Nasty boys

Highlights of a presidential campaign getting really ugly, really fast.

By Anthony York

Published October 10, 2000 7:40PM (EDT)

Despite earlier pledges by both candidates to "change the tone" and "refrain from personal attacks," Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have launched a nasty war of words with polls showing the presidency still up for grabs.

We've all heard the jabs -- Bush calling Gore a liar; Gore calling Bush an idiot. Actually, we haven't precisely heard the candidates say that. We haven't even actually heard the campaigns say that. Instead, they use buzzwords they hope will create that message without seeming too blunt or too mean. So instead of "lie," we have "embellish." Instead of "dumb," we have "incoherent."

Following is a list of the reactions, beginning on Thursday, from both camps, to the escalating nature of the attacks. We've pointed out a few not-so-subtle code words.


Bush running mate Dick Cheney on Gore's debate performance: "Al Gore has described these presidential debates as a job interview with the American people. I've learned over the years that when somebody embellishes their risumi in a job interview, you don't hire them."

Later he added that Gore "seems to have had a compulsion to embellish his arguments or, as I mentioned the other day, his risumi. This is a man who has got significant accomplishments, been a congressman, a senator, vice president," Cheney said. "He held national office for 24 years. And yet he seems to have this uncontrollable desire periodically to add to his reputation, to his record, things that aren't true. That's worrisome. And I think it is appropriate to point that out."


Gore campaign press release: "Bush is routinely unable string together a coherent sentence to explain his own proposals. Americans will decide whether Bush's uncertain command of the facts and his garbled language bear on his ability to be an effective leader."


The network talk shows are full of campaign emissaries sharpening their claws on each other's backs. On "Meet the Press," Tim Russert moderated the sparring match between Gore supporter Paul Begala and Bush strategist Karl Rove.

Begala on Bush: "He is dangerously ignorant ... What he doesn't know could hurt us."

Rove on Gore: "Nice attempt, Paul, to distract attention from the fact that your candidate is a serial exaggerator ... the fact of the matter is, your candidate is a guy who has trouble telling the truth ... . your man has a problem with embellishing the truth."

Bush communications director Karen Hughes on "Fox News Sunday": "As a reporter in Florida said to me the other day, he's gaining a reputation as a serial exaggerator. The vice president has consistently and repeatedly made up things, exaggerated, embellished facts."

Gore running mate Joe Lieberman, on CNN's "Late Edition": "George Bush a while ago was asked what was his favorite book when he was a child. One of the books he cited was 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.' Well, it turned out that Governor Bush was in his 20s when that book was published. So what? I'm in my 50s, Wolf, and I still enjoy 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.' The point is, let's get back to the facts."

Rove on CNN's "Late Edition," on charges that the Gore campaign is distorting facts on Bush's tax cut: "It's another, sort of, made up exaggeration by this Clinton-Gore campaign -- by the Gore-Lieberman ticket, in which the serial exaggerations of Vice President Gore seem to be being picked up by Senator Lieberman."

Gore campaign communications director Mark Fabiani: "Bush ought to be held to presidential standards, and what he did yesterday" -- a botched attempt to explain his tax cuts -- "didn't meet up to Dan Quayle standards ... He was incoherent, he was babbling. People want to hear Bush explain [his tax plan], not Karl Rove explain it. And Bush hasn't done that."


Gore spokesman Chris Lehane, touting a list of "Bush Bloopers": "We're going to hold Bush to presidential standards when it comes to explaining his public-policy views. Thus far he has not even met the 'Quayle standard.'"

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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