WASHINGTON -- A quiet miracle has taken place in this election. The electorate has sensed in Al Gore a serious flaw that Official Washington did not find exceptional. Al lies. Washington has known that Al lies. After all, Al has been lying to Official Washington for years, even before 1979, when he who had been raised in Washington opulence testified to a committee of the House of Representatives that his past achievements included raising 10,000 chickens. Yet Washington has come to accept lies, at least lies from Democratic goody-goodies.
Official Washington has found the lies of Republicans alarming. Think back to the impending impeachment of Richard Nixon. One of the elements in the articles of impeachment arrayed against him was that he had lied -- not under oath, as a famed successor recently did -- but merely to the American people, as when Nixon said he knew nothing about Watergate cover-up. As a woebegone ex-president entered into exile in San Clemente, Official Washington told us that "the lesson of Watergate" is that one does not lie "to the American people." Yet Al has been lying to the American people for years. Few in Washington cared, and if Official Washington does not care, apparently America is not supposed to care.
Americans care, however. We now know that throughout this campaign Al has been lying about personal achievements. He has been lying about his opponent. His first answer in his first debate was a lie. When he denied ever disparaging George W. Bush's experience, it was a whopper. Seasoned observers knew it. Anyone in the media who might have followed Al's boasts about his superior experience knew it. Yet following the debate the media glossed over this initial whopper and all the subsequent lies that Al distributed throughout the debate.
Then the aforementioned miracle became manifest. Polls revealed that the American people, unassisted by the media, had noted the mendacity. His lies in the debate disturbed them. Perhaps they also noted Al's churlishness toward his opponents and the audience.
Of a sudden, the electorate made Al's mendacity an issue. The question of character, which Official Washington has amazingly insisted unimportant since Campaign '92, was brought to the forefront of Campaign 2000, and not by the media or even the Republicans, but by average Americans responding to polls. It almost makes a skeptic like myself want to sing Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Throughout the 1990s my view has been that our political culture, and all the commentary that it inspires in broadcast media and the newsprints, is polluted with partisan tendentiousness. Nothing said of politics, public life, or the arts is free from the taint of partisan politics, at least not in the mainstream cultural institutions. It is a Kultursmog. And the Kultursmog is supportive of our decadent and tortured liberalism.
The Kultursmog has steadily corroded standards. In 1988 a presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, could be forced into retirement for fabricating a speech -- it amounted to the plagiarism of a speech given by a British politician. By the 1990s, Al Gore and his mentor were given to blatant lies in public and sometimes under oath, and Official Washington did not object.
The Kultursmog approved and smeared anyone who objected as "right-wing." Both Clinton and Gore have lied under oath, Gore about his involvement in campaign-finance irregularities, which were probably actual illegalities. Now that the American people have registered their disapproval this past week one wonders if Official Washington will begin to care about lies, lies uttered under oath, lies uttered before Congress, and lies just dropped along the rocky road of life a la Al Gore.
One of the most disturbing aspects of Al's lies, and of Bill's too, is that they have their aides lie in support of them. Typical of the spreading web of lies emanating from the liar is the aftermath of Al's lie about his mother singing a union ballad to him when he was a babe -- a song unwritten until Al was 27. First his aides claimed Al was referring to a different song. Then they said he was joking. Official Washington did not object to the discrepancies. Will this change now that the American people have registered their annoyance with lies? Some of the Clinton-Gore team's best alibi artists are now esteemed in the Kultursmog as admired pundits.