Has anyone ever seen them in the same place at the same time?
Maybe Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush are
same person. Or at least it seems that way at times, as the two
major parties' new standard-bearers crisscross the US, sounding
strikingly similar themes in their pitches to voters.
For the Republican Bush, his mantra of "compassionate
conservatism" can sound a lot like the Democratic Gore's "practical
idealism." Both men propose enlisting faith-based groups to help
solve America's toughest social ills. Yet both also believe
government can be a positive force for change - a major departure
particularly for Mr. Bush, whose party in recent years has sought to
minimize government's role, if not to eliminate it altogether.
Overall, both speak in the gauzy, nonideological language of
family values, responsibility, and opportunity. They rarely identify
themselves as "Republican" or "Democrat."
"They're not identical twins, but certainly they're fraternal
twins," says Ross Baker, a political analyst at Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.
Skipping the primaries
In a way, the two leading candidates are leaping over the primary
process - acting as if they've already won their parties'
- and going straight for the general election, which is usually a
battle for the center.
There are good reasons, analysts say. The two campaigns and
parties have read the polls and run focus groups: They know the
public is tired of the sharp partisanship of recent years that shut
down the government and came to full fruition during President
Clinton's impeachment trial. And with no major national crises to
contend with or burning demands from the public, both men can afford
to dish up feel-good rhetoric.
Some conservative magazines have declared "the end of ideology."
For politicos who welcome a good debate over substantive issues, the
lack of real red meat in the campaign is cause for dismay.
"We have two candidates here from two different parties that
traditionally disagree on the big-ticket visceral items - race
quotas, immigration, taxes, crime, homosexual rights," says Jay
Severin, a Republican consultant from New York who is not working
Bush. "Now we have them both morphing into each other."
If Bush is in the middle of a "brilliant marketing move" that
broadens and redefines conservatism, and that ultimately strengthens
the GOP's hold on Congress and captures the White House, says Mr.
Severin, then no one can argue with it.
But he worries about a campaign that's driven more by celebrity
than by issues, calling it "undemocratic."
Bush, for his part, maintains he'll get more specific with
proposals as time goes on. Still, there's a school of thought among
some Republicans that says why mess with a winning strategy: In
polls, Bush is way ahead of any challengers for the Republican
nomination and maintains a comfortable double-digit lead over Gore
general-election matchups. …