Kausfiles Special

Gore’s Disturbing Obsession

Memo to Joe: You’re Jewish. Mazel Tov. Enough with the Jewish now! … I know, Gore and his campaign think his boldness in breaking the Jewish barrier is a “metaphor” for his bold leadership in general. That’s the trouble with metaphors! And with Gore’s whole annoying fascination with metaphors! Gore once held a series of highbrow “metaphor dinners” to discuss this rhetorical device, and he goes on and on about metaphors in Nicholas Lemann’s now-famous New Yorker profile. But metaphors are … well, they’re only metaphors. (Actually, if his VP pick symbolizes his boldness, isn’t that really synecdoche, or metonymy, not metaphor? Never mind.) … Sometimes a metaphor is just a way to lazily avoid having to describe reality, no? In this case, it lets Gore avoid specifying where else, and how, his leadership would be bold. … I’d even say Gore’s obsession with metaphors, leading to an excessive reliance on metaphors, is itself a metaphor (or synecdoche) for the essential Gore problem, which is the awkward marriage of the quite strange, abstract, and not wildly interesting Real Gore (as revealed in Lemann’s profile) and the distinctly less abstract business of politics. … “Metaphor” is to Gore what “White House tennis courts” were to Jimmy Carter. [A simile–ed. If you say so.].

Sorry, no apology: Press reports indicate that in his Monday convention address Clinton will not apologize for the Flytrap scandal and thereby take the blame off Gore, as some (including Mario Cuomo) have urged. Defending Clinton’s impending omission, White House allies such as ex-aide Rahm Emanuel are apt to cite the president’s 1998 State of the Union speech, which he delivered days after Flytrap broke. As Emanuel put it on Hardball:

[I]n the ‘98 State of the Union, w–a lot of people spent countless hours and countless jaw-flapping about: Should Clinton address the Lewinsky issue? … And he didn’t do it in the State of the Union, and I don’t think he missed anything not doing it. In fact, I think it was a smart move not to have done it.

The 1998 State of the Union certainly seemed a triumph at the time. The voters loved it; Clinton’s job approval rating rose 16 percentage points, to 73 percent. But in retrospect, would he and his presidency really have been ill-served by an apology–even an annoying half-apology–before Congress? I don’t think so.

The essential facts that we know now, but didn’t know then, are that a) it would take six months for Clinton to get around to half-apologizing on national television; and b) Clinton essentially wasted (squandered!) his second term in office, conspicuously failing to achieve the dramatic, popular policy initiatives (such as letting 55-year-olds join Medicare) that he talked about in that 1998 State of the Union address.

There’s a good argument that an earlier apology would have speeded up the process by which Clinton recovered from the scandal, allowing him at least some time to cut deals with Republicans before election game-playing set in. … (One example: There was a deal to be struck on education–combining extra federal money with some voucher experiments.) And of course it’s the squandering of Clinton’s second term, after a productive first four years, that lends some plausibility to Bush’s charge that the Clinton-Gore team has been “coasting.” …

If he’s going to defend Clinton’s decision to duck the nationally televised apology that might launch Gore, Emanuel needs a better analogy. But at least he didn’t use a metaphor.