It worked, of course, as the New Left discovered the so-called "vital center," which actually co-opted the agenda of the Congressional right.
So now, confronted with a strong challenge from a staunch conservative, Vice President Al Gore is wasting no time. His introductory campaign ad could have come from any conservative Republican in America. It won't save him from being exposed to the L-word (when, exactly, did "liberal" become an epithet?), but he's inoculating himself early.
"1969," the voice-over begins, over 30-year-old footage of student riots. "America in turmoil. Al Gore graduates college. His father, a U.S. Senator, opposes the Vietnam War. Al Gore has his doubts, but enlists in the Army. When he comes home from Vietnam, the last thing he thinks he'll ever do is enter politics. He starts a family with Tipper, becomes an investigative reporter. Then Al Gore decided that to change what was wrong in America, he had to fight for what is right. He ran for Congress. Held some of the first hearings on cleaning up toxic waste; made the environment his cause; broke with his party to support the Gulf War; fought to reform welfare with work requirements and time limits.
"His fight now is to ensure that prosperity enriches all families, not just the few. Strengthen Social Security; take on the big drug companies to guarantee prescription drugs for seniors; hold schools accountable for results; support tax cuts for working families and the middle class. Al Gore -- married 30 years, father of four -- fighting for us."
Vietnam vet. Gulf War hawk. Welfare reform. "Holding schools accountable" (exactly the Bush campaign's phrase). Family values. Tax cuts.
Who's the candidate here -- Al Gore or Al D'Amato? It doesn't look like a Democratic campaign bio; it looks like the Contract with America.
You can scarcely blame Gore for the gambit. It certainly sets him apart from a certain draft-dodging, pot-puffing, politics-obsessed student who went on to have sex in the Oval Office pantry. And it may work -- provided the limited attention span of the American TV watcher can register past the opening scenes of student protest. A good number of them will see that and only that, and proclaim, "Yep. I knew it. He's just like that other one."