Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pushing Perot Back Where He Belongs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pushing Perot Back Where He Belongs

Article excerpt

It does not often fall to vice presidents to perform a signal service for the Republic, from the governance of which they are virtually excluded. But Al Gore, fresh from reinventing government and looking for new worlds to conquer, was given a chance to be consequential and he made the most of it by making mincemeat of Ross Perot.

Perot played a large part in the mincing. With a testiness that is an attribute of tycoons surrounded by compliant subordinates and outsiders starstruck by vast wealth, Perot revealed himself, redundantly, to be unpleasant. But Gore did the heavy lifting. He enabled television to do what it does best: stare without blinking at someone who has an unsuppressible urge to go too far.

It is possible to hope that this was one of those rare moments when television was not only not a net subtraction from America's understanding, but actually may have served the public good by greasing the skids under a very slippery performer. Perhaps the "debate" will do for Perot what Joe McCarthy's televised exchange with the attorney Joseph Welch back in 1954 did for McCarthy. It may cause the gas to rush from the balloon.

Gore was debating - as we understand that mangled verb nowadays - at a severe disadvantage. Gore has an intellectual conscience - or at least as much of one as is consistent with lifetime residence in, and steady ascent through, the political class. That may not be all the conscience regarding facts that we would like, but is much more than Perot has.

Put plainly (as that proud plain-speaker says he prefers things to be put), Perot is an intellectual sociopath. He is not just hostile to the truth - we all are on those occasions when it is insupportably inconvenient. Perot is indifferent to the truth, which is a more remarkable and sinister attribute. Someone - Churchill, I think - once described an adversary as not quite indifferent to the truth but that if by chance this person stumbled over the truth, he picked himself up and dusted himself off and walked on as though nothing had happened. Perot is like that.

Gore saw this as an opportunity and made the most of it, and no one can ever indict Gore for relying on style over substance. …

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