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Jewish World Review August 21, 2000 /20 Menachem-Av, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

He blew it: A night of sheer goredom -- THIS WAS supposed to be the Speech of His Life for Al Gore. It only seemed to last that long.

H.L. Mencken once described an address by Warren G. Harding as so bad, so irredeemably awful, that there was a kind of grandeur to it. There wasn't even the grandeur of the awful to this acceptance speech. It didn't have that much character. Its most obvious attribute was length. The hype was that this was one speech the candidate would write himself. For once I believe it. No professional would have turned in work like this.

They say the nominee of a national political convention can read the phone book and the massed partisans in the hall will cheer hysterically. Al Gore might have done better to read the phone book. At least some of the names would have been unfamiliar or even interesting, given Los Angeles' polyglot population. Instead, the vice president plodded angrily through the night. There were no signs of the new economy or the new politics in his thinking, only the old demagoguery.

And the promises kept pouring out like a calculator tape run amok; I counted a couple of dozen new programs before giving up.

Al Gore is going to cure everything from diabetes to AIDS while cracking down on the pharmaceutical companies.

Al Gore is going to clean up, fix up and paint up every public school in the country. But he won't experiment with school vouchers that would let poor families send their kids to the kind of private academy he attended. He seems to have confused public education with warehousing poor kids -- but in very nice warehouses. If only he were as interested in education as he is in education programs. But with so many delegates here from the teachers' unions -- more than 500 -- Al Gore didn't dare contemplate introducing competition into education.

Al Gore is going to add another new savings plan to Social Security, but not let the savers own any of it, either. This money, too, will be doled out by government -- rather than have any part of it become the property of those who contributed it. Doubtless on the theory that government knows how you should spend your money so much better than you do. As for Social Security, the candidate promised to save your nice, secure, historic 2 percent return on it. (And this is the party that's supposed to protect consumers!) And so on through the long, long night.

One of Mr. Gore's promises sounded more like of a threat: If elected president, he is going to hold forth like this at open meetings all over the country until the last surviving listener drops. That has to be the most frightening part of his endless program. The prospect should make every voter shiver. The United States could become the first great power overcome by sheer boredom.

It was as if the vice president's team of researchers had gone through every other speech given at this convention in search of the most hackneyed phrases, and set out to lovingly include every one of them in one grand compendium of partisan bromides. This wasn't so much a speech as a catalog, an encyclopedia, a whole library of worn phrases.

The nominee declared class war a couple of times, but listlessly. He seems a nice man from a good family who has to fake a bad temper on these occasions. He didn't have even a smidgen of George Wallace's (or even Henry Wallace's) talent for invoking fear and envy in his listeners. Oh, the words were all there: "So often, powerful forces and powerful people stand in your way. ... They're for the powerful, we're for the people.'' But not the spirit or wit. Al Gore could make Michael Dukakis look animated.

The best the vice president could do at the demagogue's art was to turn up the volume, till at the end he was shouting. At one point the candidate seemed to be attacking the spirit of his own convention: "We must change a culture with too much meanness and not enough meaning.'' At last the party of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt seems to have produced an Unhappy Warrior.

On this, which should have been one of the happiest nights of his life, he did not seem cheerful so much as resentful, angry, always aware of the camera. It occurred to me on the way home, as the bus crawled through the state of siege around the Staples Center, that not once at this convention had I heard Happy Days Are Here Again.

And yet a convention boost for Lieberman's running mate is inevitable after four days of this ceaseless drumbeat. The great Crowd that lies outside Staples Center, from sea to shining sea, has been fed and will respond. The exchange of mindless slogans that is an American presidential campaign has only begun to bore.

Paul Greenberg Archives


©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate