In 1992 President George Bush went to a Florida trade show. A gentleman showed him the latest development in scanner technology for supermarket checkout lines; it could read and reconstruct the information on torn labels — a pretty big deal for optical-recognition technology and for people like me who get stuck behind customers who like to buy 35 cans of potted meat from the marked-down bin.
How big a deal it really was is irrelevant, President Bush was polite and made a big deal out of it nonetheless. Still, Gregg McDonald, of the Houston Chronicle, the print reporter in the pool covering Bush that day, didn’t even mention the event in his own coverage. But that didn’t stop Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times from writing up the story. He used two paragraphs from McDonald’s pool report and a misleading photo of Bush looking surprised at what seemed to be a normal check-out scanner. They ran the article on page one as a sign that George Bush was not a man of the people. The event quickly became shorthand for Bush’s aloofness.
Soon, the story was completely debunked by — among others — Brit Hume, then with ABC. Writing in The American Spectator , Hume wrote that even though the story was “almost wholly untrue….[it] became part of the legend of a President who just didn’t know how things were out there in the real world.”
Long after the scanner story was discredited, James Carville and Paul Begala clung to it for dear life, reprising the tale in a New York Times op-ed. But it was Al Gore, President Clinton’s pliant hatchet-man, who relished the assault most. “Here is a man who sees 20-year-old technology at the supermarket checkout line and looks like an ape discovering fire.”
Okay, okay. Fast forward to 2000. Al Gore is now the incumbent Vice President. He is trying desperately to seem like more of a human being, as opposed to an alien being in a human suit. Seriously, if he said, “Greetings, my fellow carbon-based units,” the jig would be up in about two seconds.
Anyway, I must admit that when I first started receiving all the usual “Al Gore is a Slumlord” e-mails from conservative groups and readers, I thought the story was probably a cheap shot. But if you read Matt Labash’s remarkably restrained piece in June 19th The Weekly Standard, it is very hard not to take the story pretty seriously. Or to be more fair, the story is vastly more serious than the supermarket-scanner story would have been, had it been true.
Last year, the Vice President moved his offices to Nashville to demonstrate that he is in touch with the people. Currently, the DNC is spending millions of dollars in soft money for “party-building” ads which do not mention the Democratic Party but do mention what a great, compassionate guy Al Gore is. Since his latest conversion, he’s been speaking from his “heart” on issues like family mental illness and fatherhood.
Gore’s been spending a lot more time in Carthage, Tennessee, the hometown of the Gore family servants who worked at his summer home. As a boy, Al spent most of the year in a shmancy Washington hotel. But lately, he’s been claiming that Carthage is the author of his being; the place where his parents instilled him with his values, his convictions, his programming.
Recently, in a generally fawning profile, the Washington Post asked him about his dual-home status. “I think I learned a great deal from the, forgive the word, the parallactic view provided by growing up in two places,” he said, referring not to Earth and the Rigellian homeworld, but to Washington and Carthage, “because just as having two eyes gives you depth perception having two homes allows you to see some things that stand out in relief when viewed from two different perspectives.”
[Okay, let’s put aside the use of the word, “parallactic” — as in “Captain, the parallactic compensators have de-calibrated! We’ll be flooded by dylithium radiation!” Let’s also forget the fact that he mentions we have two eyes as if this should be a surprise to our species. But you see what I mean with this alien thing, don’t you?]
So, these two views presumably keep Al all too human, or rather just human enough. He can keep the aloofness and elitism of Washington in perspective because he lives close to the earth (I mean the soil, not the planet). He is no abstraction-obsessed policy geek. He draws vital lessons from hearth and home, where, for example, his father taught him homespun lessons about “soil erosion.” He is the Cincinnatus of wonkery.
Let’s recap. President Bush, like Al Gore, spent most of his career as a professional Washingtonian, and he, therefore, was hopelessly out of touch. The media did all it could to confirm this judgment, including knowingly manipulating a fraudulent story and picture to make fun of the president. Al Gore was all too ready to mock Bush for being out of touch. Gore has reinvented himself as a kind and considerate man who cares deeply about the importance of drawing your values from your home. As part of this reinvention, the Vice President has adopted touchy-feely issues like cancer research, family mental health, adoption, special education, etc., in addition to the Democratic evergreens like protecting Social Security and Medicare to help the little guy.
So wouldn’t you think the fact that Gore’s tenants and closest neighbors are living in total squalor, would make it on the nightly news? As the Washington Times, Fox News, and more recently The Weekly Standard have reported, Al Gore is essentially a slumlord. A family (wonderfully) named the Mayberrys live in a house — 150 yards from Al Gore’s Kennebunkport — infested with vermin and teeming with mentally disabled children, several of them adopted. And, Al Gore — yes, they write their rent checks to “Al Gore” — has been trying to evict these people from a house he refused to repair until the Mayberrys went public. The family of seven lives on $1,500 in disability checks. The Vice President’s flunkies have been belittling and mocking the Mayberrys (lifelong Democrats) from the get-go.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to exaggerate the flapdoodle we would be hearing if this story were about George W. Bush or any Republican nominee. The New Republic would run a cover story. The Sunday shows would go nuts over it. The New York Times would make the Mayberrys martyrs to compassionate conservatism. I recognize that Republicans are held to a higher standard because they champion the big picture rather than the little guy. But why should that be so? Increasingly, Democrats are the party of wealth and privilege, according to political scientists and pollsters (many more columns on this point to come). But even if this is the case, why should Gore get a free pass from the liberal press?
“There is a difference between talking about compassion and actually putting your highest ideals into practice,” he once declared in a non-veiled assault on George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism. And yet the mainstream press simply doesn’t care about this story. But of course, the supermarket-scanner story lives on forever. “News for everyone, but former President Bush might take note. Self-scanning check-out systems are catching on at supermarkets…,” Peter Jennings joked on ABC’s nightly-news show a few months ago and about eight years after the story was debunked.
A new study by the Pew Research Center says that the mainstream press, and network news especially, are losing their audience to the web because people don’t find such fare “believable.” I wonder why.
Yes, I am back from the hospital and I am alive. If you need more info than that, click here.