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From: Wayne E Baisley (baisley@alumni.rice.edu)
Date: Mon Oct 09 2000 - 07:11:35 PDT

Tribunalist Eric Zorn, whom I consider to be one of the fairly reliable
Friends of Gore, says just about the same thing I said last week ...



Eric Zorn

My guess is that even Al Gore's biggest detractors at first believed
what they saw in their minds' eyes last Tuesday when Gore described
the plight of a student in an overcrowded Florida high school.

"They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand
during class," Gore said during the presidential debate with George W.
Bush. We must act, Gore said, "so Kailey [Ellis] will have a desk and
can sit down in a classroom where she can learn."

Poor vertical child! This tale was certainly true! Not because Gore had
such a great track record for precision, but exactly because he didn't.

The rap on Gore going into the debates was that he had a candor
impairment, an authenticity-deficit disorder. It seemed like a safe
assumption that the absolute last thing he would do in front of the
largest TV audience of the political season would be to freelance with
the facts and reinforce the main nagging doubt about him.

Overcrowding and underfunding are major problems in education. But for
Gore to try to illustrate that with a fish tale at a moment when he
knew that his every word was being triple-checked for veracity would
be, well, what? Adjectives fail me. Reckless? Goofy? Arrogant?
Suicidal? Insane? Pathological?

Expletives, however, did not fail me when I learned later that Gore
had it wrong. Kailey sits! Has for all but a few class periods early
in the year when, administrators at Sarasota High School said, she
could have availed herself of a lab stool.

The Democratic Party holds the White House in rip-snortin' good times.
The poverty, unemployment and crime rates are down along with other
measurements of social distress; the economy is humming along as well
as it has for decades; our nation is at peace; and the Republicans
have nominated a veritable empty suit to run against a brainiac vice
president whose positions on most issues are favored by a majority of

It should be a rout. Yet most polls show a dead heat, and Gore seems
on the verge of blowing the election by compulsively displaying an
allergy to accuracy.

His opponents call them lies, but that's usually too strong. Gore
embellishes, he exaggerates, he fudges, he uses unreliable sources and
he neglects to stress the nuances that would leave listeners with
accurate understandings. From "Love Story" to Love Canal to the
creation of the Internet to, now, Sarasota High School--where, in
fact, a $17 million budget shortfall in the district has caused
overcrowding--Gore usually has the essential ideas correct, as I have
noted in several columns.

But he inexplicably gilds them with, well, what? Nouns fail me. Online
journalist Mickey Kaus calls them "fiblets." I'm partial to
"twisties," "distortionettes," "demifacts", "Shetland whoppers", and

And what must secretly drive his handlers crazy is how unnecessary
they are. There was no need for him to put Kailey's in the present
tense, just as there was no need during the debate for him to say
falsely that he'd never questioned whether Bush had the experience to
be president or to dredge up the false memory that he "accompanied
[Federal Emergency Management Agency Director] James Lee Witt down to
Texas when those fires [in Parker County] broke out."

The Gore campaign maintains that these were trivial inaccuracies, yet
it is that very triviality that makes them so troubling. Most of us
have learned from long experience to shrug off the slime and slop and
swagger of political rhetoric--the traditional campaign codswallop
such as Bush's mendacious assertion Tuesday that Gore has outspent him
in this race--but Gore's weird and seemingly reflexive deviations are
getting harder to dismiss as they accumulate.

That said, I wish to borrow from Gore's playbook in responding to
critics who pointed out that the phrase "well done!" in French is not
"bien sait!" as I wrote in Thursday's column, but "bien fait."

It was a joke. My memory failed me. I was misled by an adviser. It's a
corruption of the language popular in Toulouse. Writers at the
Sun-Times have made more significant errors. And, moreover, the phrase
was 87 percent accurate and the point still stands.

Now can we please, please devote ourselves to attacking real problems
rather than attacking columnists personally?

E-mail: EricZorn@aol.com

This is no way to lose an election. Can we get some candidates with
serious flaws next time around, please? How about Jim Wright vs Newt


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