Debates can help a well-prepared voter

Useful theater: With many hyper-complicated issues, debates could reveal character and qualification.

September 30, 2000

AMERICAN VOTERS must be grateful to MTV, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King for providing forums in which the presidential candidates introduced themselves.

We now know George W. Bush's favorite sandwich (peanut butter and jelly). We know Al Gore worries about his stiff image: Accused of claiming he created the Internet, he used the accusation to unveil a sense of humor.

"Did you know I invented the environment?" he asked last week at the University of Michigan.

Fine. But we need more. Much more. The presidential debates that begin Tuesday night offer a particularly important opportunity for voters to see the candidates in a revealing encounter.

Debates could help voters get beyond the skillfully scripted. They may offer the best opportunity to see what these men are made of.

We are happy to have views of these men as human beings, but we are more than ever in need of understanding how their proposals would work.

For example: Which of the two candidates makes the most sense on managing the budget surplus? Mr. Gore alleges his opponent can't really offer a prescription drug program for seniors because he has spent all the available money on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Mr. Bush says it is Mr. Gore who wants to spend -- and has proposed the largest government outlays since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson's Great Society.

Which of them is right?

The debates can offer answers, particularly if we have done some homework.

The Internet (whoever invented it) offers many useful Web sites: Policy.com is one of these. Issue2000.org is another. The Sun's election issue coverage can be found at www.SunSpot.net. The League of Woman Voters offers another site.

Those who don't prepare will be at the mercy of candidates who are understandably trying to put the best face on everything.

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