Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2000/ 12 Tishrei, 5761
His mama didn't believe him, either. Al was only 3 years old.
Al's fibs and stretchers have grown more ambitious with the passing of the years. Tipper could entertain you at length about some of the whoppers she heard when Al was the star of the rugby scrum at St. Albans and they were hanging out together after big games with National Cathedral School, nibbling foot-long hot dogs and sipping chocolate malts at the Jockey Club.
Al had to break a date once when Sonny Jurgensen called on the eve of a Redskins-Cowboys game to ask for late-night tutoring in the two-minute drill, and Tipper has the details about how Brooks Robinson always bobbled the hot grounder at third base and never got to the line drives down the foul line until Al showed him how.
Mastering storytelling skills takes years of hard work, so there's no mystery about those mysterious huffs, puffs, pants, sighs and whispers during his first debate with George W. Bush. Making up stuff — what the Associated Press delicately calls "embellishments" — takes a lot out of a guy, even someone with such a long and distinguished history of Olympian embellishing.
Only last week, two memorandums — this is for real — surfaced from Al's first race for president, in 1987 and 1988, in which his top aides warned him that embellishing, fun as it might be, carried with it considerable risks in high-stakes politics. Voters just wouldn't put up with liars. This was before Bill Clinton made the scene.
Mike Kopp, the deputy press secretary of that campaign, warned the embellisher-in-chief in a memo dated "9/9/87" to knock it off. The memo was first published 10 days ago on the Internet by Matt Drudge and has been passed around on the campaign plane since to loud guffaws, snorts, chuckles, bleats, snickers, cackles and giggles, but so far there's been little sharing of it with readers and viewers. Jim Lehrer is said to be saving it for tomorrow night.
"We've been hearing an increasing number of remarks from members of the press corps (national, and regional) about your tendency to go out on a limb with remarks about your campaign," Mr. Kopp wrote in that long-ago memo. "It is clear that at least one of the other campaigns, [Dick] Gephardt's, has picked up on this and is helping to fan the flames.
"In the past, few reporters cared if you stretched the truth to make a point or as an applause line. But gone are those days. Because of your steady climb in the polls . . . we are becoming increasingly scrutinized, particularly by the national press.
". . . Maralee [Schwartz of The Washington Post] told me, during the course of our numerous lengthy conversations that day, that you have a growing reputation as a politician who 'stretches the truth to suit a political moment.' "
Collecting Al's exaggerations and prevarications has become a thriving industry. National Review magazine has collected some of the best for its Web site (www.nationalreview.com), beginning with the biggest whopper of all, told on Jan. 26 of this year: "There has never been a time in this campaign when I have said something that I know to be untrue."
Cited with names, dates and sources are lies and subsequent retractions about soft money, tobacco, abortion, Hubert Humphrey's speeches (he said he wrote them but he didn't), Bill Bradley's voting record, Love Canal, the Internet, his Vietnam service, the test-ban treaty, the census, the Peace Corps, his home town, music lyrics, his career as a reporter, and arms control.
Harry Truman, in a fit of frustration in dealing with double talk and voluble advisers, once remarked that "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics." True enough, but Mr. Truman had never met Al Gore. (Or maybe he did: Didn't Al say he was the adviser who finally told HST it was OK to drop the bomb on Hiroshima?)
What seems to bug the vice president's staff most is that the boss is not a good liar. Americans may be willing now to accept a liar in the White House, but after Bill Clinton they're probably going to demand a good one. Al tells whoppers easily found out, and when caught he can't even weasel out of them. When he told the Teamsters that his mama had put him to sleep with the lullaby, "Look for the Union Label," it was only a matter of hours before someone pointed out that the union-label song was not written until Al was 27 years old. Bill Clinton would have explained that yes, his mother often gave him a bottle, burped him, and rocked him to sleep until he was 35. (He still hasn't been toilet-trained.)
Al isn't that quick on his feet, but you've got to give him
credit for building an audience. We can't wait to hear his new
10/06/00: AlGore's black problem