would include prescription drug coverage. Supporters were a bit chagrined at the brevity of Cheney's 16‑minute speech; he compounded the disappointment by running out without taking questions.
"Some of us are getting feeble-minded," said John R. Turner, a retired DuPont employee, who told me he was going to vote for Bush-Cheney. "We don't really understand our options." He wanted to ask Cheney about who's going to advise seniors on their new op-tions. Turner isn't even sure if he has drug coverage. "I suppose," he said when I asked him about it. "I'm rich, so it doesn't matter really. Most people here are pretty wealthy, or they wouldn't be able to stay here."
Flora DiZazzo, 78, and Jennie Marro, 71, are two residents who don't consider themselves wealthy. Their Medicare HMO is dropping them in January, and they're not sure how they'll get drug coverage come the new year. Cheney "came in late, he went too fast, and then he took off," said Flora, expressing disappointment more appropriate for a deflowered co-ed than a woman of her years and experience. "He was supposed to take questions, that's what we were told." Flora's not sure there's anything in the Bush-Cheney plan for her. "He said there was an income limit of $11,000," she told me as she finished a plate of dessert pastries and sipped a cup of coffee. "That leaves me out!"
Yet it was another sin of omission that hurt Cheney the most with these golden girls. "I don't think he introduced his wife, did he?" asked Flora. "No, he didn't," replied Jennie. "That's why I liked Gore, because he kissed his wife like a man should kiss a woman," said Flora. "Oh, I love that," said Jennie. "Not on the cheek like they're afraid to touch them."
Subj: Word Games
While it was quite a struggle to get the pair to agree to go mano a mano for a national audience in televised debates, the fact is that Gore and Bush have been debating one another via campaign press releases for months. These things get circulated mostly via e-mail and pathetically pick nits on policy proposals, quote journalists back to themselves, and engage in inane wordplay. The Bush folks have a running feature, "The Gore Detector: A Regular Report on Al Gore's Adventures with the Truth." Gore's folks cleverly dubbed Bush's "Change the Tone" tour his "Change the Truth" tour.
Yesterday, I decided to get my proxy Bush-Gore debate in person rather than online. The Center for Economic Development, a middle‑of‑the‑road, business-backed group, rented a room at the Washington Court Hotel for a lunchtime boxing match on Social Security between Princeton economics professor Alan Blinder (weighing in as Gore with glasses and even less hair) and former Federal Reserve Gov. Lawrence Lindsey (weighing in as Bush with a brain and 200 extra pounds). My big hope: that these two august persons would become rock 'em-sock 'em wonks and really lay into one another.