- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

There is something quite unfair about the present presidential campaign. Frankly, it makes me sad. There stands the Republican Party's putative nominee, Gov. George W. Bush, a relatively young man, happy, vigorous, a veritable colossus of ruddy good health. And then there is the putative Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, star-crossed, pained; he lumbers along the campaign trail. He is the Democrats' official greeter to all their huddled victims of life's roulette wheel.

As with his mentor, he "feels their pain." Yet he is not without his own pain. He has told us about all the suffering in his life, among his friends and relatives. But now we are discovering his personal trials. There is his constant battle with bladder problems, which came to light recently. The poor man had to reveal his condition to members of a Justice Department task force while they interviewed him on whatever. Was it the fund-raising calls from the White House or the "outreach" appearance to the nuns, or did it have something to do with sought-after e-mails to his office that have now appeared? I forget. Mr. Gore suffers so many of these intrusions into his privacy.

As he tells it, late in 1995 he was attending a White House meeting where the "iced tea" flowed freely. Then his bladder… . Well, as the poet William Butler Yeats might say, "Things fall apart; the bladder cannot hold." And Mr. Gore hurried down the White House hallway to the bathroom. All this is in his own testimony. When I read it I wondered if, while he was hastening to the loo, he encountered Our President hot-footing it the other way with Monica? The date is about right.

Perhaps when all his political battles are over the vice president might become a spokesman for incontinence. He might even appear in advertisements for incontinence pads or therapies.

Yet an unreliable bladder is not the only cross Mr. Gore bears as he faces the exuberant Gov. Bush. His bald spot spreads. His voice grows weary. Then, too, there are all these lapses into mental confusion. No, he did not invent the Internet, inspire "Love Story" or discover Love Canal. Now there is this confusion over his stance on Elian Gonzalez.

In January, he said Elian's father could bring him back to Cuba, if only the father would declare "on free soil" his desire. Then on March 30, Mr. Gore let fall that he favored special legislation allowing the boy and his family "resident status." Had the vice president forgotten his earlier position? Possibly, but I do not believe his problem was mere loss of memory. When he claimed to have founded the Internet or inspired "Love Story," that might have been memory loss. Politicians lead busy lives. They forget past adventures. This recent flurry of confused statements on the Gonzalez boy suggests a more serious problem than mere memory loss.

After stating his new position on March 30 many of his fellow Democrats had at him with a passion. They accused him of breaking with the president by endorsing permanent residency for the boy. Some called him a panderer. This was bad, but things got worse. On April 4, the seemingly shell-shocked presidential candidate took three different positions before sundown: the boy should return to his father; the boy should not necessarily return to his father, though his father should "express what is in his heart"; and a family court should decide.

At least, the vice president was sufficiently in control of his faculties to avoid expressing his preferred policy throughout the day, so it appears he was probably not intoxicated. Still, it was a dreadful display; and the newspapers are still cluck-clucking.

The vice president's problem in this department is more serious than any of his other misfortunes. I cannot recall any previous presidential candidate for a major party having so much trouble misstating his personal history and policy positions. Surely, as the Gonzalez controversy intensified through the months, Mr. Gore's advisers sat him down and hammered out a simple response for reporters. Everything seemed fine in January. Yet inexplicably on March 30 he reversed his position. Then on April 4 he did it again, and by the end of the day he appeared to have no position at all. How do we explain these alarming vagaries?

Is it possible the vice president suffers the public speaker's equivalent of writer's block? Occasionally, standing before a microphone he just goes blank. He has to come up with something, and so he blurts things out that appear senseless, for instance, the Internet invention and now all these reversals and ostensible evasions on young Gonzalez. Whatever the malady, when one weighs it in with his bladder condition, the bald spot, and all the woe he articulates to the Democratic downtrodden, Al Gore comes across as one of the saddest figures on the national stage since Charlie Chaplin's lonely tramp. Of course, the tramp had the good sense to remain silent.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor-in-chief of the American Spectator.

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