Second debate exhibits civility

George Fairbanks

The second presidential debate took place on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday with a different look — and attitude — than the first.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore sat at a table across from moderator Jim Lehrer. The two candidates agreed more than the previous debate, but the same disagreements resurfaced time and again.
Experts thought the laid-back, talk show format would heavily favor Bush, yet both men appreciated the more casual format.
From the beginning Lehrer pressed the men on foreign policy and how the United States should present itself to the rest of the world.
Bush stressed that America should remain strong but humble, and Gore agreed. It would be one of the many times throughout the night that the two men vocally agreed.
The biggest foreign topic was the extremely tense past few days in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel. Bush pointed out his administration would have “a bond of friendship” with Israel.
Gore noted his belief that the United States should lean on Syria to release three Israeli soldiers captured last week.
“Like it or not, the United States is now the natural leader of the world,” he said.
Early on, Gore made a point to avoid the misstatements that he was greatly criticized for after the first debate. He prefaced his comments with remarks such as “I’ve been told,” “perhaps I heard wrong” and “as far as I know.”
Additionally, the debate took on a sense of civility that was in many ways absent in the first debate. Both Bush and Gore, called each other by their proper titles, cited each other’s comments and, at times, even complimented one another.
Much like the debate before, Bush proved that he does have a basic understanding of most issues. Although some of his answers lacked Gore’s depth, Bush did explain his stances and beliefs without trouble.
The two men wrangled for the first time over the murder in Texas of James Byrd, who was killed by three white supremacists who have since been sentenced to death.
Gore, however, said a newer version of the same legislation had failed in the Texas Legislature, even though the bill had the support of the Byrd family. Bush didn’t argue the bill’s failure, but diverted the issue.
“The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what’s going to happen to them?” Bush asked. “They’re going to be put to death.”
The nominees also butted heads again over gun control. Gore commented on his support for photo licensing of new hand gun buyers; Bush stated his opposition to that proposal.
The dissension essentially boiled down to interpretations of current laws and how those laws are being enforced. Bush suggested current laws need to be enforced more vehemently, while Gore agreed but added that government can do more.
Later in the debate, Gore irritated Bush when he suggested the governor’s administration has left behind the uninsured in Texas.
Gore cited a long and complicated series of facts and figures that left Bush without answers in response.
The night, however, was not without humor. Bush continually drew laughs from the crowd playing off Gore’s serious demeanor.
The final debate — town hall style — is in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 17 at 8 p.m.

George Fairbanks covers elections and welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3221. He can also be reached at [email protected]