in Los Angeles - Democrats and the media are waxing nostalgic about the last convention they held here in 1960. But the better comparison would be 1968 in Chicago. Then, Vice President Hubert Humphrey waited until it was too late before separating himself from the Vietnam War policies of Lyndon Johnson, who declined to seek "another term as your president" because of falling poll numbers and an insurgent campaign run by Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Vice President Gore is now faced with precisely the dilemma, if not the circumstances, that Humphrey confronted. Humphrey needed to demonstrate independence in order to persuade voters that he was not Lyndon Johnson. But by the belated time he criticized Johnson's conduct of the war, his break with LBJ had lost whatever political appeal it might have had, had he separated himself, possibly even resigned, earlier. Now, it is Al Gore's turn in the Humphrey spot. Mr. Gore has been the vice president closest to his boss in modern times. According to President Clinton, Mr. Gore has been intimately involved in decision-making, often accepting assignments and developing policy strategies on his own. Everywhere Mr. Clinton went, Mr. Gore was sure to go (with a few exceptions). One rarely sees a Rose Garden picture of the president without also seeing Mr. Gore standing, woodenly, just behind him. It has been this way all of Mr. Gore's life. When forced to take stands-be it on abortion or the Persian Gulf War-he did at the time what seemed best for his career, later changing positions if that helped him advance toward the White House. His convictions have the depth of floor wax because he will change them at the drop of a poll or focus group. Mr. Gore has also been a close part of "the most ethical administration in history," the standard set by none other than Bill Clinton, and now the standard by which Mr. Gore must be measured. Did Mr. Gore ever raise objections to the campaign fundraising strategy that sold the Lincoln Bedroom and the honor and integrity of the White House? How could he? He was part of it. Did Humphrey at any time object to Johnson's prosecution of the Vietnam War and that president's egomaniacal rationale for not quitting it? This is an important question because it gets to the heart of Mr. Gore's (and Humphrey's) judgment. If, when presented with a supreme ethical dilemma, you make decisions based on your personal goals-and not what is best for the country-the voters need to know. Just as Humphrey found it impossible to separate himself from Johnson in 1968, so, too, will Mr. Gore find it extremely difficult to split from Mr. Clinton, a man he called on impeachment day one of our "greatest" presidents. A lengthy New York Times editorial published on the eve of the convention's start expressed liberals' concern for Mr. Gore's problem. It said, "in a personal declaration of independence, [Mr. Gore] should promise to provide a standard of White House behavior that would not require either public lying or public confessions by the chief executive." The editorial continued: "[Mr. Gore's] early waffling on gun control and abortion financing, his exaggerations about Mr. Clinton's place in history and his evasions about White House fund-raising all cast doubt on the steadiness of his convictions and identity." This is from a paper that favors Mr. Gore over George W. Bush and is likely to endorse him for president. If voters consider what this administration has done to mock the law, trample the Constitution, and repeatedly lie, most, it is to be hoped, will not wish to compound the problems of Clinton-Gore by rewarding Al Gore. He will have to continue the cover-up of his administration's deceit, in which he was at best a silent partner and at worst a full participant. Hubert Humphrey would understand Mr. Gore's quandary.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate