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Deciphering Gore-speak

Kris Schnee

Vice President Al Gore has reinvented himself again. In the time before his nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate, he referred often to “working families” and the “working class” -- a euphemism for lower or lower-middle class. Now he has suddenly changed his language, starting with a speech in Cleveland last week. In that speech he declared that “My cause is hard-working, middle-class families.” The New York Times analyzed his lingo and found that at his convention speech, he said “working families” nine times, while in Cleveland he said “middle-class” twelve times and “working families” once. Apparently he has decided that a little vocabulary shift will win him votes (although he still likes the clichÉd word “fighting,” using it over and over again).

What can we say about a man who is Bill Clinton’s second, who wants to avoid being associated with Clinton’s legacy? A man famous for tearfully describing his sister’s death from tobacco, while on another occasion spoke with pride about his personal experience growing tobacco?

Even with his shifting positions, it’s possible to figure out a few of Gore’s true principles. There are certain assumptions he makes which underlie everything he does, and will do if elected. These assumptions are not unique at all; many Democrats and even Republicans share them.

One of the main ones is that all wealth belongs to the government. Cutting taxes, in Gore-speak, means a “scheme” to “spend” money. What does such language imply about who the money rightfully belongs to?

The government, not the free market, is the final arbiter of what behavior is worthwhile and socially acceptable. You can see this principle plainly in the ongoing Democratic theme of “targeted tax cuts,” as in Gore’s catchphrase “targeted tax relief for working families.” You can’t simply have your money back; you have to jump through hoops to get it. Rather than letting families keep the money they earn so parents can pay for college tuition, Al Gore and other Democrats have taken it upon themselves to force the “right” behavior on everyone, by taking people’s money and giving it back only to those who promise to use it for college.

Not only do targeted cuts treat the American people as children, as people who need to be protected from their own foolishness; these cuts control people’s legitimate behavior. Suppose that some young people want to pursue a different kind of education than colleges provide, by traveling and seeing the world. That’s not one of Gore’s hoops, so young travelers will be economically punished by their government for not getting their education the officially-approved way. According to Gore, one of the government’s official responsibilities is to “reward work and family,” to use its power to tax to tell people how to live. Petition the Gore White House: maybe your leader will add your way of life to the list of tax-break hoops.

Gore also feels that government should tell “working class” families where their children can get an education; he opposes the school voucher system which would let children attend superior private schools and give parents more control over their children’s upbringing. Gore wants public schools to teach “more character education and discipline to pass on the right values.” Would these be the values of the Clinton/Gore administration? And since when is it government’s job to teach morality?

The White House controls the economy, if not the sun and moon. Actually, this is a long-held and bipartisan faith. On the basis of an economic slump or boom, Carter and Bush lost the presidency, and Reagan and Clinton kept it. (It’s much like in “Animal Farm,” where the horses boast, “Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, this grass tastes better than ever!”)

Gore’s economic plan (and, unfortunately, Bush’s as well) makes big plans for hypothetical future money; both candidates assume a perpetually rosy economy over which presidents have little control. Gore also sets specific economic goals such as increasing incomes and reducing the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Politicians spend wealth; they do not create it.

“Rights” are laws which government creates to limit excessive freedoms, and to protect people from the free market. Gore’s website proudly proclaims his “Fight Against the HMOs” and pharmaceutical companies -- a politician declaring war on entire American industries! -- and the need for “a real Patients’ Bill of Rights.” In fact, searching for “Bill of Rights” on his Web site gets 515 hits; none of them seem to refer to the old Bill, the one restricting government’s powers.

Gore’s site says it in the context of abortion, but there is one principle on which people on all sides of this year’s melee can probably agree: “Don’t Take Your Rights For Granted -- They May Not Always Be There.”