WASHINGTON — Washington--SEN. ALBERT GORE may simply be offering a && noble defense of party colleagues in his charge that some Republicans are "playing politics with American lives" by warning that Democrats who voted against using force in the Persian Gulf will pay a political price. But his remarks also have the markings of a clever political move with an eye to a possible second presidential bid in 1992.
Gore's own vote to use force after January's Senate Jack W.Germond &JulesWitcoverdebate was viewed with considerable surprise at the time. It broke with most Democratic liberals and was seen as a likely detriment to any aspirations he might have for his party's next presidential nomination, usually controlled by liberal activists.
But the swift and successful outcome of the war has made Gore's vote look more like political gold, especially contrasted with an earlier suggestion by another possible 1992 Democratic candidate, Gov. Mario Cuomo, that the United States deal with Saddam Hussein for land and water access to get his Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Cuomo can expect that view to be thrown back at him repeatedly should he become a presidential candidate.
Gore, however, also carries some baggage, especially among other liberal Democratic candidates in the 1988 campaign who felt some of his remarks then painted them as soft on national defense. They were particularly put out by a late 1987 Gore observation that "the politics of retreat, complacency and doubt may appeal to others, but it will not do for me or my country." When the others complained, Gore added that they had "come close to subscribing to" such politics.
By coming to the defense of liberal Democrats in this instance, Gore clearly is making a fence-mending move within the party, as well as providing it with a strong and conspicuous voice taking on the Republicans as they prepare to use the war issue against certain liberal Democrats in the 1992 campaign.
While praising President Bush's leadership in the gulf war, Gore moved smartly to hold him responsible as the Republican Party leader for what he called "the worst kind of cynicism" by new GOP national chairman Clayton Yeutter and other Republicans in indicating they intend to make the war vote an issue in the next election.
Only hours before Bush was to appear before Congress as a conquering commander-in-chief, and recalling Bush's earlier support of dissent in his State of the Union message, Gore said: "He must now provide leadership to those in his own party who are ignoring his words." Then, with unusual sharpness against a president riding a unprecedented high in the polls, the Tennessee Democrat added:
"The candidate who in 1988 let others do his dirty work and pretended not to see is now the president who rallied a nation behind his cause. Few will talk about 'the wimp factor' now because, in the Persian Gulf, George Bush acted with boldness and courage. He should now act with the same boldness and courage to stop those who are trying to earn a fast political buck RTC off one of our nation's finest moments and the sacrifice of our finest soldiers.
"President Bush should send out the word -- with strength and conviction -- that he does not condone this kind of politics. He should impose the political discipline some Republicans appear
to need to put the national good before their political maneuvering."
Gore charged that only days after the Senate's "debate of conscience" conducted "not over whether force should be used, but what kind and when," and Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley had pledged nonpartisan unity after the vote, "Republican partisanship tarnished what had been one of Congress' and our nation's brightest moments. To this day, it is Republicans who seem determined to load their big guns with cheap shots."
Gore further labeled the GOP tactics, including a GOP fund-raising appeal that warned of "appeasement-before-country liberals," as "an intentional effort to win votes by poisoning our national politics and dishonoring a debate in this chamber that was in our finest traditions. Now, some Republican operatives already are talking about manipulating these votes of conscience into political tools for their own gain."
Gore did not specifically mention House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, who has been at the forefront of such criticism, but the intent was clear. With this floor speech, Gore also -- by intent or not -- has taken a step toward getting right with his critics in his own party, a prerequisite for a strong second presidential bid.