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Caveat lector

24 October 2000

The Daily update: Chris Matthews—no, really—gets it right!

Synopsis: No, dear friends, that isn't a misprint. When Alan Simpson dissembled about Gore, Chris Matthews—the same—got it right!

Commentary by Alan Simpson, Michael Dukakis, Chris Matthews
Decision 2000, MSNBC, 10/17/00

The third debate would soon begin. Alan Simpson was fuming away, as is his wont, about Gore. He spoke with Michael Dukakis:

SIMPSON: Look at some of the hammers he threw at you in the [1988] debates. He brought up Willie Horton, that's a subject that hurt you badly, and Al Gore brought that up first, not George Bush.

When it comes to Gore, Simpson loves to dissemble. Dukakis responded:

DUKAKIS: That is not true—

SIMPSON: New York primary. There it was—

DUKAKIS: Alan, Al Gore never did what George Bush did on that issue and you know it.

Indeed, Simpson does know it. The fact is, he just doesn't care—it's the hallmark of an open dissembler. In a New York debate in March 1988, Gore criticized Dukakis for his Massachusetts furlough plan, in which several furloughed prisoners (serving life sentences) had committed major crimes. But Gore never mentioned Willie Horton by name; never mentioned anyone else by name; never mentioned the race of any offender; and never ran an ad on the subject. The "hammer he threw" consisted of one exchange in one debate. There were 42 debates on the 1987-88 Dem schedule.

But Honest Alan loves to dissemble. And incredibly, Chris Matthews occasionally reverts to who he once was, before he reinvented himself at the person he now pretends to be. (Does he even know who he is any more? Frankly, we're no longer certain.) On this occasion, Matthews stepped in, and challenged what his slick guest had said:

MATTHEWS: I have to say it was not exactly true, what you said, Senator Simpson. It is true that Al Gore brought up the furlough program in Massachusetts, but he never gave it a personality of such ethnic strength as Willie Horton. He didn't do that.

What in the world had gotten into Chris? Simpson dissembled further:

SIMPSON: The issue was brought up first by Al Gore—

MATTHEWS: Right. The issue, but not the man.

SIMPSON: And that turned into Willie Horton. That's what I said.

And of course, that isn't what Simpson said. But dissemblers just love to dissemble.

On the trail, Simpson has been spreading another canard—the claim that Gore "sold his vote" on the Gulf War, based on which side would give him more TV time to orate about his decision. The charge strikes us as absurd on its face—even if we assume that Gore is a scheming pol, what pol would decide so transforming a vote on such a fleeting advantage? At any rate, in his Gore bio, David Maraniss said the charge "evaporates under scrutiny;" biographers Turque and Zelnick didn't even bother to address it. One can only guess that Simpson has been told not to air the charge on MSNBC; though he aired the canard on Hardball last year, he never brings it up any more, though he keeps saying it out of the trail. At any rate, we do applaud the old-and-improved Matthews for his work last Wednesday night. How different his regular program would be if its reinvented host did this a little more often—performed a journalist's normal tasks and dropped all the rants and the pandering.

Gave us the willies: In this campaign, it was Bill Bradley who committed the greatest misconduct on the Willie Horton matter. Last winter, Bradley began saying that Gore had introduced race into the 1988 campaign by bringing up Willie Horton. Unfortunately, Bradley had said exactly the opposite in his 1997 book, Time Present, Time Past. In our view, this was the most egregious howler of the campaign, but the obedient press corps knew not to mention it. In their official "story line," they had cast the Olympian Bradley as the straight-talking, soulful authentic. Bradley's ugly reversal went straight down their memory hole, but the ex-hopeful's conduct is worth re-exploring. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/21/00 and 2/7/00. For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/22/99.