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Jewish World Review July 18, 2000 / 15 Tamuz, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

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Consumer Reports

AlGore's McCarthyism -- EVERYONE LOVES to point out how Al Gor e keeps reinventing himself. Right now, he's allegedly channeling Harry Truman, running against a so-called "do nothing Congress."

This prompted Strom Thurmond, the ancient South Carolina senator who ran against Truman in 1948, to issue a statement this week: "In Al Gore's latest reincarnation, he claims to be Truman-like, blaming Congress. Mr. Gore, I knew Harry Truman. I ran against Harry Truman. And Mr. Gore, you are no Harry Truman."

But of all the masks that Gore has ever worn, he's most deserving of one name that he hasn't been called before: Joe McCarthy.

I actually think Senator McCarthy gets a bit of an unfair rap. After all, thanks to declassified documents, we now know that the U.S. government was overrun with Soviet spies for years. So, if tail-gunner Joe was on a witch hunt, we should at least give him some credit that the witches existed. Nevertheless, "McCarthyism" has taken on a life of its own. If there is one politician who personifies those tactics it's Gore.

McCarthyism essentially is the practice of assigning guilt by association, accusing without proving, and insinuating while denying you ever made the insinuation. And that is Gore to a T.

In May, Gore accused Texas Gov. George W. Bush of having a "secret plan" for privatizing Social Security. "I can't tell you all of what's in Governor Bush's 'secret plan' for Social Security," he said in a speech before the New Jersey State AFL-CIO convention, using the word "secret" at least seven times. Compare that to McCarthy: "While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party," McCarthy said. "I have in my hand a list."

In his biography "Gore: A Political Life," Bob Zelnick recounts various episodes when Gore tried to undermine opponents through guilt by association. Gore honed these tactics in the Senate as a champion of global warming. He would accusingly ask scientist-witnesses, essentially, are you now or have you ever been associated with well, not the Communist party but pretty much anything else Gore could ridicule - like the coal, gas or timber industries. Many of Gore's allies were just as "guilty" of such ties but weren't grilled.

More recently Gore has taken to insinuating that Bush is in secret collusion with "Big Polluters," "Big Drug Companies" and "Big Oil." The "evidence" of Bush's collusion with "big oil" is that Bush used to be an oilman, hence he knows a lot of oilmen.

Gore is also adept at implying wrong-doing without backing it up. "You know, racial profiling practically began in New Jersey, Senator Bradley," Gore said at the Apollo theater in Harlem in a debate with former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.

During a 1988 Democratic debate, Gore suggested that Michael Dukakis had said it would be OK if the Soviets had a "client state" in South America. Dukakis responded, "I'm not going to sit here and listen to that. I never said that. Al! I never even implied it." Gore interrupted with a mocking "oh sure" expression, and went on to say it was "reported that way." James Fallows, who has researched Gore's debating career, writes in the July issue of the Atlantic, "If Gore had not wholly invented the accusation, he had taken large interpretive liberties."

Gore's interpretative liberties brutalize his opponents unfairly, by trying to raise the fears of Americans and demonize his opponents in the process.

In 1998, at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gore said Republicans were in "favor of affirmative action if you can dunk the basketball." And then, without saying it in so many words, he suggested that affirmative action opponents were not appalled by racially motivated crimes. He wondered aloud, for example, whether they felt bad about an "African American man who was doused with gasoline, burned alive and decapitated by two white men."

Of course, not all of Gore tactics are McCarthyite, so much as just plain nasty. But there is one sense in which Gore definitely earns the label more than any politician in modern memory. In the 1958 book, "The Fourth Branch of Government" Douglass Cater writes that "McCarthyism's greatest threat was not to individual liberty or even to the orderly conduct of government. It corrupted the power to communicate, which is indispensable to men living in a free society."

By that definition, Gore must be making Tail-Gunner Joe proud.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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