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Lurch On The Hustings; What’s Goin’ On


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Jonah Goldberg

LURCH ON THE HUSTINGS
The smell was awful. At first I thought a rat had died in my garbage disposal. But I searched around in that dirty muckhole, which is so like what I imagine Sid Blumenthal’s soul to be, and I could find nothing. I looked for half-eaten sandwiches in my couch. Nothing there except some very old porn and a couple of copies of Commentary. I thought maybe some crumbs rolled into a fold in my belly and I never saw them again. A quick downward examination yielded nothing; well, nothing we can talk about in a family magazine.

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And then I figured it out. Bingo! That stench of disease, death, fear, and decay was coming from downtown Washington! It was the Gore campaign. Not since Bob Dole tried to announce his campaign website has there been a presidential campaign that smelled more like Napoleon’s army coming out of Moscow.

Yesterday, Al Gore announced he was moving the campaign headquarters to Nashville. Last night Larry King asked Gore, “Why Nashville?”

Gore answered, “Well, to get into a location that’s closer to the grass roots and to talk with the people, to move from K Street to the aisles of K-Mart …”

At this point most viewers stopped paying attention, because out of the dark void of the Larry King Live set a tall, robed figure emerged, almost gliding across the industrial, concrete floor. His bright, narrow eyes were fixed on Gore from behind a heavy robe. This was, of course, the political Grim Reaper, and he was tapping Gore on the shoulder more frantically than a cokehead trying to get his dealer off the phone. Gore didn’t notice the Reaper, of course, but then again he didn’t notice the Kmart line in his talking points before he went on. Steven Brill (whose magazine I write for) pointed out later in the show that if Gore is looking for people to can, the first person on his list should be the pointy-headed, Harvard-yard populist who thought up that K-Mart line.

The symptoms of doom are so much greater. According to the New York Times, Gore has the habit of blurting out things like “I care” in his speeches. If that’s not reminiscent of the Bushian “Message: I care” I don’t know what is. And it was that kind of left-field exclamation that sent people in the 1992 Bush campaign to Kinko’s to jam out some fresh résumés. When Gore speaks to groups, he is the poster boy of reactionary liberalism (that’s the phrase developed by the liberal Republican Kevin Phillips, referring to the tendency of the Left simply to hug ancient, useless programs because they should work in theory). Gore yells things like: I love labor! I’d rather eat my big toe than disagree with a teachers’ union! The right to choose is more important than oxygen! It’s a hate crime to disagree with me about affirmative action! I’d sooner put jumper cables on my corneas than ponder privatizing Social Security!

And when Al Gore is really in a groove, and he wants to show he’s excited, everything gets that ridiculous EXCLAMATION POINT BY SIMPLY SHOUTING VERY LOUD. That’s right: passion equals VERY HIGH VOLUME! I wonder if he blew out Tipper’s eardrum when he proposed.

But the thing that invites the Reaper more than anything else is how seriously he takes himself. Bill Clinton could have pulled off that K-Mart line. Of course, that’s partly because he’s white trash and he probably had his wedding catered by K-Mart. But another reason is that Clinton was always comfortable with the hypocrisies inherent in political life. He could say things with a wink. Gore is so utterly convinced of his intellect and his righteousness, he needs everything he says to be accurate, enlightened, and without irony or subtext.

Here’s why that’s a big problem. Gore is an awful position which requires political and intellectual flexibility. He is the incumbent vice-president and he’s as close as a jailhouse “wife” to the president (and has gotten similar treatment). Gore cannot run away from his record and he can’t really be the outsider. Bradley has assumed that mantle and Bradley’s further to the left as well, which activates the base. Traditionally, the guy further to the left pays for his popularity with the widespread knowledge that he is less electable in the general. Jesse Jackson’s people fought not so much for the nomination, but for the cause. That should be Bradley’s problem. And yet, Bradley actually does better than Gore in hypothetical match-ups against the Republican front-runner George Bush. So Gore doesn’t have the electable thing in his favor either.

Still, a Bill Clinton could probably play both sides against the middle (something he likes to do when it’s two-for-one day at the intern pens). He could be serious but flexible in the way that only inveterate liars are. But Gore can’t do that.

Yesterday — and I’m really not making this up — Gore explained his move to Nashville and how this was a “new campaign” thus: “Gandhi once said, ‘You must become the change you wish to see in the world.’ I want this campaign to become the change that we are fighting for in the country.”

Gandhi ? You’re giving us Gandhi ? “Become the change!?” Is he saying this stuff in the mirror every morning, because he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him? I’m not kidding: I have friends, very, very, close friends, who would beat me senseless if I said something like that. Admittedly, I’m not running for president — and the jury is out on whether Gore really is either — but Gandhi ?

Does Gore think people buy that? Does he think that swearing blind fealty to a bunch of interest groups, and then saying that, makes you not just a force or cause or movement for change, but the change itself? Is he the ontological manifestation of change? Do his advance people use this language? Is he invoking a third-world, anti-colonialist martyr in the fight against hatred and bigotry because he thinks that’s the best model for him here in America after eight years of Bill Clinton? I know he’s said that the president’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky was bad, but I didn’t know he opposed Clinton’s policy on dispatching British troops to halt the production of salt on the Indian seacoast.

Of course, Gore was just being cute. But the way he says things makes everything sound intended and serious. Nine out of ten people could have said what he said about the Internet and no one would think they were claiming credit for it. But Gore’s got no wink, at least not when he speaks to large groups or in front of cameras.

Anyway, pundits used to say that Al Gore has this engaging, funny, warm personality that comes out in personal encounters. The conventional wisdom was that he was saving this “real Al Gore” behind the scenes, the way a runner saves his kick for the last sprint of a long race. It was explained that he’d spring it on the voters and everybody would marvel at this relaxed candidate they’d never seen before. Well, no one says that anymore. Maybe he’s still saving it for later; it’s still early after all. But he’d better bring it out soon, or in 2001 he’s gonna be asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

No wait. I’m sorry; he’d be saying “DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT!?”

WHAT’S GOIN’ ON
My apologies for no column yesterday. I had missed the premiere of Baywatch Hawaii, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on with the rest of the plot. No, actually, things have just been very busy. I had to crash on a piece for IntellectualCapital.com (which should be up tomorrow). Nothing like writing for competing web magazines. Also, National Review Online’s taking up a lot more time. Check out our Reagan Center [Link defunct] and our Gore Watch [Link defunct] for the most on those two very different men. Also, today’s Cool Site [Link defunct] is very exciting — it will show you the real future of the Democratic party and the real threat for both Gore and Bradley.

Again, the way to get there is by hitting the “home” button all the way over there on the left of the screen or by clicking here.

Coming tomorrow: We’ll revisit this Brooklyn Museum fiasco which is — contrary to what I wrote Tuesday — only getting bigger, badder, and more fun than ever before.



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