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Ed Koch Vs. Al D'Amato:
I'm Right, You're Wrong

Our critics sound off on Bush’s VP pick, the politics of health care, and the Camp David peace talks.

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Maer Roshan: So Bush has picked as his running mate Dick Cheney, a pro-life, colorless candidate with a dicey voting record from a small state. Wise choice?

Ed Koch: Nope. I like Cheney personally, but he'll end up being an albatross around Bush's neck. In this day and age, you can't have a candidate whose record includes opposing Head Start, opposing a ban on cop-killer bullets, and fighting a resolution urging the freedom of Nelson Mandela. Bush will come to regret this, if he doesn't already.

Al D'Amato: I disagree. Not only is Dick Cheney qualified to be vice-president, he's better qualified than Gore to be president! Maybe he doesn't have the glitz, but the fact is, people are tired of glitz. Cheney's a man of substance and great accomplishments. The Democrats and their attack dogs will try to destroy him, but it won't work.

M.R.: Given Cheney's controversial record, why do you think Bush chose him?

E.K.: Because he doesn't give a shit. Bush is getting arrogant now. He believes he has this election locked up. The fact is, he doesn't. Gore is a good debater, and he fights hard when he's the underdog. Now he has something to hit Bush with.

A.D.: You're right that the election isn't over. This is still a pick-'em race. Bush will even be forced to fight hard for Florida, where his brother is governor. On purely political grounds, I admit, Cheney is not an exciting choice. Bush could have gone for someone who would broaden the party -- someone younger, pro-choice, like Pataki or Tom Ridge. McCain would have cinched the election for him. But obviously this wasn't a political choice for Bush. It was personal. Gore's choice for VP will be more political, but everything about Gore is politically contrived, and everybody knows it. That's why Gore will lose.

M.R.: When you look at the electoral map, Bush and Gore are running about even. But there's a definite sense that Gore is lagging in momentum and energy. You're a savvy strategist, Senator. What would you advise him to do?

A.D.: Well, he's doing it. Gore's gone on the attack. He went down to Texas and pointed out all the problems there with education, with poverty, with health care. He's going to look for vulnerabilities and exploit them. That's the only thing he can do. Because in the end, he's just not a charismatic guy; he's no Reagan or Clinton. He has to depend upon slashing attacks to galvanize his base. He's good at it.

M.R.: Bush and Gore have both talked a lot about health-care reform, but insurance and pharmaceutical companies have contributed four times more to Bush's campaign than to Gore's. What does that say to you, Ed?

E.K.: Well, it says that the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are very scared that the Democrats will reform the system. They're petrified of a Gore victory! The main issue is prescription drugs for the elderly. I, for example, have both Medicare and private insurance; but I had a stroke in '87. I had a heart attack last year. I need ten prescription drugs to extend my life. If I had to buy them myself, they'd cost me $10,000 or more. But I'm lucky! Fifteen percent of Medicare patients don't have any other insurance, and Medicare doesn't pay for prescription drugs. Democrats want Medicare to pick up the bill. Republicans don't.

A.D.: Well, it's not so simple. Right now the issue cuts in favor of Democrats. It's very appealing if you can tell voters, "Don't worry, because we're going to pay all your bills for prescription drugs." But it's not sound policy. My God! You know this great surplus that we're always talking about? Do you know the best way to destroy it? Let the government administer a new health program!

M.R.: Let's end with the Camp David talks, which dissolved with each side blaming the other for not giving enough. Do Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal blame?

A.D.: Look. Barak and Arafat face a lot of internal opposition. They both have to bring home an agreement they can sell to their people. This was a first step, and the president deserves lots of credit for sticking with it as long as he did.

E.K.: I have very mixed emotions. I support Barak and the peace process, but I understand Israelis who don't. They say, Don't you remember in 1929 when they had a pogrom in Hebron and killed every Jew? When the Arabs conquered Old Jerusalem, they destroyed every synagogue in that city! They took tombstones from the Mount of Olives and used them to tile their latrines! So of course Israelis are anxious. So are the Arabs. But what's the choice? Ultimately, peace is the only option.


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