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Phony Call
An unscripted, unrehearsed fake.


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Jonah Goldberg

I just finished watching Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle hold an “impromptu” and totally “unscripted” conference call with Al Gore. Now, I hate it when pundits — like me — compare domestic American politics to anything that occurred under the Soviet or Nazi regimes. It’s a slander against the lives lost to say our peaceful conflicts are in any serious way reminiscent of those moral horrors. But that leaves me without a suitable analogy. All I can keep thinking of are the kabuki theatrics of “uncoerced” confessions and testimonials required by various despots and dictatorships.

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As much as I disagree with what Gore and Joe Lieberman are doing, I have far less of a problem with what was said in this “conference call” than with the way they said it. The assumption is that the American people are too dumb to realize that the conversation going on in the conference call was scripted. Gephardt and Daschle sat there dutifully nodding like Beavis and Butthead watching a topless beach-volleyball tournament on the Spice channel as Al Gore droned on about the “principles” at stake. The conversation had all the authenticity of a Mob meeting when they know the FBI has the room bugged. They talked as if television viewers were just flies on the wall as these guys hashed out the issues at stake. The only thing that would have made it more propagandistic is shooting it in black and white and having them read from a cue card held by a man with a gun to their head.

“Comrade Gephardt, do you feel Vice President Gore cares more about the people or the important principles at stake?”

“Oh, Comrade Daschle, that is very difficult to say. Albert Gore is so dedicated to the well-being of the people and our common ideals, it is like asking if a man needs air more than water. Vice President Gore — and his loyal running mate Joseph I. Lieberman — could never let anything interfere with their commitment to the people and our common goals.”

By letting cameras into this “authentic” conference call and posturing as if this were some unscripted chat, the four leaders of the Democratic party — Gephardt, Daschle, Gore and Lieberman — have managed to demean this process even further, which is really saying something.

Speaking of demeaning, there’s a new push for the Supreme Court to allow cameras into the courtroom to televise the Bush appeal this Friday. I bow to no one in my voracious desire to see that argument. But it is a terrible idea nonetheless.

It’s so funny to listen to every TV pundit in America talk about how the Supreme Court is the “last” government institution with the “moral authority” and “political legitimacy” to settle this conflict, but it’s completely lost on them that it is also the last government institution to bar TV cameras from its proceedings. I know that people with very important hair think that TV is a blessing because it makes them celebrities, but television also diminishes the institutions it exposes. I know there are people out there who were impressed with the performance of the Florida supreme court — and if Al Gore becomes president, they will get the medication they need, for free no less. But I, for one, am not convinced of the Solomonic wisdom of those seven pillars of Floridian jurisprudence after watching them frumpher and fidget their way to a foregone conclusion. (Please spare me about how I am seeking to delegitimize the Florida Supreme Court. Virtually every question from the bench came in the form of “Now, tell me why I’m wrong?”)

Al Gore is already the first and only presidential candidate in American history to contest a presidential election. While once he claimed he would walk away if a recount didn’t go his way, he is now redoubling his efforts. While he pleads for “every vote to count,” he wants to disqualify votes that work against him. While he once praised the Palm Beach Canvassing Board for its high-minded work, he now sues it for not counting as many dimples as he needs. While claiming he is committed purely to the principle of Democracy, he tracks mud across numerous other principles of equal value in order to uphold the only principle he truly cares about: victory. The Bush campaign has not conducted itself spotlessly either, but it happens to find itself in the position of being the winner. If Bush were to concede or withdraw now or after some future reversal engineered by Gore’s lawyers, the precedent would be that any candidate can litigate himself into the White House in a close election. At this point, the only statesmanlike thing for Bush to do is to press on with the transition. The only statesmanlike thing for Gore to do would be to withdraw, now.



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