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Values at the root of Gore-Bush split

Sunday, October 08, 2000

By Ann McFeatters, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- As the 2000 presidential candidates talk about their competing views on education, health care, tax cuts, prescription drugs, energy, Social Security, the environment, crime and guns and defense spending, underlying it all are competing visions of the state of America's cultural values and its moral climate.

Issues 2000



From abortion to sex and violence in the media to religion, Americans want to know what the candidates believe. They disagree almost down the line.

Far apart on abortion

On no other societal issue are Gore and Bush farther apart than abortion. Bush opposes abortion, although he says there is little point in pushing a constitutional amendment to outlaw it with the country so divided on the subject. He opposes the procedure that abortion foes call "partial-birth abortion," however, and would outlaw it.

Bush vigorously castigated the Food and Drug Administration for its recent decision allowing doctors to prescribe RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill," in the United States. But in the first presidential debate last week in Boston, he indicated that he probably wouldn't try to pull the pill off the market if he became president.

Gore adamantly supports keeping abortion legal. He'd sign a ban on partial-birth abortions only if it allowed doctors to perform them if necessary to save the life or preserve the health of patients.

Gore hailed the FDA decision on RU-486, saying it is time that American women have a safe alternative to surgical abortion, as European women have had for years.

The Bush campaign has tried to make an issue of Gore's opposition in the 1980s to federal funding of abortions. "In my opinion, it is wrong to spend federal funds for what is arguably the taking of a human life," the then-Tennesse senator wrote a constituent in 1984. Gore's letter has been widely disseminated by abortion foes trying to suggest that the vice president hasn't always favored abortion rights. Gore says his thinking has evolved.

Bush has said he would not insist his Supreme Court nominees oppose a constitutional right to abortion. But as he stated in the debate last week, he doesn't want "liberal activists" on the high court.

Gore acknowledged that a judge's prior decisions typically offer clues to Supreme Court stands he or she might take, and it is unlikely that he would nominate someone inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Bush vs. Gore
on Values


Opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest.
Opposes FDA approval of the RU-486 "abortion pill" but has not proposed action to stop its distribution.
Does not support new laws giving gays and lesbians more civil rights.
Wants the Ten Commandments posted in schools.
Wants to review federal support for sex education.


Supports a woman's right to decide whether to have an abortion.
Approves FDA decision to allow sales of the RU-486 "abortion pill."
Favors legal civil unions for same-sex partners.
Says posting the Ten Commandments in public schools would be unconstitutional.
Would expand sex-education programs.

It's a values-added split for Buchanan, Nader


Bush wants to reinstate a ban on abortions at U.S. military bases on foreign soil, even if private insurance pays for them. Gore supports the current policy of permitting such abortions. Bush also wants to go back to the policy in force when his father, former President George Bush, was in office, which prohibited family planning groups overseas from getting federal money if they provided abortion services. Gore does not.

Homosexuality also divides the candidates. Gore favors gay rights, including legal bars to discrimination against gay partners in civil unions, although he opposes gay marriage.

Bush says he's against discrimination, but he did not support a 1999 bill to extend federal workplace anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians, which Gore strongly supported.

Bush supports "the don't-ask, don't-tell" policy toward gays in the military. Gore says that policy doesn't work and wants gays and lesbians to be able to serve openly.

Bush would encourage faith-based groups to help the poor, in some cases supplanting government efforts. Gore approves of more volunteer work by religious groups but doesn't want them to replace government programs; he says this could break down the separation between church and state by having the state support particular religious efforts. For the same reason, Gore opposes student-led prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, while Bush favors both.

TV violence hot issue

The issue of children being exposed to adult material has heated up after congressional hearings and a Federal Trade Commission report linked violent behavior with violence in movies, music, TV and video games.

Gore opposes censorship but has castigated Hollywood for marketing shows heavy on violence and sex to teen-agers. Bush also criticizes the entertainment media and complains that Gore accepts major campaign contributions from Hollywood insiders who profit from these offerings.

Bush wants a federal evaluation of sex-education programs in U.S. schools. He'd like public school children taught that abstinence outside of marriage is the right thing to do and would divert money to that cause from programs that teach teens about contraception. Gore would expand, not curtail current sex-education programs.

With every discussion of values, there arises the issue of character.

Bush often tells his audiences that he would restore "honor," "integrity" and "dignity" to the Oval Office -- a reference to President Clinton's liaison with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and an effort to tarnish Gore by association.

That refrain resonates with some voters, but not as many as the Bush campaign had expected, so the governor takes care not to overuse it. Gore, who has never been linked to similar personal misbehavior, responds with, "I'm my own man."

Instead, Bush prefers to question Gore's credibility in advocating campaign finance reform after his well-documented involvement in questionable fund raising practices during the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. Gore takes a page from Sen. John McCain, a crusader for campaign finance reform, and says he wants to change the system because it taints him and every other politician.

Questions raised early in the primary campaign about Bush's admittedly wild younger years were always spurned by the Republican candidate as immaterial to his current conduct, since he swore off alcohol in the late 1980s, and they have not been part of the public debate since.

Dealing with religion

Gore's selection of Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate, the first Jewish American to run on a major party ticket, elevated religion as a campaign issue.

About one in five likely voters says Lieberman too openly trumpets his religion and moral uprightness, but many are delighted that he talks about God and morality on the campaign trail. A mid-September poll by The Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University said Gore got a 7-point bounce in popularity by choosing the Connecticut senator.

Both Bush and Gore consider themselves "born-again" Christians who lead exemplary family lives.

On some value issues, the candidates say just about the same thing. For example, both oppose legalizing marijuana for medical use. Both oppose doctor-assisted suicide. Both men want to boost adoptions; Bush would provide tax credits and vouchers; Gore says a 1998 bipartisan adoption law already has increased adoptions by 29 percent.

One in six voters say values are the most important issue in this campaign. But so far, according to the Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll, Americans are about even -- 43 to 42 percent -- when it comes to choosing either Bush or Gore solely on the basis of their perceived values.

Because of Americans generally approve of the overall state of the economy, the Bush campaign had hoped to make values a "wedge issue" against Gore after the Clinton sex scandal. But the poll suggests one reason that hasn't happened: it found that more than 80 percent of the electorate think both Bush and Gore are decent men.

In a split the pollsters couldn't quite explain, the poll found that Gore -- a congressman, senator and now vice president -- is rated higher on such "moral qualities" as tolerance, helping the poor and protection of individual rights, while Bush is seen as a better leader because he's been a governor and a businessman. But despite his slogan as a "compassionate conservative," Bush is not perceived as more compassionate than Republicans in general.

Among voters who say they are concerned about values, Bush is favored by people who think government has contributed to immorality in America and those who want an end to legalized abortion, a return to prayer in public schools and, potentially, new restrictions on the media.

Gore is favored by those who want an activist government to aid the poor, sick and unfortunate, and who see old-time liberalism as a moral crusade.

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