Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview
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Introduction American Political Culture and Cultural Politics

Public Opinion and Political Hypocrisy

On 13 October 1992, ninety million Americans and I tuned into the vice- presidential debate among Dan Quayle, Al Gore and James Stockdale. Not long into the debate, as its viewers will recall, Quayle charged that Gore had called for spending $100 billion in taxpayers' money to clean up the environment in foreign countries. When Gore denied having proposed such a thing, Quayle accused him of 'pulling a Clinton' - saying one thing and doing another - and cited page 304 of Gore book, Earth in the Balance, as proof that Gore had in fact made the proposal he was now denying. Quayle didn't cite a specific passage, but his mere reference to a page number was, for the moment, convincing enough to persuade many people that he had his facts in order, and that Gore was backpedaling from an indefensible pair of positions, environmentalist 'extremism' and tax-and-spend liberalism.

The next morning, though, one of CNN's periodic 'reality checks' told a different story: page 304 of Gore's book made no specific spending proposals. According to CNN, Quayle had misstated Gore's record repeatedly, both on the environment and on the Caribbean Basin Initiative. For his part, Gore had falsely claimed that Clinton had created high-wagejobs while governor of Arkansas; but whereas Gore's stretcher simply credited his running mate with more than was his due, Quayle's claim, by contrast, came close to being a direct lie about Gore's written words. And when Gore denied the charge, Quayle's response labeled him a waffler and a hypocrite as well as an extremist. Gore had no similarly fraudulent claim about Quayle's record, and therefore no opportunity to turn a Quayle denial to his advantage; all he had was his indignation and his demurrals, which weren't especially convincing.

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