Gore’s Defining Downfall Moment

Written by David Corn on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



There are
moments in presidential campaigns that we later look back upon and say: That
was when it became obvious that candidate such-and-such had no chance of becoming
the nation’s top dog. Recall Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis helmeted
and riding in a tank. Uncomfortable smile. Looked like Snoopy. The election
could have been canceled the moment that photo hit. Then there was President
George Bush in 1992 checking his watch during the debate with Bill Clinton.
The nation was still shaking free of a traumatizing recession, but Mr. Gulf
War was worrying about his next appointment. The voters have no time for you.


There’s
a chance the Naomi Wolf eruption–which dominated political chat last week–will
be the we-knew-it-then moment for Al Gore’s campaign. The news that Gore
was paying Wolf $15,000 a month (later cut back to $5000) for advice on how
he could transform himself from beta to alpha male reinforced the notion, true
or not, that Gore is lost within himself, that he is not sure who or what he
is, that he has to pay someone to help him develop not a campaign strategy (we’re
used to that sort of political consulting) but a personality.


I have no
problem with Gore picking her brain. She’s a quirky thinker and, no doubt,
might toss out a high concept (The Protective Daddy, The Respected Big Brother,
The Resourceful Cousin) that could trigger a useful idea for Gore. But could
those nuggets be worth $180,000 a year? As described in the press, one of her
missions was to guide Gore in the journey from loyal-buddy beta male to big-ape
alpha male–a process in which he would have to challenge our current commander-in-chief
to prove himself. There was an inherent problem in this project. An alpha male
shouldn’t need advice–certainly not from a female!–on how
to be
an alpha man. It’s as if Gore had contracted with a consultant
for guts lessons. For her part, Wolf maintains that she barely mentioned alphas
and betas to Gore and that the advice she provided–for which she was paid
through a cutout–focused on the concerns of women.


Wolf has
a point about Gore’s image problem, but you don’t need new-age mumbo
jumbo to describe it. Forget the Greek letters. Gore’s trouble can be explained
by the Geek Theory of Presidential Politics. Rule #1: Geeks lose. Rule #2: When
the contest is between two geeks, the geekier one loses.


Look at
recent history: Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson in 1952. A general
who had won the biggest war in history against an egghead governor. No contest.
Stevenson proved he was truly a geek by running against Ike again in 1956–and
losing by a larger margin. Then it was John Kennedy and Vice President Richard
Nixon, who established the modern-day precedent of the veep-geek. Only Kennedy’s
Catholicsm made this contest a squeaker. Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater
in 1964? Admittedly, neither stood out as a geek, but Goldwater did wear those
thick-frame eyeglasses. The next race poses trouble for the theory: Nixon running
against Vice President Hubert Humphrey. There is no clear geek gap in Nixon’s
favor. But the Vietnam War played badly for Humphrey. Moreover, Humphrey, not
Nixon, was now veep, making Humphrey the geek by default. Next came Nixon and
George McGovern. The Democrat was a former fighter pilot and no geek. But in
an era of rage and protest, the Nixon campaign succeeded in depicting McGovern
as a fringe candidate. The politics of fear trumped the geek theory that time
out.


Jimmy Carter
and stand-in President Gerald Ford: the faux-President was ridiculed for his
haplessness–a geek trait–and lost to the earnest Southerner who hid
his geekness behind that huge smile. When Carter turned out to be a geek-president–remember
the photo of him collapsing while jogging?–Ronald Reagan bounced him out
of office. Former Vice President Walter Mondale was the geekiest Democratic
nominee since Stevenson. He had no chance in 1984 against Reagan, the brush-clearing
horseman. The Dukakis-Bush contest was a geek faceoff (Bush even had to deny
he was a "wimp") that proved Rule #2. Four years later, Bush was challenged
by Clinton–whose geeky policy-wonk tendencies were trumped by his much-too-healthy
Bubba side–and Bush joined one of the most exclusive geek societies in
the world: incumbent presidents who didn’t get reelected. There was no
geek in the Clinton-Dole duel of 1996: a rascally BMOC defeated a past-his-prime
grump.


There’s
a good reason why Americans don’t like geeks in the Oval Office. The president
is the symbolic leader of the nation, as well as the manager of the executive
branch, though the two jobs don’t necessarily require the same talents.
(Most West European nations sensibly leave the symbolism to royalty or ceremonial
presidencies.) Gore fell into the geek category early in the Clinton years–and
he fell hard. His advocacy of the Internet–a plastic-pocket-protector issue
if there ever was one–didn’t help. His stiffness, which is not apparent
in one-on-one meetings, became an overmilked joke. He became a caricature: the
classic overachieving nerd.


Despite
Naomi Wolf’s ministrations, it’s probably too late for Gore to go
from geek to non-geek. Fortunately for him, his Democratic opponent, Bill Bradley,
displays several prime geek characteristics: he obsesses over obscure issues,
he ponders on his own and not with others, he can be boring. But an athletic
legend is never a geek. Still, what Gore has going for him is that the Geek
Theory does not apply to primary contests. In such races, the electorate is
small enough to allow a geek to succeed. Remember, primary voters did nominate
Bush, Dukakis and Mondale (Steve Forbes, take heart). But should Gore survive
the Bradley assault, he will likely find himself facing either George W. Bush,
for whom the geek-gene has apparently skipped a generation, or John McCain,
a former POW and, consequently, an automatic non-geek. Gore can’t out-alpha
these males. The Wolf hoo-hah makes that clear.



The Wrath Of Jude
Two
weeks ago, I reported on my visit to Pat Buchanan’s book party at a fancy
Washington steakhouse and detailed an encounter with Jude Wanniski, the supply-side
evangelist who now says he is informally advising Buchanan. I noted that Wanniski
was praising Farrakhan as a sincere "man of God"–much to the
chagrin of his conversation partner, John Lofton, a religious-right columnist.
I also related that Wanniski, after I asked him why he wasn’t on the Forbes
bandwagon, explained that those running the Forbes show were "white supremacists,"
adding that he–Wanniski–believed most white people to be benign white
supremacists (Wanniski is white).



Wanniski
did not enjoy my account of our conversation. He sent an e-mail to several heavies
in the media business–John McLaughlin, The Washington Post’s
Howard Kurtz, Bob Novak–decrying me as an "incompetent journalist"
and a "slimeball." He did not challenge any of the quotes, nor did
he defend his positions. He resorted to that all-too common defense of one who
is quoted accurately but inconveniently: he said his remarks were taken out
of context. But what mitigating context can there be for his praise of Farrakhan
or his remarks about the "white supremacists" of the Forbes campaign?


Wanniski’s
attack prompted me to check out a file on him that a reader had sent me after
the initial column. It offered many reasons why one should not take offense
at being slurred by this false prophet. For years, Wanniski, who has a firm
that monitors political and economic trends for money managers, has been courting
Farrakhan. The New Republic reported in 1997 that he recruited Farrakhan
for an annual client conference in Boca Raton, FL. Regarding Farrakhan’s
reputation as an anti-Semite, Wanniski told the magazine: "Farrakhan has
every reason to be disturbed at being on that inferior side of the [racial]
divide. On the white side, there is of course little doubt that pound for pound
American Jews are the most powerful and influential of all segments of our society–in
every professional field of endeavor. In addition, their history asserts a claim
of superiority that has made Jews of all people the most resistant to inter-marriage
with non-Jews."


Routinely,
articles depict Wanniski as a relentless and crazed self-promoter who champions
one hobbyhorse after another and who barrages friends and foes with faxes. One
infamous June 1992 fax to his clients proclaimed, "We can now confidently
predict H. Ross Perot will be elected President of the United States, probably
by a landslide." (Will his advice to Buchanan be as valuable as this prognostication?)
A 1996 profile of Wanniski by Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard
summed him up this way: "Forward-looking. Optimistic. Delusional."
He long ago became an embarrassment to Republicans. George Will, for what it’s
worth, called him a "crackpot." To be slimed by a fellow who cozied
up to Farrakhan–not to mention conspiracy-crank Lyndon LaRouche–and
who perpetuated an economic fraud on this nation with his groundless supply-side
theory is an honor.


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