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Jewish World Review April 7, 2000 /2 Nissan, 5760

Roger Simon

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The bumbler's brilliance --- or AlGore gets mad -- AL GORE is not, by nature, a demonstrative man. His emotions tend to run the gamut from A to B.

So I was shocked to read the other day in USA Today that Gore became "uncharacteristically animated" during an interview and "pounded the table with his index finger, his faced reddening" when asked whether he was pandering to Cuban-Americans in the Elian Gonzalez case.

I was shocked because I think it is very dangerous to pound anything with your index finger. Pound with your fist, yes. Pound with a hammer, even better.

But try pounding something -- anything harder than Jell-O, that is -- with your index finger and you will immediately realize the damage you can cause yourself.

No matter. The interview in which Gore grew red in the face and did his pounding took place on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Immediately after that interview, Gore gave another interview to Jodi Enda, the White House Correspondent of Knight-Ridder, and you would think maybe he would have calmed down a little.

But no! He was still furious.

"His brow furrowed and his right forefinger repeatedly jabbing the desk," Enda wrote, Gore continued to upbraid his critics.

And while I was initially pleased that Gore had gone from "pounding" to "jabbing" (much easier on the fingers), I was wondering why such a controlled man would demonstrate so much emotion?

Could it be calculated? Could it be designed to disguise how badly Gore had bobbled the Elian matter?

Well, yes, it could be.

Because the person Al Gore was really angry at this week was ... Al Gore.

The week began with Gore's statement that he favored passing a law making Elian a permanent resident of the United States so that a family court in Miami, and not a federal court, could rule on his future.

Gore reasoned -- and it's a position I agree with -- that the best interests of Elian, and not the complexity of immigration law, should determine the 6-year-old's future.

Got that? A family court would decide the boy's fate after Congress passed a law.

But then Gore went on the "Today" show Tuesday and seemed to reverse himself.

"If the father says on free soil that he believes the son should go back with him, that, of course, is likely to be determinative and will be determinative," Gore said.

What? Now whatever the father wanted would determine the fate of Elian, just as long as the father expressed his desires on "free" soil?

This has never made sense to me. As I wrote months ago, the mere fact that his father comes to the United States does not mean he is free to express his true feelings. He still has family in Cuba, who could suffer terribly if the he strayed from the party line.

OY VEY, Al! Again, with the hands?
But Al Gore seems to think the mere fact Elian's father touches down in New York liberates him to speak freely about his son.

And what happened to the idea of a law to make Elian a resident?

Gore's position was so confused, that he even confused himself.

And a few hours later, his campaign headquarters in Nashville released a statement from Gore that said: "From the beginning, I have said that, at heart, this is a custody matter that should be handled in a domestic relations court with expertise in these matters."

So Gore was now back to the idea of a law to make Elian a permanent resident, which would bring the family court into play.

All of this back and forth was too delicious an opportunity for George W. Bush to pass up. And the Bush campaign issued a statement that said: "When it comes to the future of Elian Gonzalez, it's becoming increasingly hard to understand what Al Gore believes in or what he thinks should be done."

So by the time Al Gore was giving interviews to reporters, you can see why he was so red in the face.

"This is a matter of principle with me," Gore said. "I have not changed my view. I have been consistent throughout."

Then Gore had a real stroke of genius.

"Let's focus on what's in the best interest of this child and let's don't let Fidel Castro manipulate this situation," Gore said.

At last Gore had found somebody to blame everything on: Castro. Which was genius, because who in this country likes Castro?

Then, however, Gore went one stroke of genius too far.

"This is not a set of views that I suddenly adopted because I'm involved in a presidential campaign," Gore said.

Excuse me, but I have to go pound a table with my index finger. It keeps me from laughing out loud.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate