Al Gore: Elmer Blandry

Posted: Jul 25, 2000 12:00 AM
You don't realize what a gift President Clinton has until observing Al Gore. The vice president vainly tries to mimic the master, sometimes lifting lines directly from his mentor, but he just doesn't have enough Elmer Gantry smarm to fool even the Democratic Party base.

Interestingly enough, the "risky scheme" phraseology, now merely comic, was a Clinton innovation. Clinton first trotted it out during the last presidential campaign. Indeed, until 1996, a Lexis-Nexis search of the phrase "risky scheme" produced one, maybe two, hits each year. Then in 1996, presidential candidate Bob Dole proposed cutting taxes and -- wham! -- there are 182 search results for "Clinton and risky scheme."

Of his Buddhist temple fund-raiser, Gore has said: "I'll tell you what I learned from it, which is that we need campaign finance reform." Even the Democratic Party adjuncts in the major media were stunned by the absurdity of Gore's claim: By virtue of breaking the law, he was in a better position to reform it?

But it was Bill Clinton who pioneered that amazingly brazen retort when he was asked about his own questionable campaign fund-raising in 1996. He responded, "The only way to ever put this to rest is to pass campaign finance reform." Somehow it almost seemed like a real answer when Clinton said it. But when Gore deploys the identical lies, you know he's lying. Odder still, the Clinton Kool-Aid drinkers know he's lying. Gore has the con man's patter down, but without the ability to win anyone's confidence.

On "Meet the Press" last weekend Gore gamely tried to explain why he was once against abortion, and now he's for it, and why he was once against gun control, and now he's for that, too. (Or as The New York Times searingly put it, Gore has "a lengthy record that could be examined for consistency.")

It's hard to imagine that Gore has more 'splaining to do than Bill Clinton did, though Clinton was at least able to hide behind the sordidness of what he was lying about. (If only Gore had molested a nun rather than raised campaign money at the Hsi Lai Temple, he'd be in much better shape right now.)

Gore said he had switched on abortion after he "talked to a lot of women who taught me about the kinds of circumstances that can come up and the kinds of dilemmas that women can face." What did talking to all these women teach him exactly? That the only alternative to abortion is for a woman to bear the child? This is somewhat alarming.

Gore also helpfully explained that he had changed his mind about guns on the basis of "the flood of cheap handguns and assault weapons, the terrible blight of these horrible tragedies." Now first of all, the price of a gun is irrelevant to the question of whether it is good or bad for citizens to be able to arm themselves. But did he also need to be "taught" that guns can be used to kill people? If, as Gore apparently believes, people don't kill people, guns kill people, were a smaller number of preventable murders once acceptable to him?

The good part of being a Democrat is that you can commit crimes, sell out your base, bomb foreigners and rape women -- and the Democratic faithful will think you're great, and Linda Tripp is the diabolic wrongdoer. The bad part is that you must effortlessly follow the party line, which is completely unprincipled and impenetrable to logical deduction.

Poor Gore apparently hadn't checked in with the Mother Ship before Tim Russert asked for his position on a bill that would prohibit executing pregnant women on death row. Adhering to Democratic Party principles, the correct answer ought to be: Kill the fetus and spare the murderess.

That must have struck even Gore as a bit creepy, so he refused to answer, saying: "I don't know what you're talking about." Russert repeated the question, essentially verbatim, and Gore claimed he would need to know "the circumstances" -- though the only pertinent "circumstances" are fully set forth in the question.

On the basis of my own study of the master, I believe the correct Clintonesque evasion would have been one of the following: I've already answered that, this legislation is politically motivated, it's a private matter between the woman and her god, the question has been propounded by a vast right-wing conspiracy, or I didn't do it.

Most ungratefully, Gore took the opportunity of his "Meet the Press" appearance to start qualifying his claim that Clinton was one of America's "greatest presidents." Now it suddenly depends on what the meaning of "greatest" is. At least he's learned something.