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Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2000 /6 Elul 5760

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

When truth becomes a negative --
THE Republican National Committee is airing an ad questioning Al Gore's veracity. The point of the ad -- as former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley once said to Gore -- is, "Why should we believe you will tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?''

Democrats immediately tagged the ad "negative.'' Their party's leaders Bill Clinton and Al Gore seem to believe telling the truth is negative. Is that because they see lying as a positive?

The ad seeks to persuade voters to consider whether Gore can be trusted in view of his lengthy track record of not telling the truth and of changing his "convictions'' to suit opinion polls.

The Clinton-Gore team campaigned eight years ago on a pledge to cut taxes on the middle class. Instead, it imposed the largest tax increase in history. It promised to end "welfare as we know it,'' but then vetoed the first two welfare bills passed by Congress and signed the third (while promising to reverse the measure, but never doing so) only because advisor Dick Morris recommended it.

Gore has changed his positions almost as many times as he has changed his clothes. He's flipped on abortion, gun control and whether Elian Gonzalez -- now spouting Communist slogans in Cuba -- should have been allowed to grow up in freedom. He's also changed the location of his campaign headquarters, his campaign chairman and even where he grew up (in an expensive Washington hotel, attending a fancy private school; not, as he now says, on a Tennessee farm). More recently, Gore agreed to debate George W. Bush on "Meet the Press'' and "Larry King Live,'' but then his campaign rejected those forums in favor of venues dictated by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Speaking about Social Security, Gore once acknowledged that "returns on equities are just significantly higher than these other returns.'' Gore later told the AARP, "You shouldn't be asked to play stock-market roulette with your investment income in the Social Security program.'' There is no "investment income'' in the Social Security program. It's a tax we pay to current retirees, hoping the generation behind will do the same for us. Real investment generates compound interest on our own money. Aren't such details crucial?

Having flipped once, Gore flipped again when he proposed his own stock-market investment plan after polls showed the idea was gaining favor. Unlike Bush's plan, Gore's plan leaves government in control of the investing. President Clinton once suggested that government knows best where to invest your money.

In 1988, Gore bragged about his tobacco expertise, claiming he once farmed the leaf. Eight years later he demonized tobacco while talking about the death of his sister from lung cancer.

The Republican ad features Gore at a Buddhist temple, the site of his controversial fund-raising event. He first called it "community outreach,'' then "finance-related'' and later "a donor-maintenance meeting.'' Several career prosecutors have said they think Gore's answers to questions about the true nature of the Buddhist-temple event were sufficiently evasive to warrant a special investigator. Attorney General Janet Reno just said no. Now Gore pledges "campaign finance reform'' will be his No. 1 priority should he become president. How credible is this, given his own history of hosting money-driven White House "coffees'' and the corporate orgy at his party's "Hollywood-ized'' convention?

The press is shirking its obligation to help the public sort out truth from fiction. Instead of examining the substance of the campaign ad, reporters focus on whether the ad is "negative'' or if it violates Bush's pledge for more civil discourse in the campaign.

What happened to our nation's moral sense? We have rapidly moved from "telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me G-d'' to "it depends upon what the meaning of the word `is' is'' and "no controlling legal authority.''

One mark of a deteriorating society is when its people cannot discern truth from lies. Another is when they don't even bother to try and will believe whatever their itching ears want to hear.

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