Kausfiles Special

The Compleat Gore Fib-File

The April Washington Monthly features a long piece by Robert Parry, recycled from his Consortiumnews Web site, defending Vice President Gore against the charge that he’s a liar. As previously noted in this space, that charge is sincerely believed by many political reporters–see, for example, this column by USA Today’s Walter Shapiro (a Washington Monthly alumnus).

Parry takes the extreme, opposite position: Gore is guilty of no more than “some imprecise phrasing and the kinds of exaggerations that all candidates make on the campaign trail.” But Parry’s piece deals with only the three most Letterman-ready Gore controversies: the Love Canal Boast, the Love Story Boast, and the Internet Boast. He ignores all the other fibs the VP is alleged to have told that could, ominously, add up to a “pattern of deception,” as we in the press like to put it.

Why not confront the whole, worst case against Gore (“play Notre Dame,” in Monthly editor Charles Peters’ phrase)? Parry’s article was originally published on the Web way back on Feb. 1, but even then the focus of the press’s anti-Gore commentary was more on his statements regarding his abortion position, not on any of the three incidents Parry dissects.

Hoping to bash Parry and the Monthly for this oversight, I foolishly set off in search of all the supposed lies that Parry didn’t discuss. What I found, to a certain extent, actually bolsters Parry’s case. Gore isn’t as big a liar as I thought! Still, there’s more there than the “imprecise phrasing” and normal puffery Parry concedes. There really is a disturbing pattern of claims that Gore’s most recent biographer, Bill Turque, calls “broadly exaggerated–and grandiose.” True, there’s always a core of truth to the lies Gore has told, but there’s also a bit of delusion, egomania, and bullying.

But you, the reader, can make up your own mind, because, as an ongoing campaign resource, kausfiles offers this handy, more-complete classification of Gore’s alleged falsehoods, gathered and analyzed in the calm of a campaign lull. (It’s undoubtedly not completely complete, and will be updated as new evidence is brought to my attention.)

Listed in order of increasing estimated overall mendacity:

1. The Internet Boast: Gore, as Parry notes, never said he “invented” the Internet. He said, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore was in fact a leading congressional supporter of funding for the nascent Net’s computer infrastructure. Still, funding isn’t “creating.” Does Gore have an inflated notion of the importance of Washington policy-makers? The vice president has regretted his choice of words, which Parry argues he didn’t have to do. Verdict:Minor, and excusable.

2. The Love Story Boast: In late 1997, Gore walked to the back of Air Force Two and had a long conversation with two reporters. During this talk, Gore let it drop that Erich Segal, author of the best-selling tearjerker Love Story, had once told reporters in Tennessee that Gore and his wife Tipper had served as models for the lead romantic characters in that novel. The truth: Segal says Gore was one of two models for the male lead (Oliver Barrett 4th) but Tipper wasn’t the model for the female lead (Jenny). Even when it came to Barrett, it was Gore’s roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, who supplied the character’s romantic, macho side; Gore contributed mainly the familial angst of being pressured to follow in his father’s footsteps. The case for Gore: He was only citing a Nashville newspaper article, which apparently did say that both Gores were models (an exculpatory angle emphasized by Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler Web site). The case against Gore: Citing the old article could be way to “plant” this aura-enhancing tidbit while maintaining deniability. More troubling, Segal said Gore told him he knew that Tipper wasn’t the model for Jenny, and had never said that. Both reporters (Karen Tumulty of Time and Richard Berke of the New York Times) have said Gore left the impression that both he and Tipper were models for Segal’s characters. Verdict:On the Al/Oliver issue, excusable. Gore probably really did think it was all about him. (It wouldn’t be the last time …) On the more difficult Tipper/Jenny issue, take your pick. Either Gore lied to Segal when he said he knew Tipper wasn’t Jenny, or Segal lied to the press (doubtful), or Gore misled the reporters (or they misheard, or they’re lying).

3. The Abortion Evolution: In the current campaign, Gore has said he “always, always, always” supported Roe vs. Wade, and “always supported a woman’s right to choose.” Why that might not be true: In 1977 Gore voted for the Hyde Amendment, which contained language saying that abortion “takes the life of an unborn child who is a living human being” and that there is no right to abortion “secured by the Constitution.” In 1984 Gore voted for the Siljander Amendment, which defined “person” to include “unborn children from the moment of conception.” In the early ‘80s he got an 84 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, and he once said it “is wrong to spend federal dollars for what is arguably the taking of a human life.” Gore’s defense: First off, “arguably” means “arguably”; it’s evidence of a fudge, not a lie. (Not to mention that abortion is arguably the taking of a human life.) In general, Gore says he distinguished between protecting abortions and spending federal money to subsidize them, which is certainly a line you can draw. The Hyde Amendment denied federal funding for abortions, but left Roe’s protections intact. Does it really matter if there was some ineffectual pro-life language tucked away in the preamble or elsewhere? The trouble comes with the Siljander Amendment, which as Turque notes, “was explicitly designed to deny federal funds to any institution that performed abortions at any time.” In other words, the idea was to take away not just the money for abortions but all federal money, forcing hospitals and other institutions to stop performing them, thereby making access to abortion difficult even for people ready to pay with their own, non-federal dollars. This active attempt to restrict access doesn’t easily sit alongside enthusiastic talk of a “woman’s right to choose,” though it is still not logically contradictory. It’s as if Gore supported the right of free political speech but then pressured television stations not to broadcast political statements–which, come to think of it, is exactly what Gore’s latest campaign-finance proposal does! Verdict:Mostly abum rap. Gore didn’t lie. But why not, from the start, just say, “Sure, my position changed”?

4. The Scoop Boast: In 1987 Gore told the Des Moines Register that as an investigative reporter he had gotten “a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail.” This was technically untrue: Only two city councilmen were indicted. One was acquitted (after playing the “race card”). One was given a suspended sentence, according to Turque’s biography. Richard Nixon actually wrote to Gore to tell him not to be “discouraged by the flack you are getting about possibly exaggerating your achievements as an investigative reporter.” After all, Nixon noted, Gore had indeed produced “results.” Good point! Even the Weekly Standard concedes that this belongs in the category of “fibs … uttered in moments of spontaneity.” But again, why embellish? Verdict:Minor lie.

5. The McCain-Feingold Flap: “I supported the McCain-Feingold bill in the Congress.” Critics note that Feingold hadn’t even been elected to the Senate when Gore left to become vice president. But before McCain-Feingold, the big campaign-reform vehicle was the Mitchell-Boren bill, which also banned so-called “soft money” contributions. Gore supported that bill. Verdict:Aticky-tack foul. … Alas, Gore also said of McCain-Feingold that “unlike Sen. Bradley, I was a co-sponsor of it.” This boast is very hard to square with reality–in what sense was Gore a “sponsor” of either bill in a way Bradley was not? Verdict: Afalse boast. Gore acknowledged to the New York Times that it “was a mistake … what I meant to say was that I supported that.”

6. Hubert Horatio Gore: According to Turque, “For years, Gore described to friends how he’d helped add stirring rhetoric to Hubert Humphrey’s acceptance speech at the 1968 Democratic convention.” Gore had indeed talked to columnist Charles Bartlett, who he said was helping Humphrey. But Bartlett says he had nothing to do with Humphrey that year. Gore backed off the story when confronted by the Washington Post, claiming “faulty memory.” Verdict: False boast, the all-too-familiar kind that inflates Gore’s contribution. But he was young and maybe he really was confused about Bartlett’s role.

7. What He Did in the War: Gore once told the Washington Post he was “shot at” while serving five months in Vietnam as an army reporter. He told the Baltimore Sun he had “walked through the elephant grass and … was fired upon.” The Post’s Ellen Nakashima and David Maraniss concluded that “those war stories seemed enhanced in the retelling. He did not face direct enemy fire.” But he “did arrive at a few combat scenes after the action, and several times base sirens warned of possible mortar attacks and he and his comrades scrambled for cover.” Gore must have known that any war stories he told would be sharply scrutinized, with the aid of Army records. And being shot at is presumably not something you forget. Gore also knew that most in his generation, having avoided Vietnam entirely, were in no position to call him on it. Verdict: A small, dull lie.

8. The Love Canal Boast: Gore told students in Concord, N.H., that after a high-school student tipped him off to toxic-waste problems in Toone, Tenn., in the late 1970s, “I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone, Tennessee–that was the one that you didn’t hear of. But that was the one that started it all.” Parry notes Gore was misquoted in the New York Times and Washington Post as saying, “I was the one that started it all,” when clearly he’s saying that the Toone problem started his investigations and hearings. Parry (and Brill’s Content) have great fun with the media pontifications based on the early misquotes. Still, even in the corrected version, there’s something egomaniacal and condescending about Gore’s attempt to inspire high-schoolers by painting himself as almost single-handedly saving the nation from toxic waste. Even if Gore meant only to describe his search for cases similar to Toone’s to showcase at his hearings, saying he “found” Love Canal–where the evacuation of an entire town had been widely reported–is still a solipsistic distortion. It’s as if he today said he’d “found” a case of a nuclear accident, involving “a little place called Chernobyl.” And if Gore hadn’t held hearings, some other ambitious pol would’ve. Verdict:Not a lie, exactly, but creepy.

9. The EITC Boast: In Time, Gore discussed Bill Bradley’s proposed “expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.” He said: “I was the author of that proposal. I wrote that, so I say, welcome aboard. That is something for which I have been the principal proponent for a long time.” Was this a lie? The issue is thoroughly explored by Jodie T. Allen and several “Fray” commentators here. Gore clearly didn’t author the original Earned Income Tax Credit, which was Sen. Russell Long’s baby, and which became law in 1975, the year before Gore entered Congress. Gore more likely is referring to either an expansion of the EITC he proposed in 1989, or to President Clinton’s dramatic expansion in 1993, or to a proposed further expansion by the Clinton-Gore administration. Even so, his 1989 proposal was but one of many EITC expansion plans. It’s true that congressmen routinely inflate their achievements (nobody even bothers to note that they don’t actually write most of the legislation they claim to “write”). But Gore’s phrase “the principal proponent” is unusually self-aggrandizing, to the point of deception. As one “Fray” commentator (“Jack”) notes, “the EITC is so popular among members of both parties” that “there is no ‘principal proponent.’” Verdict:Adeception, greater than is customary.

10. The $150 “cap”: During his primary campaign against Bill Bradley, Gore repeatedly said that Bradley’s health-care proposal would eliminate Medicaid and replace it with “vouchers that are limited to $150 a month.” At a debate in Iowa, Gore asked “a couple of friends” in the audience to stand, gesturing to two mothers.

Both of their children get Medicaid. Both of them as parents would be eligible for health care under my plan. Neither they nor their children would get Medicaid under Senator Bradley’s plan, and both of them would be given a $150-a-month voucher.

The deception at the heart of this example wasn’t that, as a wounded Bradley bellowed, what Bradley was offering was not a “voucher.” (If it wasn’t a voucher, what the hell was it?) The problem is that for families like the ones Gore had pointed out, Bradley’s subsidies weren’t limited to $150 a month (which was the figure for individuals). The subsidy for families could go up to $417 a month. Maybe that wasn’t enough, but it wasn’t $150. Gore’s aides noted this in the fine print of their fax-attacks, but Gore himself didn’t bring it up in his initial talk of “vouchers in place of Medicaid capped at $150 a month.” This distortion of Bradley’s position was the most consequential deception of the Democratic primary campaign. Of course, it was a lie about policy, which, in one sense, makes it more acceptable; it doesn’t give you the creeps, because campaigns tell big lies about policy all the time. (Remember JFK’s “missile gap”?) It’s considered the other side’s job to set the record straight. On the other hand, Gore’s deception could have real consequences down the road, should any Democrat seek to replace our current employer-based system of health insurance with a universal, subsidized, competitive system. There will always be some group for whom the subsidy isn’t as good as what they get in the current hodgepodge. And there will always be an Al Gore around to use this to knock the whole plan. In general, the impression Gore left is that any subsidy plan that is adequate will also be too expensive. Verdict: Major deception. Only Bradley’s stunning incompetence as a candidate stopped him from cramming it back down Gore’s throat.