Executive Decision

By CALVIN WOODWARD

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Beyond George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and Al Gore’s own roots in centrist politics, clear and classic choices are being offered in Tuesday’s presidential election.

Such choices used to fall broadly under the names liberal and conservative. The labels have changed, or taken on some adornment, but underlying philosophies are pretty much intact.

Democrat Gore and Republican Bush agree on most of the ends: better schools, a stronger military, health care for more Americans and more money for retirement.

They differ significantly on the means.

Simply put, Gore invests more faith in the federal government’s ability to take care of national problems, offering through programs – or selective tax breaks that resemble programs – to help Americans save for their advanced years, put kids through university or make the environment cleaner with energy-efficient dishwashers, cars and homes.

Bush uses broad tax cuts, money to state governments, a reliance on a less-fettered marketplace and individual oomph to tackle many of the same problems, while offering, as he hardly ever fails to mention, a safety net.

Boost retirement income?

You bet, says Gore: by keeping Social Security as it is and layering on top of it a new entitlement matching the money that people put into their retirement investments.

Absolutely, says Bush: by letting people divert some of their Social Security taxes into the market, in what promises to be the most profound change in the program’s history.

Help the elderly buy prescription drugs?

Yes, says Gore: by sweetening Medicare.

Yes, says Bush: by giving money to states to look after the elderly poor while setting up a system that uses both the private market and Medicare to give people choices in plans.

Conservation?

Yes again, from Gore, who’d spend billions to add parkland.

Yes, too, from Bush, but with an emphasis on private land management.

There is a lot of “Yes” in this campaign.

The huge budget surpluses projected for years to come, a unique feature for today’s Americans, are being treated as a gold mine for expensive ambitions.

Gore would use them to advance a largely Clinton-plus agenda: extending reasonably priced health insurance to more children and lower-income adults, turning preschool into a universally affordable program, plowing billions into school construction and teachers’ pay raises. He’d sprinkle tax breaks here and there through the middle class to promote popular social goals like college or job training.

Bush would use the surpluses to cut tax rates for everyone from the working poor to the fabulously rich, while going further than Republicans usually do to spend money on social needs.

While their basic approaches are much in the mold of their party traditions, Bush and Gore also provide some surprising policy twists learned from the councils of moderate political thinking.

Bush comes from the ranks of governors, a largely pragmatic lot with little fealty to old ideological labels.

In contrast with Republicans in Congress who wanted to shut the Education Department until recently, Bush has an elaborate federal program to toughen school standards, reward or penalize states for doing better or worse in education and plow billions more into college scholarships.

Gore comes from conservative Tennessee, from the ranks of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and from the side of Bill Clinton, who talked about a “third way” between left and right.

A hawk in some respects, Gore is proposing to use twice as much of the surplus to boost military spending as Bush would.

And while both candidates have tapped hungrily into the surplus to finance their plans, it is Gore the Democrat who, at least on paper, sets aside $300 billion of it to help pay off the debt, or for a rainy day.

Bush, on one hand, is in a hurry to build a national missile defense system far more pricey than the limited one Gore is considering. On the other hand, it’s the Republican, not the Democrat, who has talked about possible unilateral cuts in U.S. nuclear arms.

All from a policy-laden campaign in which every conceivable mainstream notion seems to be getting heard.

Except the notion of “No.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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