(CNSNews.com) - Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W Bush took turns promoting their policies and attacking the others in their first presidential debate Tuesday in Boston.
Both candidates stuck to prescribed themes they've used throughout the campaign, with Gore relying in large part on describing Bush's tax relief proposals in terms of tax cuts for the rich, while the governor noted with regularity that he's not a Washington insider and that Gore has not capitalized on the seven years he's spent as vice president to affect change.
Scandal Takes the Stage
Near the end of the 90-minute debate, Bush also waded into the ongoing campaign finance scandal when asked by moderator Jim Lehrer if there were any "issues of character" that distinguished him from Gore.
Bush said he was "disappointed" when Gore responded to questions about his 1996 campaign fundraising activities by claiming there was "no controlling legal authority," covering some of his actions.
Bush also noted Gore's questionable fundraising visit to a Buddhist temple in southern California, which Gore has denied knowing was a fundraising event. "We can do better," said Bush.
Gore responded by telling the audience "I stand here as my own man," and spoke of his family life and 24 years of public service. The vice president then promised that if elected, the first bill he would send to Congress would be the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill because it was an issue that he cared "passionately" about.
But Bush continued the argument, saying Gore "has no credibility" on the issue, which Gore later dismissed as a "personal attack" on him and his credibility.
Thrust, Parry, Sigh
The two contenders also engaged in thrust and parry tactics on Medicare and Social Security, with the vice president oft times accusing Bush of measures that would destroy the systems and the governor responding by explaining his programs.
Throughout the debate, Gore could be heard audibly sighing during Bush's remarks, making an unspoken commentary on the governor's statements about partial privatization of Social Security for younger workers, prescription drugs, questioning how to pay for additional government spending proposed by Gore and Bush's call for promoting "a culture of life."
At one point, Gore could be seen bobbing his head and rolling his eyes when Bush attempted to outline the differences between the candidates' tax plans. Gore also interrupted Bush when the governor was trying to explain his prescription drug plan and within the first 20 minutes of the debate, Lehrer had to remind the contenders that the debate was based on their rules and asked the candidates to abide by those rules.
Bush Shows a Softer Side
One of the more poignant moments of the debate belonged to Bush when both candidates were asked to illustrate how they would deal with unexpected situations and crises.
Gore told of how he invited the former prime minister of Russia to a meeting to help broker an agreement to end the fighting in Serbia in 1999, saying he "took a risk" in seeking the arrangement.
The vice president continued by describing his 24 years of public service as fighting for middle class families and "casting my lot with the people, even when it means you have to stand up to some powerful interests," launching another broadside against Bush for his support from pharmaceutical companies and their support for Bush's Medicare proposals.
When the same question came to Bush, he recounted his efforts as governor in helping flood and fire victims in Texas, saying, "it's the time to test your mettle, it's the time to test your heart."
In recounting a meeting with a Texas flood victim, Bush said "the only thing I knew to do was to get aid as quickly as possible, which we did with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family and cry with him."
Tax Breaks for the Rich v. Fuzzy Math
Among the recurring themes in Tuesday's face off was Gore's portrayal of Bush's tax relief plan as benefiting primarily the rich and claiming that tax reductions for the nation's wealthiest one-percent would amount to more money than outlays for other
In response, Bush repeatedly referred to Gore's calculus as "fuzzy math" and the governor noted that virtually all working Americans would get a tax cut under his plan, while millions of people would receive no tax relief under the Gore proposal.
At one point, both were asked to succinctly state the distinctions between their candidacies. Gore described the main philosophical differences between himself and Bush in terms of class warfare, saying the key question is whether "we use (the nation's) prosperity wisely in a way that benefits all of our people and doesn't go just to the few," and hammered away with accusations of tax breaks for the rich.
Bush also used the tax issue to draw a difference between himself and Gore. "There is a huge difference in this campaign," said Bush. "He says he's going to give you tax cuts. 50 million of you won't receive it."
The Presidency and the Supreme Court
Both candidates showed little hesitancy in portraying the other's position on the nomination of future justices to the US Supreme Court.
While both men said they would not invoke political litmus tests in their nominations, Gore accused Bush of using "code words" to finesse a desire to name justices who would seek to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, while Bush countered by claiming the vice president would name "liberal" justices who would attempt to "subvert the legislature" by trying to legislate from the bench.
On the issue of abortion and the September approval by the Food and Drug Administration of the abortion pill RU-486, Gore was more forceful that Bush in responding to the decision.
"The FDA took 12 years (to approve the pill) and I do support that decision," said Gore. "I support a woman's right to choose." Bush was less adamant, saying he was "disappointed in the ruling," by the FDA. Bush also spoke of promoting a "culture of life" in terms of abortion and euthanasia.