- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Before Americans wake up to discover that Winifred Skinner, "the tin-can lady," has been appointed secretary of recycling in a Gore administration, or immortalized, maybe, on a newly minted tin dollar, Americans should learn the truth about the little old lady from Iowa. Contrary to what Al Gore is telling the American people these days, 79-year-old Mrs. Skinner does not, out of necessity, have to troll the routes and byways of the Midwest for cans to pay for prescription drugs. She chooses to.

Thanks to National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, we now know that in addition to a poodle named Bridget who traveled from Iowa to Boston with Mrs. Skinner in a Gore campaign-chauffeured Winnebago for Tuesday night's presidential debate Mrs. Skinner also has a well-heeled son named Earl King. He told WHO Radio in Des Moines last week that he would be delighted to pay for Mom's medicines if she would only let him (no word on who foots the bills for Bridget's coiffures). Of course, as Mr. Goldberg put it, "Mrs. Skinner's pride did allow him to pay for his mother's new roof as well as her annual property taxes. She just won't take money from her son for the explicit purpose of buying needed medication. She will, however, accept money from millions of less well-to-do taxpayers across the country for the same purpose."

Mrs. Skinner's idiosyncrasies aside, Mr. Gore could not have found a more fitting muse for his prescription drug plan than a hard luck case that collapses like, well, a tin can when someone just looks at it. (Mr. Gore's symbol of overcrowding in the schools is similarly misleading. The crisis of desklessness Mr. Gore invoked during this week's debate turns out to have lasted only until $100,000 worth of new, boxed lab equipment was unpacked to make room for the teen-ager in question.) But strangely enough, we, the voters, are expected not to look at it. It is as if the act of scrutiny were considered bad form "mean-spirited" under a strangling code of conduct strictly enforced by the media, and generally honored, alas, by the Bush campaign. This code would have voters avert their eyes from the little lies and the big ones both from the symbolic corruptions, such as Mr. Gore's depiction of Winifred Skinner as the human equivalent of a clubbable baby seal, and from the systemic corruptions of the democracy, such as Mr. Gore's pattern of mendacity in public life.

Take Mr. Bush's bold and welcome stroke of broaching the ever-smoking subject of Mr. Gore's fund-raising scandals, which only this past week was fanned by the release barely reported of recently recovered e-mails revealing that Mr. Gore's senior aides casually referred to those infamous White House coffees as fund-raisers. This evidence contradicts what Mr. Gore has told federal investigators. By even mentioning the subject, Mr. Bush raised a flurry of scowls, tracked by the ever-vigilant Media Research Center, from television anchors sitting in judgment. "Governor Bush might want to have some of his words back," admonished CNN's Jeff Greenfield. "Governor Bush's weakest moment," scolded CBS' Bob Schieffer, whose network colleague Dan Rather appeared similarly affronted.

And Mr. Gore? "Well, I think we ought to attack our country's problems not attack each other," he said. And why not? That would certainly take the heat off of him. "I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not trying to make you out to be a bad person."

Another transparent attempt to change the subject. "You may want to focus on scandals," the vice president said. "I want to focus on results." Sounds like the ends justify the means. John Gotti couldn't have said it better.

The question is, will such flimsy rhetorical deflection really protect Mr. Gore from all serious questions about his character and conduct? About selling White House access for funds? About his hackish flacking for President Clinton on Impeachment Day? About the funny-money-grubbing at the Buddhist temple? About his oversight role in subverting the INS in 1996 to rush unchecked aliens onto the voter rolls of the Democratic Party? About the starring role his office played in what the Republican majority on the House Government Reform Committee is now calling the most significant obstruction of a congressional inquiry in history?

"We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office," said George W. Bush. Talk about understatement. To be sure, a new look would be a nice change. (More understatement.) It requires, of course, a thorough job of housecleaning and that means looking at the dirt to make sure it isn't swept under the rug.

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