Greenstein says Gore/Bush styles differ greatly

Princeton University political scientist Fred I. Greenstein, the author of "The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton" (The Free Press, 2000), offers the following Election Day commentary:

Are there only cosmetic differences between this year's major party presidential candidates? So argues Ralph Nader, who asserts that the two parties have "mutated into one two-headed monster wearing different makeup." In fact, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore would bring sharply different strengths and weaknesses to the White House, and they are light years apart when it comes to issues.

Bush is a natural politician, who upon taking office in Texas made a point of having meetings with every member of the state legislature. Gore lacks sure political instincts. On Capitol Hill, he focused on issues rather than building policy-making coalitions. The Texas governor also appears to have greater organizational skills than the vice president, judging from the smooth operation of his campaign organization and the chaotic nature of Gore's. But Gore would trump Bush in two important dimensions. He would be better able to process the massive volume of advice and information that comes a president's way, and he far exceeds Bush in his depth of commitment to issues and grasp of their content. Bush does have excellent advisors to help him shape his issue agenda, but if a president is an empty suit he will be at a loss when his aides are divided.

The policy differences between the two men are profound. An overriding one is their positions on taxes. Bush proposes the largest tax cut since the massive tax reduction of Reagan's first year. Gore's targeted tax reductions would be a third as great as Bush's across-the-board cuts, leaving more room for government expenditures. Because Gore envisions more revenue, he is able to propose a major new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens. Bush's prescription medicine proposal is far less ambitious, relying on the market and limited subsidies.

The candidates' positions also are far apart on Social Security, campaign finance, gun control, the environment, and much else. But the single most dramatic difference between a Bush and Gore presidency would be in their respective effects on the composition of the Supreme Court. In the Court's last session, twenty decisions were made by five-to-four splits. Included are the rulings that struck down Nebraska's partial birth abortion law, barred the Food and Drug Administration from regulating tobacco, and allowed the Boy Scouts to bar gay troop leaders.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is not in good health, was born in 1930. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is unlikely to attempt to out wait another Democratic presidency, was born in 1924. Justice John Paul Stevens was born in 1920. The appointments of Bush would give the Court's conservative bloc a decisive advantage for years to come; those of Gore would have the opposite effect. So much for mere cosmetics.

FRED I. GREENSTEIN, Professor of Politics, Princeton University

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601