Posted on October 27, 2000


Is That A Fact?

Gore loses debates on pointless statements


Daniel Clark


The presidential debates, we're told, were won "on points" by Al Gore. Sure, they've hurt him in the polls, but this is because people have a negative visceral reaction to Gore's tone of voice, and his aggressive gesticulations. His "command of the facts" and "mastery of the issues," the media tell us, were far superior to those of G.W. Bush, with his frequent stammering and occasional failure to respond.

FactMaster Gore

Without a doubt, Bush earned his share of criticism for his performances. He often fell silent rather than admit he didn't know something, and his efforts to win over female swing voters muted some potentially effective attacks. This doesn't mean, though, that Gore showed a better "command of the facts," just because he said something where Bush might have said nothing. Whereas Bush sometimes paralyzed himself because he was unsure of the facts, Gore always answered with total confidence. The problem is that so many of his statements were either deceptive, or bluntly false.

Debate analysts have taken to calling any definitive statement a "fact," so it's not surprising that they are impressed with Gore's willingness to say things. To those, on the other hand, who understand that a fact isn't a fact unless it's true, it is plain to see from the debates that the facts continue to elude the vice president at every turn.

And so, in the interest of defending the good name of facts everywhere, let's set the record straight by examining Vice President Gore's statements during the three debates, on an issue-by-issue basis.


The Budget

LEHRER: Vice President Gore, is the governor right when he says that you're proposing the largest federal spending in years?

GORE: "Absolutely not, absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have a chance to knock that down." -- According to a recent study, Gore's promises would add up to the greatest increase in federal spending since LBJ, but you don't need a study to tell you that. Gore is proposing a massive new entitlement in the area of retirement savings, as well as a prescription drug entitlement, and a frightfully vague promise of "universal preschool."

"The governor will not put Medicare in a lockbox. I don't think it should be used as a piggy bank for other programs. I think it needs to be moved out of the budget and protected" -- Gore presents this as a means of protecting Medicare funds from being spent for other purposes, but Social Security spending has been off-budget all along, and that didn't stop Congress from "raiding" the trust fund in order to pay for President Johnson's Great Society programs. The real reason Gore wants Medicare taken off-budget is because, obviously, Medicare spending would not then be considered part of the budget, making it easier for Gore to "balance" the budget, even when the federal government is spending much more than it's taking in.

"I had the honor of casting the tie-breaking vote to end the old economic plan here at home and put into place a new economic plan that has helped us make some progress." -- Here, Gore is talking about the 1993 Clinton tax hike, which was nearly identical to, though slightly larger than, the tax increase President Bush agreed to sign in 1990. This means the Clinton administration didn't "end" the old economic plan, but only repeated Bush's mistake. Despite the unjust retroactivity of the Clinton tax, it only generated roughly one-third of the new revenue that had been projected, and it temporarily slowed the economic growth which was rising steadily when Clinton and Gore took office.


"If you want somebody who will fight for you and who will fight to have middle class tax cuts, then I am your man." -- How hard did Gore fight president Clinton, who reneged on his promised "middle class tax cut" almost immediately after taking office?

"I agree that the surplus is the American people's money; it's your money. That's why I don't think we should give nearly half of it to the wealthiest one percent." -- If the surplus is the American people's money, then how can "we," i.e., the government, "give" it to anybody? Bush's tax cut would simply mean that the money wouldn't be taken in the first place, the next time around. Gore seems to perceive the money as belonging to "the American people" as a collective, without a clue that it might actually belong to the people from whom it was taken.

The Military

"Right now, our military is the strongest in the entire history of the world." -- This may be true as far as raw destructive power is concerned ... but by that standard Pakistan now has a stronger military than the French had under Napoleon. It's quite another story to suggest that ours is now the best prepared, best armed, best equipped, and best led military the world has ever seen. In those areas, it can't compare to the American forces that rescued Kuwait just under ten years ago.

"I think that one of the problems that we have faced in the world is that we are so much more powerful than any single nation has been in relationship to the rest of the world than at any time in history." -- Ever heard of the Roman Empire? How about the British Empire? How about the United States, after WWII but before the Rosenbergs? Come to think of it, how about the U.S. eight years ago, before the Clinton-Gore administration narrowed our nuclear advantage in relation to the Red Chinese?

"Look, that's where World War One started, the Balkans. My uncle was a victim of poison gas there." -- No Americans were stationed in the Balkans during the First World War. Reporters have uncovered records which indicate that Gore had an uncle who died of poison gas during the war, but in Western Europe, where the Americans were fighting. That's not what he meant by "there." In any case, it doesn't say much for Gore's "mastery of the issues," that he says a continued U.S. military presence in the Balkans is necessary because WWI started there. So many variables are different that such an analysis almost sounds like superstition.

Health Care

"I'd like to see eventually in this country some form of universal health care, but I'm not for a government-run system." -- Hillary ... Nuff said?

"For 24 years, I have never been afraid to take on the big drug companies. They do some great things. They discovered great new cures, and that's great. We want them to continue that. But they are now spending more money on advertising and promotion -- you see all these adds -- than they are on research and development." -- Drug companies spend approximately three times as much on R&D as they do on advertising. This is one falsehood of Gore's that even the network press called him on.

"[W]hat I think really needs to be accomplished, to give the decisions back to the doctors and nurses and to give a right of appeal to somebody other than the HMO or insurance company, let you go to the nearest emergency room without having to call an HMO before you call 911." -- No, really ... he said this. Gore either thinks, or wants others to think, that 911 operators quiz bleeding people about their health plans before agreeing to send an ambulance. No wonder he's so grim.


"I'm not in favor of energy taxes." -- Gore has always been unambiguously in favor of high energy taxes, because they would cut energy consumption. In "Earth in the Balance," he suggested a "CO2 tax." He also cast the tie-breaking vote on the Clinton 1993 tax bill, which included a 4.3 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax. This was actually a severe reduction of the all-encompassing "BTU tax" which was originally part of the proposal. He adamantly opposes a repeal or reduction of the Clinton gas tax hike to this day.

"I think that in this 21st century, we will soon see the consequences of what's called global warming ... Already many people see the strange weather conditions that the old-timers say they've never seen before in their lifetimes." -- All natural disasters are "strange" to the people who experience them, but that doesn't mean that they're new to the earth. And who believes old people about the weather, anyway, let alone bases public policy on their accounts? By the way, Al Gore even finds a way to blame blizzards and ice storms on global warming.

"Look, the world's temperature is going up. Weather patterns are changing. Storms are getting more violent and unpredictable. And what are we going to tell our children?" -- We could tell them that the world's temperature fluctuates, weather patterns change constantly, and our vice president is hysterical.

"If we take the leadership role and build the new technologies, like the new kinds of cars and trucks that Detroit is itching to build, then we can create millions of good new jobs." -- Detroit is not "itching" to build the cars Gore is talking about. If they were, they would be making them right now, not sitting on their thumbs and waiting for a tax credit.

"I'm proposing a plan that will give tax credits and tax incentives for the rapid development of new kinds of cars and trucks and buses and factories and boilers and furnaces that don't have as much pollution, that don't burn as much energy and that help us get out on the cutting edge of the new technologies that will create millions of new jobs, because when we sell these products here, we'll then be able to sell them overseas. And there's a ravenous demand for them overseas." -- Western Europe and Asia have plenty of auto plants of their own. If there were this huge demand for these Almobiles, they would fill it themselves.

Social Security

"When FDR established Social Security, they didn't call them IOU's, they called it the full faith and credit of the United States. If you don't have trust in that, I do." -- Is the vice president insinuating that reforming Social Security is unpatriotic? Anyway, how can he have trust in an agreement that the government already broke way back in the Johnson administration?

"You know, it's not a bank account, that just pays back money that's invested. It is also used to give your mothers and fathers the Social Security checks that they live on." -- But your mothers and fathers were told that it would just pay back money that's invested, not that it would have to take new money from their children to give to them, because it had already spent the old money.

Gun Control

"I'm not for registration. I am for licensing by states of new handgun purchases ... A photo license ID, like for a driver's license, for new handguns." -- If you don't see the difference between registration and licensing of guns, you haven't lived your whole life in Washington like Gore has. The vice president actually misspoke here, in such a way that makes this statement false even by Clinton administration standards. Gore's licensing plan is a form of registration, but it would register gun owners. What he meant to say, and what he figures he can honestly say when campaigning in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, is that he is not for gun registration.

"I think that we ought to make all schools gun-free. Have a gun-free zone around every school in this country." -- Is this what passes for "mastery of the issues?" First of all, it's already illegal for a student to take a gun into a school. Second, wouldn't violation of a "gun-free zone" be a trivial offense compared to murder? Imagine Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turning away in frustration, because they had seen a "gun-free zone" sign, with a picture of a gun in a red circle with a line through it.


"I don't favor litmus tests ... And I would appoint people who have a philosophy that I think would make it quite likely that they would uphold Roe v. Wade." -- So he would only appoint justices if he believed they would uphold Roe v. Wade ... but he doesn't have a "litmus test."

"On the issue of partial-birth or so-called late term abortion, I would sign a law banning the procedure, provided that doctors have the ability to save a woman's life or to act if her health is severely at risk." -- Here, Gore is trying to give the impression that he would agree to ban some abortions in some cases, which he absolutely would not. He must know by now that no partial-birth abortion is ever necessary for the sake of a woman's life or health, although the life exception was in the bill Clinton twice vetoed. The AMA has written that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary, and so has a group of physicians headed by former surgeon general C. Everett Koop. What else Gore must know is that the Supreme Court has defined "health," in the context of the abortion issue, to encompass "all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age." The inclusion of the health exception Gore says he wants would eviscerate the bill. So what Gore is really saying is that he would be willing to sign the ban, for appearances' sake, as long as it didn't actually prevent a single abortion.

Welfare Reform

"I fought hard, from my days in the Senate and as vice president, to cut the welfare rolls." -- Even if you believe he generally favors welfare reform, he cannot have fought hard for it in the Senate, because when he was there, the Democrats controlled Congress. There was no serious discussion of welfare reform on Capitol Hill until the Republicans included it in their Contract With America.

Affirmative Action

"I don't know what 'affirmative access' means; I do know what 'affirmative action' means. I know the governor's against it and I know that I'm for it. I know what a hate crime statute pending at the national level is all about, in the aftermath of James Byrd's death. I'm for that proposed law; the governor's against it." -- "Affirmative access" is what Gov. Bush calls the Texas law which requires state colleges to accept all students in the top ten percent of their classes, regardless of which schools they attended. Al Gore knew exactly what it means, because he had just heard Bush explain it. If he does know what "affirmative action" means, he is keeping it a secret. Hence the abrupt transition, which, handily, links opponents of affirmative action with killer skinheads.

"With all due respect, Governor, that's a red herring. Affirmative action isn't quotas. I'm against quotas. They're illegal. They're against the American way. Affirmative action means that you take extra steps to acknowledge the history of discrimination and injustice and prejudice, and bring all people into the American dream because it helps everybody, not just those who are directly benefited." -- Not only are quotas not illegal, but the Supreme Court is under pressure to institute racial quotas itself, in its hiring of legal clerks. Gore is misrepresenting the 1995 Adarand v. Pena case, in which Adarand Contractors sued the federal government because it was deprived of a contract by a racial set-aside program. The Court did not say that quotas were illegal; it only stressed that it must be demonstrated that the quota was instituted in order to "further a compelling government interest." It did not actually rule in Adarand's favor, but only remanded the case to the lower courts, so they could determine whether the government's interest was "compelling." In no way could one construe that as a ban on quotas. The rest of what Gore says here is merely a description of the intent of affirmative action, and gives no hint of its means of achieving its goal.

The Internet

"I've been involved myself in negotiating and helping to move along the negotiations with the Internet service providers to get a parents' protection page every time 95 percent of the pages that come up. And a feature that allows parents to automatically check, with one click, what sites your kids have visited lately." -- Of course, this second feature already exists. It's right on the right-hand side of your address bar. Is he claiming responsibility for this? If not, does its current existence necessarily preclude him from saying he "took the initiative in creating" it?


"We have to start treating teachers like the professionals that they are and give them the respect and the kind of quality of life that will draw more people into teaching, because we need a lot more teachers." -- Unionized public school teachers are not professionals. As frequently as Gore and Lieberman have made this statement, it has surely been pointed out to them on many occasions that it isn't true, yet they persist in saying it.

"Look, this is a funding crisis all around the country. There are fewer parents of school-age children as a percentage of the voting population and there's the largest generation of students ever." -- This analysis assumes that only parents of school-age children pay school taxes, which, of course, is not true. Besides, the funding crisis is not that too little money is being spent on education, it is that so much of that money is absorbed by bureaucracy before it actually trickles its way to the schools themselves.

"All of our children have gone to both public schools and private schools." -- A slight revision: Al's children have gone to private schools. The children of the people he is "fighting for" go to public schools.

"Governor Bush is in favor of vouchers, which take taxpayer money away from public schools and give them to private schools that are not accountable for how the money is used." -- Actually, the exact opposite is true. It is the public schools which are not accountable, because they're getting the money no matter what. A private school is directly accountable, because if it doesn't produce the desired results, its students and their tuition will go someplace else. (But then, he is probably talking about accountability to government pencil-pushers, not to parents.)

Campaign Finance Reform

"This current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either party. And that's one of the reasons ... the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill." -- This answer is a continuation of the Clinton administration's spin that its already illegal fundraising habits are the fault of insufficient campaign finance laws. The current system isn't supposed to reflect credit on politicians, it's supposed to prevent them from raising funds in inappropriate ways and from inappropriate sources. Al Gore has violated these current laws repeatedly, so what difference will a new law make? Besides, if a new campaign finance law hasn't been enforced yet, doesn't that mean there's "no controlling legal authority?"

"One of the serious problems, hear me well, is that our system is being undermined by too much influence coming from special interest money. We have got to get a handle on it. And like John McCain, I have learned from experience." -- He hasn't even learned to distinguish between currently legal donations from American special interests, and illegal foreign donations, like he and Clinton collected from White House coffees, and, of course, Gore's not-a-fundraiser at that Buddhist temple in California.


"I believe that a lot of people are skeptical about people in politics today because we have seen a time of great challenge for our country, since the assassination of our best leaders in the Sixties, since the Vietnam War, since Watergate, and because we need campaign finance reform." -- Hmmmm. Anything missing?

"I have kept the faith with our country. Nine times I have raised my hand to take an oath to the Constitution, and I have never violated that oath." -- A complete account of Al Gore's conflicts with the Constitution would be thicker than the collected works of Tolstoy, but here are just a few points. The Constitution demanded that Bill Clinton be removed from office, but the Democratic Party demanded that he stay. Guess which authority held more influence over Gore? The vice president has also been part of an administration which uses executive orders to legislate, as if they were royal proclamations. Then, there is Gore's belief in a "living constitution," a concept he explained by saying that the Fourth Amendment contains a right to abortion, even though if you read it, you won't find one there. Perhaps, then, he took a "living oath," which now means something very different from the words he spoke at the time.

"I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience." -- He meant nothing of the sort when he asked a crowd of his supporters, "Does Governor Bush have the experience to be president?"

"I got some of the details wrong last week in some of the examples I used ... and I'm sorry about that." -- The vice president did not merely get "details" wrong in his first debate, he told stories that were entirely false. He said that a woman with a union pension, a Winnebago and a poodle had to filch cans out of her neighbors' trash in order to pay for her medication, yet she could take time out from her penny-pinching to drive cross-country to be at a presidential debate. That's not a detail, it's a delusion. -- Ditto that for the story about Kailey Ellis having to stand for days in class, allegedly because the school didn't have enough space, or couldn't afford enough chairs. At least this tale was not Gore's own invention; it was based on a phony newspaper story. But it was so absurd that one would hope that our vice president would have the sense to see through it. -- Then there was his claim that he'd gone to Texas with FEMA director James Lee Witt to assess the damage from a series of wildfires in 1998. The "details" he got wrong were as follows: his reason for going to Texas at that time was to attend a fundraiser, and Witt was not with him. He was only one detail away from not actually being in Texas at all!


I don't know what your scorecard looks like, but apparently the talking heads scored quite a few "points" for Gore based on these statements, most of which are false, many others misleading, and still others just plain goofy. While the prevailing wisdom is that it was Bush who was beaten on the facts and issues, but got by on his personality, it was really Gore for whom that was true. While Bush certainly could have done better, there's no question that he was factually more accurate than Gore. The reason Gore is given credit is because of his cantankerous behavior, which may have turned off some voters, but it gave him the illusion of authority, when in reality he was just being a blister. He showed no "command" or "mastery" of anything at all ... except, perhaps, the moderator.


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