Gore defends military readiness

Wednesday, August 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MILWAUKEE – Vice President Al Gore defended the readiness of the nation's military Tuesday and, without mentioning names, accused his opponent of trying to run it down "for political advantage in an election year."

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"That's not only wrong in fact – it's the wrong message to send our allies and adversaries across the world," the Democratic presidential nominee told the 101st convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He never called George W. Bush by name. But there was no doubt that Mr. Gore was directing his broadside against his Republican rival, who complained to the same convention on Monday that the military was falling apart.

In a separate statement, the Gore campaign challenged Mr. Bush's positions on defense, saying they would amount to "national insecurity."

Firing back from Austin, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said the Clinton-Gore administration began addressing military shortcomings only after Mr. Bush made them an issue.

"One key aspect of leadership is to be responsible for your actions," Mr. Bartlett said, "and the actions of the Clinton-Gore administration have left the military underprepared and overdeployed."

Drawing a contrast

Mr. Gore, wearing a VFW cap from his home state of Tennessee, spoke of his own military duty as an Army journalist in Vietnam, seeking to draw a contrast with Mr. Bush, who served at home in the Texas Air National Guard during the war.

"I don't pretend that my own military experience matches in any way what others here have been through," said the vice president, who enlisted in the Army after graduating from college. "I didn't do the most or run the gravest danger. But I was proud to wear my country's uniform."

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore has vowed to bolster the nation's military, modernize it and boost its pay and morale.

"Our armed forces should be commemorated on stamps. They shouldn't have to use them to buy groceries," he said.

Mr. Gore also has promised that veterans would have better educational opportunities and better access to health care from the Veterans Administration in a new Gore administration.

"I will never forget those who have worn the uniform – and I will never let you down," he said.

Mr. Gore was politely – sometimes enthusiastically – received by the veterans. But some stood silently, their arms folded or hands clasped, as he made his way to the stage, a day after Mr. Bush had spoken.

"They both pretty much said what we wanted to hear," said Steve Forjen, a 51-year-old Army veteran from Oakes, N.D., who served in Vietnam.

And Jack Dunn, 74, a World War II Marine from Hanover, Pa., said he intends to keep score.

"We wrote down the promises both of them made," he said. "Now, we'll see who keeps what."

In his speech, Mr. Gore sought to tie the nation's military strength to a prosperous economy,

"We cannot have the right defense policy in the 21st century without the right economic policy," he said, dismissing Mr. Bush's call for a broad, across-the-board tax cut.

"It is wrong to spend our budget surpluses on short-term gain," he said, "when we need to make sure the resources are there to keep our military strong for the future."

His voice still hoarse from his convention speech nearly a week ago, Mr. Gore was winding down a post-convention tour that took him down the Mississippi River for four days, then to Milwaukee and Chicago.

New commercial

The vice president is heading to Florida on Wednesday, then back to Washington for a two-day mix of official and political events and some weekend rest.

In the meantime, his campaign began airing a new biographical television commercial.

"1969. America in turmoil," the spot begins. "Al Gore graduates from college. His father, a U.S. senator, opposes the Vietnam War. Al Gore has his doubts, but enlists in the Army."

The ad also highlights Mr. Gore's 16 years in Congress, his family and some of his campaign platform, including his plan for targeted tax cuts.

Mr. Gore "fought to reform welfare with work requirements and time limits," the spot says. "His fight now is to ensure that prosperity enriches all our families, not just the few."

Mr. Bush's spokesman, however, charged that Mr. Gore had exaggerated his role in welfare reform.

"He stood on the sidelines while everybody else did the work," Mr. Bartlett said.

The new Gore ad, launched a day after a similar campaign begun Monday by Mr. Bush to tout his education and Social Security proposals, will run in 17 key states, including Florida, Washington, Oregon and much of the Midwest.