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The Courtier Who Would Be King

February 1, 2000

Nobody would say of Al Gore what Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska once said of Bill Clinton: that he’s “a good liar — unusually good.” Gore’s notorious stiffness is due to his discomfort in presenting a false public image on all the occasions when he feels it’s required of him. If the secret of success is to be able to “fake sincerity,” Gore is a failure. Relentlessly wooden in demeanor and formulaic in verbal expression, he has made it nearly impossible to imagine him in a spontaneous moment.

Democrats are supposed to be “people people.” In the days of Hubert Humphrey, they were known for kissing babies. This habit has fallen into disuse since supporting abortion became party orthodoxy. The incongruity would be a little too blatant.

Now Gore has been caught out in a naked lie. Faced with his own anti-abortion votes and pronouncements during his years as U.S. senator from Tennessee, he insists doggedly that he has “always” supported “a woman’s right to choose.” In the Democratic Party, it’s now considered shameful to have protected unborn children and to have called abortion “arguably the taking of a human life.” “I would not use that phrasing today,” he says.

No, he wouldn’t. As far as Gore is concerned, it’s just a matter of “phrasing” — changing verbal formulas to suit a change of position. He doesn’t feel obliged to explain why he changed his mind, because he didn’t change his mind — just his position.

[Breaker quote: The soul of a 
sycophant]How do you go from believing that an unborn child is a marvel of God’s creation to believing it’s only a worthless piece of disposable tissue, even on the verge of birth? Such inconsistencies don’t bother a man who has no convictions and who will say anything dictated by his calculations of political convenience. This, after all, is the same man who has called Clinton one of our greatest presidents and has dismissed Clinton’s alleged rape of a woman (while attorney general of Arkansas) as a “mistake in his personal life.”

Gore’s recent attacks on Bill Bradley have been called “ruthless.” Why should his mean streak come as a surprise? He wants to win, and his charges against Bradley are no more ruthless than his defense of Clinton or his smearing of abortion opponents as “extremists.” You can be wooden and unscrupulous at the same time — or for that matter, at once stiff and spineless. Inflexibility is not to be confused with rectitude.

True, Gore lacks the facility that enables Clinton to speak tearfully about “our children” while supporting the late-term abortion “procedure” that drills a hole in the child’s skull, sucks out the brain, and crushes the skull to make it easier to extract from the birth canal. As a prevaricator, he’s still the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. But he’s working on it. Practice makes perfect.

What does Gore mean when he says he has “always” supported abortion? That he read the Constitution before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the matter, and became independently convinced that abortion was constitutionally shielded? Hardly. Before the Court made its totally arbitrary ruling, not even the most liberal justice had ever gone on the record as saying the Constitution protected abortion. The thought simply never occurred to anyone. And a thought that has never occurred to anyone, you can be sure, is not going to occur to Al Gore first.

But a funny thing happened. Once the Court had decreed that all the abortion laws of all 50 states were somehow unconstitutional, countless people suddenly developed the conviction that abortion was a “right,” just as Henry VIII’s novel views on royal prerogatives immediately proved persuasive to his courtiers, with the cranky exception of Sir Thomas More. And nobody likens Gore to More.

That is the key to Gore: he has the soul of a courtier, one who, in another age, would have flattered Caligula without compunction. He is to power what an iron filing is to a magnet. Ambition aside, he has never shown a will, let alone a conscience, of his own. But there is something odd about a veteran courtier, and an especially sycophantic one at that, aspiring to be king.

Joseph Sobran

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