Playing second fiddle to Dubya seems to be driving the opposition to distraction, if not to Baghdad. It has clearly inspired some of the worst cliché-mongering, and mangling, in recent memory. Just the other day, for example, Albert Gore said Dubya is "like a lost driver who won't stop to ask for directions" while House leader Dick Gephardt accused Republicans of "fiddling while America's economy implodes."
This phenomenon is worth a closer look for an obvious reason: The biggest complaint against Dubya is that he's dimmer than a lead-eating goat. One would expect his critics to show themselves as his betters, especially in their public addresses. Their language, however, shows them as at best his equals, and perhaps even inferior. After all, these comments are prepared in advance, not spouted from the cuff.
The Gore quotation may tell us a great deal about this man who would be president (were both the voters and Court on his side). For one thing, Al no doubt employs speechwriters, at a decent if not extravagant rate. Why then would he accept such a worn-out commonplace as the line about lost drivers asking directions? The draft should have gone back to the writer with a demand for something fresh -- a line reflecting Al's brilliant cast of mind. He should have scribbled a note in the margin: "You're making me look like a cliché-mongering moron, you idiot!"
Yet the cliché stood, was delivered, and opened up Al to criticism by his Republican foes, who are highly trained in the politics of personal destruction (as all political hacks should be). They question his management ability in his choice and retention of writers. Indeed, they question whether Al is really as sharp as a tack. They suggest that beneath his glittering and often-bugged exterior, a mental slacker resides.
Others of us, however, have concluded that the inclusion of this line may have not been a mistake; we go so far as to suspect that Al came up with it himself and insisted on its use, despite the pleas of his handlers. This in turn tells us a great deal about the Inner Al.
Why would the handlers object?
It is well known that real men don't ask for directions. Real men know, after all, that being "lost" is very much in the eye of the beholder, and that said beholder is often a menacing wife or similar breed of hysteric. True men know not only that they will get where they want to be in the fullness of time, but that the scenic route has led many a fellow to many a great discovery. Columbus was said to be "lost" when he discovered the New World. Many other history-shaping discoveries have been made "by accident," such as LSD.
Yet Al takes the view that being "lost" is a cause not only for alarm, but for stopping the car and asking a total stranger for directions. To some of us, that is the worst sort of "corrective." We know that while some total strangers may impart proper directions, many if not most are either incapable of doing so or, more to the point, would rather lead us further afield, if not directly over the nearest cliff.
Al's handlers have struggled long and hard with the "real man" issue. Naomi Wolf is famously reported to have tried every trick in the book to convert Al into an Alpha male: a man who walks in no man's shadow; a boiling cauldron of testosterone, as fierce and independent as the western wind. When he grew the beard, some assumed that Naomi had been successful, while others went so far as to believe he had returned to the bong and could be counted on to roll his eyes whenever Tipper started mouthing off about her pet causes, such as song lyrics and underage drinking.
Yet his swipe at manly driving habits makes it clear that the old habits remain. We can only assume that Al has too often found himself in the following exchange:
Tipper: "You ignorant doofus! Pull over right this minute and find out where the hell we are and how the hell we get out of here!"
This is not good news for the vice president's supporters. His mission these days is to establish himself as the smart person's candidate, one who walks smart, talks smart, and shames his opponent whenever a comparison is made. In this he is clearly failing. Besides that, he's turned himself into a bit of a pudge, so much so that he had to remove his wedding ring lest his finger be dangerously constricted, perhaps to the point of requiring amputation.
Al's not the only one with a Tongue Issue. Gephardt's line about "fiddling while the economy is imploding" could have been lifted from Dubya's primer. As such, her critics -- some of them cowardly leakers -- have a lot of nerve complaining about Barbra Streisand's spelling problem and her error in quoting lines falsely attributed to William Shakespeare. It is true that the quote in question is hardly of Shakespearean quality, and should have been spotted immediately as a fake. Shakespeare never wrote that bad even after a serious month of wine guzzling.
But at least Barbra reaches high. And, so far at least, she's been able to stay away from Baghdad.