AL GORE is said to be a good debater, but some of the tactics come at a price. For short-term gain he is making arguments that in the long term he or his party could come to regret. He attacks Bill Bradley for making a health care proposal that could require a tax increase.

He's right about that--the proposal could indeed entail a tax increase--and in raising the issue he succeeded in putting Mr. Bradley briefly on the defensive. To his credit, Mr. Bradley ended up saying that while he didn't think one was necessary, he wouldn't rule a tax increase out.

Debating point to Mr. Gore--but do the Democrats really want to adopt a position that any proposal implying higher taxes is somehow illegitimate? In trying to gain a small amount of ground on Mr. Bradley, Mr. Gore implicitly cedes a major piece of territory to the Republicans. Read his lips.

There are other examples. The vice president hammers his rival for having countenanced even the possibility of raising the Social Security retirement age or using vouchers to stimulate reform of the public schools. Easy pops for Mr. Gore, and core Democratic constituencies--the elder lobby and the teachers' unions--love him for it. But do the Democrats who profess to want nothing more than to strengthen both Social Security and the schools really wish to encourage an orthodoxy in which both these potentially strong devices are ruled out for all time?

Mr. Bradley proposes that Medicaid be replaced by a system in which all households with incomes below about twice the federal poverty line would be insured. Mr. Gore attacks him on grounds he would dismantle a program on which poor, black, Hispanic, disabled and other groups depend.

It's fair to say that Mr. Bradley creates a risk in proposing the trade of a known program for what is still only a sketchy campaign proposal. But he hardly proposes abandoning the needy folk Mr. Gore suggests he does. Indeed, Mr. Gore can also be heard to suggest (see above) that Mr. Bradley's proposal is too extensive. Medicaid, for all the uneven good it does, covers only a fraction of even the poor. Again, in the course of scoring a legitimate debating point, the vice president overreaches.

Mr. Bradley has attackable positions. Mr. Gore should indeed go after them; there's a genuine debate to be had. But instead of a real debate, he is in danger of creating the caricature of one. The overheated argument does harm to causes in which he professes to believe.