Would You Hire This Man? One's a glad-handing Harvard MBA, the other a nitpicking workaholic. Bush and Gore bring very different management styles to the table. Only one gets to be America's chief executive.
By Jeffrey Birnbaum

(FORTUNE Magazine) – For months it looked as if the presidential election was a contest between Dull and Duller. Not anymore. The national conventions made it clear that Al Gore and George W. Bush aren't Frick and Frack after all. As President, they wouldn't be anything alike. Gore would rev up the long-idling engine of government, add programs left and right (mostly left), and produce what we can think of as the New New Deal. Bush, on the other hand, would throttle back the bureaucracy, devolve power to states and community groups, and oversee large tax cuts. Finally, in other words, a choice!

And that's just the start. Promises are only words uttered on the campaign trail. Times change. Congresses balk. Who knows whether a candidate can accomplish what he pledges? What lingers is management style. Bush would conduct his Administration like the MBA he is, orderly and staff-reliant. Gore would be more hands-on and solitary in his decision-making, much like the writer he once was. President Gore, as a result, would be full of surprises. President Bush, less so.

Each man would also fashion distinctly different bully pulpits. The affable Bush would be Mr. Inside. He would glad-hand lawmakers day and night to get his agenda passed and resort to short televised speeches--if he had to. The introspective Gore would be Mr. Outside, more aloof and targeted in his personal dealings, but also more prone to take his case to the public whenever he reached an impasse. Bush would prefer to schmooze his way to legislative success; Gore would town-hall-meeting us into submission.

In other words, the contestants would make very different CEOs of America. What follows is an examination--an educated guess, really--of what each of the two combatants would do if he won the White House and how he would do it.

"The Vice President is a new-economy CEO," says Bruce Reed, trying to put the best face on Gore's reluctance to adhere to the most basic tenet of the presidency: the hierarchy. Reed, a former Gore staffer and now Bill Clinton's chief domestic-policy advisor, has seen how little devotion to the chain of command Gore demonstrates with his staff. Gore aides quickly grow accustomed to e-mail barrages when the boss gets fixated on their topic of expertise. Only in recent years has Gore been trained to send copies of his inquiries to his chief of staff.

In a world full of vacuous rhetoric and know-nothing pols, Gore is a rarity; he knows his stuff. He revels in receiving written briefings and reads them thoroughly. He's been known to complain when President Clinton gets a briefing book before he does. Gore is often the most informed person in the room on almost any subject. Far from his stolid public image, he gives the impression in private of a person consumed with the issue at hand.

In fact, briefings aren't nearly enough for Gore. He insists on seeing reams of facts and is almost never satisfied, no matter how comprehensive the survey. When his college classmate Reed Hundt (later chairman of the Federal Communications Commission) prepared a history of Vice Presidents for Gore in 1992, the Veep-to-be asked lengthy questions and then demanded to see the source materials. That's the way he has operated on issues as far-ranging as global warming, arms control, and reinventing government. Gore combed through mind-numbing government-efficiency proposals so minutely that his aides joke that the project was referred to as Re-Go because the letters were an anagram for Gore.

Gore is a detail guy, a nitpicker, obsessive in the way he tackles issues. He has been known to redraft speeches and create entire policy positions on the fly. He also watches his daily schedule so closely that he once decided to save time by hopping the shuttle to New York rather than wait for Air Force II. He even designed his own Gore 2000 logo. All of which makes him decisive but also hard to predict. When he chose Tony Coelho to chair his campaign, almost everyone was surprised. The same was true when he replaced Coelho with Bill Daley. In the end, Gore does his own research and makes his own choices. Alone.

The question is, Does Gore get so close to his subjects that he can't see the bigger picture? Is he like Jimmy Carter, who was said to meddle with details as insignificant as the schedule of the White House tennis courts? Scholars agree that such micromanaging is a mistake, but Gore aides deny that Gore would get lost in trivia. After all, they say, the Vice President has overseen large swaths of government policy, from environmental protection to relations with Russia, and he has kept abreast of both the details and the overall policies. Yet Gore has never had final say, has never been fully in charge of anything other than his own staff.

His aides have been a revolving crew. They come to him young and bright and then move on. (One exception: longtime foreign-policy advisor Leon Fuerth.) Several have remained friends, among them lobbyists Roy Neel and Jack Quinn and the Gore campaign's current media strategist Carter Eskew. Gore's closest advisors aren't on his staff. They include Congressman-turned-lobbyist Tom Downey and Gore's brother-in-law Frank Hunger.

Bush has not been in government long enough to have such an extensive alumni association. On the other hand, he has been CEO of a major government entity, Texas. His critics say that he has been, by constitutional design, a weak governor with limited powers. But he's been a governor nonetheless. And by now his management style is clear. No one would accuse Bush of having a forest-for-the-trees problem. In fact, if his method could be compared with that of a recent President, it would be Ronald Reagan, who set out a few key objectives and delegated to others whom he trusted how best to reach them.

Like Reagan, Bush is proud not to know everything about everything. He believes that his job is to direct "the broad brush strokes" of policy, as he told the New York Times, and to leave the means to others. He learned the hard way from his father that his top priority should be to have a "vision" of government and to inspire others to move toward that vision. As a Harvard MBA, Bush also sees himself at the top of the organizational pyramid; his chief operational task is to surround himself with first-rate advisors. These deputies must possess two traits: They must know more about their topics than Bush does and dispense information untainted by their own ambition.

As a result, Bush maintains a core of senior assistants who have been intensely loyal to him for years, among them political guru Karl Rove, chief administrator Joe Allbaugh, and communications director Karen Hughes. Even newcomers to Bush's inner circle are familiar old hands from his father's Administration, including foreign-policy expert Condoleezza Rice, economic advisor Larry Lindsey, domestic-policy aide Josh Bolton, and, of course, Dick Cheney.

Bush isn't as uninterested in policy as Reagan was. He actually relishes policy debates, though relatively short ones. A Bush briefing is crisp and to the point. Unlike Gore, Bush prefers oral briefings. Rather than dive into texts, he often asks his briefers to close their books and tell him what's important. So complete is his confidence in his people that he relies on them to set the agenda. Condi Rice conducted months of tutorials with the governor to bring him up to speed on foreign policy. And for the most part, she decided which issues they would cover.

Such dependence on staff has allowed Bush's enemies to caricature him as brainless. That's false. No one who has met the governor comes away with that impression. To the contrary, he has a knack for asking the right question and getting to the heart of things. Moreover, he delves deeply into issues that he cares about. He directed a rewrite of Texas' education programs after concluding that they were "mush." At the same time, one question voters must answer is whether Bush hovers too high above the fray.

CEOs are more than decision-makers. They are communicators. And more than corporate chieftains, Presidents need to persuade in order to get things done. On that score, Bush has an inborn advantage. He is blessed with exceptional interpersonal skills and ranks among the ablest backroom operators in a governor's mansion. Gore may be clumsy socially, but unlike Bush, he has known Washington's players as peers for his nearly 24 years in office. He's known some even longer. He grew up in D.C.

Bush's early days in the White House would be devoted to making fast friends of the powers that be, especially his nominal enemies. If his experience as governor is guide, he will woo the leaders of the Democratic Party and insist on meeting them regularly in comfortable settings. Baseball games preferred. He will also pop in on them at odd moments. Bush doesn't stand on ceremony. Politics for him is as much about people-to-people relations as it is about policy.

His whirlwind courtship of Bob Bullock, Texas' volatile former lieutenant governor and leading Democrat, is instructive. Bullock was the fiercest partisan and wiliest curmudgeon in the state. Yet Bush realized he needed him to succeed. So he embarked on a relentless campaign to convince Bullock that he was a Republican willing to deal. The result was a rush of legislation whose specifics were written by the lawmakers but followed Bush's priorities, including tort reform and tax cuts.

The governor didn't limit his entreaties to big-name lawmakers, and as President he wouldn't confine himself to a handful of notables either. He's famous for giving almost everyone he meets a nickname, including doormen. Before the end of Bush's first term, most members of Congress would probably have pet names too. But who knows if such down-home charm would translate into legislation?

Bush says he wants to be President but wouldn't be crushed if he loses. The reason isn't lack of desire. The governor is a devout Christian, and his outlook is shaped by that. "He's somebody who's defined by his faith," says Don Evans, Bush's best friend and campaign chairman. "His highest calling in life is to serve other people and the will of the Lord." That's one reason Bush "isn't all puffed up about himself" and "is a lot of fun to be around," says Condi Rice.

Bush is a morning and afternoon person who flames out at night. Expect him to select a few legislative priorities, push them to the exclusion of others, and end each day at a reasonable hour.

Gore is a veteran of Beltway battles, and the experience has left him more respected than liked by many colleagues on Capitol Hill. As a lawmaker, he was more involved with such flaky, futuristic causes as the information superhighway than in acting like a member of the club. He was and remains, however, decidedly Democratic. Despite his reputation for ideological mutability, he is unfailingly, and often harshly, partisan. He has also been predictably bullheaded in Clinton's inner councils when it comes to promoting issues that matter to him. No one was more determined to impose an energy tax than Gore during Clinton's first term, even after it was clear that the idea was untenable. Indeed, the Vice President is renowned for his political tin ear. His "no controlling legal authority" press conference (about 1996 fundraising calls) is among the decade's worst bloopers.

But experience counts a lot in a city as byzantine and inbred as Washington. Gore doesn't need to rely on other people's memories to avoid perennial traps. And while his relations with Republicans are rocky, Democrats are accustomed to working with him closely. He has struggled with them for gun control and lifting barriers to telecommunications growth. What's more, Gore isn't as stiff as he appears. He even has an antic side. He and Tipper dress in costume for an annual Halloween press party.

Neither Gore nor Bush will ever possess the political skills and substantive knowledge of Clinton. But they would be more disciplined, firmer in their decisions, and more ideologically principled.

If Congress continues to be narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats, Gore's reluctance to compromise would be an impediment. That, in turn, would be an invitation for anti-Washington tirades. Bush would burrow deeper into official Washington to find compromise; Gore would go outside to win. The populism of Gore's convention address indicates how he might cope with congressional stalemate. Expect appeals to "the people" and attacks on "the powerful" if Gore fails to get his way.

As relatively laid-back and businesslike as a Bush White House would be, Gore's would be driven and pushing in many directions at once. Every White House maintains crazy hours, but Gore's would probably be a standout. The Vice President is more workaholic than Bush and apparently able to work longer hours. The early Gore Administration would be a maelstrom of activity, spinning out all manner of initiatives. And for good reason. Gore has been groomed to be President since childhood. That's a lot of pent-up demand. At the same time, expect a looser, more lighthearted Gore if he wins. Just imagine his relief at reaching his goal!

Gore's ideology has long been in dispute. Is he a New Democrat (read: moderate) or is he an old Democrat like his Senator father, Albert Sr.? Like many national politicians, Gore will remain hard to label. But the convention proved that his default position is left.

The Vice President is as interventionist as any of his recent Democratic predecessors. His critics say his dozens of new programs would cost $2 trillion over ten years. Gore disputes the total, but he has a two-chickens-in-every-pot philosophy. Over the next decade he would return $500 billion in tax cuts targeted at middle- and lower-income Americans. Most of the rest would be spent on health, education, and the environment.

Bush has a different view. Unlike past Republicans, Bush isn't antigovernment. He recommends $250 billion in new spending programs over ten years, often to allay the same problems Gore cites. But Bush would cut income tax rates across the board to give back a total of $1.3 trillion to all Americans, including the most well-off. That's already proving hard to defend against Gore's populist attacks. Yet Bush insists government isn't the source of solutions; community (read: church and civic) groups are.

Social concerns also separate the candidates. On abortion, Gore is pro-choice, Bush is pro-life. With three or four Supreme Court Justices on the verge of retirement, that issue may gain prominence this election year. Another distinction: regulation. Gore has become a master at using the bureaucracy to promote social and economic ends. Bush would want cooperation rather than federal fiat.

Campaigns are designed to blur such distinctions. Lots of gauzy commercials will suggest that Gore is more like Bush, and vice versa. But election 2000 offers two opposing views of government by two men who would govern quite differently. Don't be fooled.

FEEDBACK: jbirnbaum@fortune.com