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The 2000 Debate Myth


Never let it be said that I don’t know how to spend an exciting Saturday night, I’m re-watching the first Bush/Gore debate. (SPOILER: Bush lies his ass off, particularly about his massive upper-class tax cuts! Gore patiently explains why the lies are lies! Centrist pundits and many allegedly tough-minded leftists alike believe Bush’s transparently phony moderation!)

Anyway, there’s a widespread assumption that Gore ran a terrible campaign. Is that true? Maybe! The question can’t really be answered by data. Certain common individual arguments are comically ignorant about inexorable trends in American history (Gore was incompetent for losing southern and border states Obama lost by 15 points in a landslide year not even running against an orthodox conservative!) Certain are comically ignorant and contradicted by follow-up pundit’s fallacies. (“Gore should have pandered more to the conservative southern Democrats who voted for Bush, and should have run to the hard left!”) But it’s possible (and I think likely) that Gore’s campaign underperformed.

Whether any underperfomance was based on factors in Gore’s control, however, is another model. One very durable myth is that Gore’s performance in the first debate was inept, and this was a crucial factor. Well, the debate may well have turned out to be a crucial factor. But as Bob Somerby helpfully reminds us, this wasn’t because Gore wasn’t seen as winning the debate by the public:

Let’s start with false. According to Cooper, Candidate Gore sighed over and over again at his first debate with Candidate Bush. Apparently as a result, “Bush, the underdog, surprise[d] by winning the debate.”

Increasingly, that last claim is part of the script, but it’s just basically false. After that first Bush-Gore debate, five major news orgs conducted “overnight polls,” surveying people who watched the debate.

Gore was the winner in all five surveys. He won by an average margin of ten points.

Cooper works for CNN. Gore won CNN’s overnight poll, 56 percent to 42—unless you listen to Cooper today, in which case Gore of course lost.

By the way: Did Gore “sigh over and over again” at that debate? On balance, we’d have to say no. If you want to test this question yourself, you can watch that full 90-minute debate at C-Span.

We watched that tape about six months ago. You can hear a few sighs or intakes of breath—but in all honesty, we’d say that they’re few and far between. If you watch the full 90 minutes, you can decide for yourself.

Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore’s troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course). And only after the press corps invented several new “lies” by Gore.

Gore scored a knockout win with the public in the first debate. Bush ended up as the ultimate “winner” because of the way the debate was spun by a media that was engaged in an ongoing War On Gore. Blaming Gore for underperforming, the debate should remind us, is mostly blaming the victim.

And, as Somerby as said many times, it’s crucial to remember that this War was not driven primarily by right-wing media, but by MSNBC and the New York Times and the Washington Post. And, yet, this kneecapping still largely ignored when the 2000 campaign is discussed. And worse, as Frank Rich shows, you can have been an active part of the kneecapping — not only endlessly repeating dishonest scripts but making up lies of your very own — and still be taken seriously as a liberal pundit as long as you started to make some banal critiques of the man you worked tirelessly to put in the White House after it was too late to make any difference.

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  • Yeah, last week, Andrew Gelman was seemingly dumbfounded to hear about all of this (the War on Gore). In real time I started to think I was hallucinating during the debate because I couldn’t figure out WTF the media were talking about over the debates. Also the story that since Bush didn’t physically crap his pants during the debates it counted as a “win”. I want to throw up.

    • Adding, I think the change in debate strategy by Gore was in direct response to the media spin following the first debate. The onslaught was such that after the first debate I wonder what he even was thinking- they must have known the overnight polling was in their favor and then everything afterwards must have been just incomprehensible. Obviously, they must have already been aware of the fabricated quotes and all the rest.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Obviously, yes. And, of course, this was followed by people doing the “Gore said he agreed with Bush 35 times nyuk nyuk” routine you still hear trotted out today, so you can’t win.

        • proverbialleadballoon

          ‘transparently phony’. the exact words i used to describe w bush 12 years ago, watching that debate. gore maybe didn’t burn up the stage, but he offered up some good ideas, especially the ‘lockbox’ for social security. meanwhile, w bush was a used car salesman, telling america he’d send ’em a check for 300 bucks if they’d vote for him.

        • never ending

          Brokaw and Mourning Joe were all over Gore’s supposed continual sighing today to explain how Bush won all three debates and sealed the election. It was mainly in service of explaining how Romney still has a chance but they certainly enjoyed kicking Gore.

  • What was the War on Gore all about, anyway? Was the NYT punishing him because they were frustrated at never being able to get Clinton, so they took it out on his VP?

    • I would say it was shallower than that. It was just a game, but also that Gore was son of Clinton, so he just had to be punished for being smarter. They are just terrible people.

    • Lev

      It wasn’t the first time, they did it to Gary Hart too. What It Takes goes into that in great detail, and it’s awfully similar, with E.J. Dionne in the Frank Rich role. Admittedly, Hart did screw up bigger than Gore did with the Donna Rice business, but the War on Hart went on long before that.

      I suspect that the media just doesn’t like comparatively reserved liberal intellectuals.

      • Rarely Posts

        I suspect that the media just doesn’t like comparatively reserved liberal intellectuals.

        One advantage of Obama’s being black may be that it neutralizes this media hatred of liberal, reserved, disciplined intellectuals. Generally, racism makes it very difficult for black people to succeed in politics outside of minority-majority districts (that racism is racism of the public but also of elites, including media elites). The press magnifies faults that might be acceptable in a white politician. However, in Obama’s case, racism may actually have benefited him because he plays against stereotypes.

        Obama is fairly liberal (to the left of Clinton, certainly), he’s intellectual, intensely disciplined, urban, and somewhat reserved. I suspect the press would have hated a white politician with these characteristics, or at a minimum, they would have been in a rush to find fault with him. I suspect they treated Obama slightly better than they would have treated a white liberal with these characteristics.

      • Gore was a conservative Senator and ran as a conservative in 2000. He even opposed national health insurance in the primary. So if the media hated him, it wasn’t because he was liberal.

        • Scott Lemieux

          ran as a conservative in 2000

          No, he didn’t. He ran a substantially more populist campaign than Clinton. To say, in the American political context, that refusing to support single-payer after a plan less progressive than single payer failed to get any traction in Congress makes you a conservative is ridiculous.

          • reminder: eat more brain food

            I agree with your main thrust but from what remember/misremember Gore did not turn on the populist until after the convention. (I do not remember the Gore vs Bradley primary at all so it is possible he was populisty before)

            • He definitely made a populist turn after the convention, but at no point did he run as “a conservative.”

    • James E. Powell

      It was a combination of things, but what made it easy was the already existing corporate press/media war against Clinton. As soon as the impeachment was over, they turned their attention to Gore.

      Bob Somerby has documented this with names, dates, and lies promoted. But even reading his comprehensive reports, it is hard to get a sense of how it really was, how other-worldly it felt.

      But it wasn’t just the War on Gore, it was the promotion of Bush as some great moderate leader with a solid record of achievement. His tax proposal was as transparently bullshit as Romney/Ryan’s promises to cut taxes and close the deficit. But everyone back then behaved as if arithmetic was a matter of opinion. I don’t want to go on about it. Go to Somerby’s website.

      The corporate press/media doesn’t deny that they did this. They just pretend it never happened.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I agree that it’s an outgrowth of the Clinton Wars — the NYT, remember, created a completely fake scandal (Whitewater) that inadvertently led to a real albeit trivial scandal (blowjobgate.) This proved that Bill Clinton was the biggest liar ever, and Gore of course had to be too.

      • Well, this does remind me of a bit of a speech I heard Gore give during those hearings in which he was as close to barn-burning as I’d ever heard him. He was touting Clinton as the greatest president America had ever had.

        It was weird. Not that anyone heard it except for news junkies I guess, but it was both lively (in a way he didn’t seem to demonstrate as much during the campaign) and a flying leap into bullshit. It was a crazy time.

        Nobody’s mentioned Tipper Gore, so TIPPER GORE, an excuse for just the sort of people who might abandon Gore for Nader.

        • Davis X. Machina

          If all the people who claim to have abandoned Gore in 2000 because of his wife had abandoned Gore because of his wife, Gore would have lost by a Landon-eque margin.

          I never realized till I got on the internet how many hard-core fans of metal and hip-hop there are.

          Unless of course they all voted for Bush because of his wife’s passionate advocacy of early literacy.

          • And if you combine that with people who claimed after the fact that were absolutely going to vote for Gore before he picked Lieberman, I think Bush wins 107% of the popular vote.

            • Davis X. Machina

              As it is, Bush won 100% of the African American vote, a thing which no politician before or since has done, so we really can’t complain about the ultimate result.

          • spencer

            I never realized till I got on the internet how many hard-core fans of metal and hip-hop there are.

            I was one, once upon a time.

            And there was no fucking way I was going to vote against Gore in 2000 based on that. Anyone who actually did so is an idiot.

            • Yes.

            • Another Halocene Human

              Bingo. I wasn’t a metal fan, but I hated Tipper for exactly the same reasons. I wanted to vomit when Gore did a lip-lock with her, like why remind me? But I was still for Gore because the Clinton years were good to me and despite some issues I had with Clinton’s State Dept and Robert Rubin I thought W’s laughing at Karla Faye Tucker bespoke some truly scary things. I was also reading Ivins. I also firmly believed in not voting for the son of a president, especially one who apparently committed treason back in 1980. Lieberman? He did most of his most notorious assholery AFTER 2000, so this argument it garbage. I remember exactly why the Greens made a run in 2000, and it had nothing to do with the best interests of the USA, the Democratic party, or people like me who were a solid part of the Democratic coalition and were actively fighting for our rights. Fuck you, Greens.

      • FMguru

        That’s always been my take. They were so desperate to get Clinton, and when he wriggled off the hook and the voters rewarded him with an almost unprecedented Year Six increase in his party’s House margin – well, they weren’t going to take that lying down, and they went after his successor hammer and tongs.

      • mike

        Whitewater was hardly a fake scandal. The Clintons were (and are) incredibly corrupt people, involved in all sorts of chicanery. Whitewater was just the tip of the iceberg.

        And blowjobgate was also hardly trivial. On the contrary, it’s hard to think of anything more serious or relevant. Clinton wasn’t impeached for getting a blow job. He was impeached because he committed a very serious crime, perjjury, and not just once but several times. As President he was the highest law enforcement official in the country, directly responsible for maintaining the rule of law. And he was a lawyer who definitely knew the law. Yet he showed utter contempt for the laws of this country by blatantly and repeatedly lying to a grand jury attempting to investigate something. He not only should have been impeached he should have been prosecuted and imprisoned. If you don’t have the rule of law then the gangsters will steal everything. He did irreparable damage to this country by his irresponsibility, corrupt and incompetence. It’s shameful that people continue to defend him.

        Of course Gore ran a lousy campaign. Among other things he selected a right-wing loonie, Liebermann, as his vice president. A decision certainly as incompetent as the selections of Palin or Ryan. As far as this stuff goes about the media declaring a “war” on him and so on. Well, yes, they did. He should have known that at the outset. If he was a competent politician he would have. The task facing him was to figure out a way to counteract the attacks and to raise support for him. He completely failed at that. He made no efforts to fight back. He totally wimped out. There were a lot of things he could have done to fight back and he did none of them. If he couldn’t be bothered to fight back as a candidate then why should we think he’d be any different as president? He would have made a horrible president.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Whitewater was hardly a fake scandal. The Clintons were (and are) incredibly corrupt people, involved in all sorts of chicanery. Whitewater was just the tip of the iceberg.

          There was nothing to Whitewater. Nothing. It wasn’t even trivial. It was a flat-out non-scandal.

          On the contrary, it’s hard to think of anything more serious or relevant.

          It is in fact very easy to think of scandals more serious or relevant. And it’s far from obvious that he committed perjury once, let alone multiple times.

          • Full of Woe

            What I never understood was how his committing perjury constituted an abuse of his presidential powers and was therefore an impeachable offense.

        • Hogan

          He did irreparable damage to this country

          Needs more absurdly hyperbolic melodrama. Maybe you could put it in all caps?

        • And blowjobgate was also hardly trivial. On the contrary, it’s hard to think of anything more serious or relevant.

          After eight years of Bush-Cheney, he writes this. Fully aware of Watergate, he writes this.

    • thebewilderness

      I thought from the beginning it was an exercise in power and control, or hubris, if you will.
      The media bobbleheads chose Bush as their guy in the Spring of ’99 and did everything they could to help him win. How could they resist. He was, and has proven to be, just like them.

  • dollared

    Wow – just wow. I wouldn’t revisit any moment of the entire 200 campaign except to gather evidence for the Scalia Treason Trial of 2014.

    You give nobly to the cause of original research, Scott.

    • dollared

      er, 2000 campaign

    • Attacking Caracalla, eh?

  • jmurrrayleigh

    Gore himself was fine, and it still sends me into little fits of fury thinking about how much better everything would be now if he had been seated after winning the election, but don’t forget Lieberman. In retrospect it is clear that there were a lot of really stupid factors working against Gore (the media idiocy, everything that has been rehashed in the recent thanksralph action on this blog, etc) but I think he really kneecapped himself (or allowed himself to be kneecapped by the mythical earth tone advisory board) by picking Lieberman over basically anyone decent.

    • James E. Powell

      I despise Holy Joe, but I think him being on the ticket is what made Florida close.

      • spencer

        He coulda picked Bob Graham instead, and just told him to drive from Pensacola to Miami Beach and back for two and a half months.

        I’ve always thought that would have made it much harder for Jeb to steal the state for his brother. Graham is the most popular politician in Florida in the modern era, I would venture. I’ve often wondered what it was that made Gore go in another direction, and the only thing I can think of was as a way to distance himself from Clinton’s scandals.

        Which, in retrospect, seems stupid to me.

        • mpowell

          Just looking at the work Nate Silver is doing, it’s pretty clearly not that obvious at the time of your VP pick which state is going to swing the presidency, if any will. And in 2000 without the advantage of Silver’s analysis, the uncertainty would be even greater. It would have been stupid in that era to pick a candidate solely based on attempt to swing a particular state.

        • JoyfulA

          Was that when Graham had his heart attack? I was a big fan of Graham’s whenever it was he ran for president, which I think was 2000 (too tired to look it up), but he had a heart attack early in the primary season and, after his recovery, it was too late. He would have made a fine vice president.

          • John

            Graham ran in 2004.

            • JoyfulA

              Thanks, John. He would have made a fine president, too although my early choice was Dean that year.

    • Suffern ACE

      I’m not certain who he was reaching with that pick. But of the people on the short list, only http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/t/story?id=123200&page=1 Only Gephart came from a state where Gore could have used a little boost. I don’t think selecting Bayh or Edwards or Kerry would have added anything. The problem might have been that He didn’t appeal enough to reform party Perot voters, and none of those names strikes me as popular with Perot.

      • John

        John Kerry would have done better in the VP debate, at least.

        But we actually avoided what would have been the real downside to the Lieberman pick, which is Lieberman actually becoming vice president, and presumptive nominee in 2008.

      • spencer

        Only Gephart came from a state where Gore could have used a little boost.

        Really? Not FL Senator Bob Graham?

    • Lev

      I thought Gore picked Lieberman because Lieberman was a bit of an irritant during the impeachment proceedings and Gore wanted to show he was his own man by picking someone who wasn’t a Clinton loyalist. Not a great VP selection but he could have done worse (Dick Gephardt, to name one person). Not sure it really hurt him, though Holy Joe was an awful debater for certain.

      Looking back, though, Gore really didn’t do a great job evaluating people. Between Lieberman and DNC Keynote speaker Harold Ford, that’s some bad instincts for where the Democratic Party was headed.

      • Suffern ACE

        Yeah. The odd thing about Lieberman was that the supposed fracture his selection was supposed to heal didn’t actually exist with democratic voters. Gore in fact won every primary, handily. Even with the press going gaga over Bill Bradley. Except for New Hampshire, where he only won by 4 percent.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          If you want an example of truly terrible presidential candidate, Bill Bradley’s your guy.

      • Scott Lemieux

        It’s also about the War on Gore. Lieberman, despite being a world-class douche — no, check that, because he’s a world-class douche of a certain type — was one of the extremely small number of Democrats who was a media darling. Picking him gave Gore pretty much the only positive media coverage he received during the whole campaign.

        I would still have preferred that he not have picked him, of course, but there’s zero evidence that it had any net negative impact on the campaign.

        • Although for what it’s worth (not much), it was the Lieberman pick that was the final straw that led me to vote for Nader in 2000.

          • Bruce Baugh

            It led a lot of my friends in computer fields, particularly game design, to either vote for Nader or just abstain. It sure sounded like Lieberman was quite willing to shut down whole sectors of the software world if they didn’t please him. None of them would repeat the mistake today, but it is understandable in the context of the really pervasive media lying plus unpleasant truths about that unpleasant man.

            • Another Halocene Human

              Lieberman was also a determined religionist, and that was disturbing. Yeah, thinking back, I know some people may have been moved to the Nader column by that.

              The whole convention was full of pantomime about god, god, god, which turned me off a lot.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Though of course nobody knew it at the time, this election proved close enough that tiny factors like this could make a difference. VP choices make very little difference in general. But very little difference was enough in 2000.

            I knew a number of people for whom the Lieberman pick was the last straw. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t going to vote for Gore, but decided to do so because of the Lieberman pick (and I’m part of a quite politically conservative Jewish community that includes people related to Joe Lieberman by marriage).

            But of course the plural of anecdote is not data. Has anyone systematically studied the impact of the Lieberman pick?

            • Scott Lemieux

              In my own battle of anecdotes, I don’t know anybody who switched from Gore to Nader because of Lieberman at the time. I know people who claimed to have switched in retrospect because of Lieberman’s Iraq War conduct.

              Anyway, I’m sure Lieberman did cost Gore some votes. But I’m sure he also gained Gore key votes — Jewish voters in Florida, Democrats who were upset about the Clinton scandal. Especially given what the battleground states were, to see Lieberman as a net negative just seems like a big pundit’s fallacy to me, and as far as I can tell the studies of VP impact don’t show that he had one.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                Joe Lieberman was by far the most conservative Senate Democrat from north of the Mason-Dixon line throughout the 1990s, especially on war-and-peace and “culture war” issues. The notion that only with the Iraq War was there any reason for more mainstream northern Democrats to dislike him is itself a retrospective bit of excuse-making. Can you find any examples from that time of people actually surprised about Lieberman’s behavior c. 2002-2006?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  That doesn’t contradict anything I said. He was a douche who became an even bigger douche; there’s no dispute on this point. The question is whether picking Lieberman cost Gore the presidential election where the swing states were states in which the median voters are well to Lieberman’s right. You’ve provided no evidence that this is the case.

              • James E. Powell

                Lieberman not only appeal to Jewish voters. He had Cuban voter bona fides. Remember Elian Gonzalez.

        • max

          but there’s zero evidence that it had any net negative impact on the campaign.

          But I don’t see any evidence it had a positive impact. (Looks a lot like the Ryan pick in retrospect – a pure inside baseball pick, that looks really good… from inside baseball.) It got good media reviews initially and it got Gore in trouble over military ballots. It was probably worth some points in Conn., a state Gore was going to win anyways. The Jewish vote in Florida wasn’t (and still isn’t) large enough to help much, particularly when you’re going to get a majority of that vote anyways.

          If Gore wanted Florida, he needed to pick someone well-known to Floridans. The argument usually heard is that a few points in one state isn’t worth very much. And that’s right. The problem is, is that most of the other expressed reasons for picking a veep candidates are worth no points in any state. If Gore was trying to do something other than move a state, he basically needed to shore up his left. Instead he went all DLC (as he was always prone to doing prior to losing in 2000). He could have gone with a Hispanic candidate (I can’t think of any in the right position in 2000) – that wouldn’t have helped in any particular state Gore was going to win, but it might have helped knocked down Bush’s Hispanic vote total, and that might have swung Florida.

          The Lieberman pick was the kind of pick you make when you think you’re going to win and you can afford to buy some good will that you couldn’t buy any other way.

          I wasn’t enthused with Gore, I wasn’t enthused with nominating a sitting VP because because that never ends well, but I was never going to help Bush in any way, and I was never going to defect to Nader of all people. (‘Yes, I’m convinced Steve Jobs can win the Miss Charm title and that’s why I’m supporting him.’)

          [‘You could rewatch Perot v. Gore and see how that went compared to the media reports.’]

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Though of course nobody knew what November would look like when Lieberman was chosen in the summer, in fact, Gore did an excellent job of shoring up his left. Nader deeply underperformed the poll numbers he had received all year.

            Many more potential Gore voters pulled the lever for Bush than pulled the lever for Nader.

          • Informant

            I wasn’t enthused with nominating a sitting VP because because that never ends well

            George H.W. Bush just three electoral cycles earlier?

      • Gore was a conservative! He AGREED with Lieberman and Ford! Don’t confuse post-2000 Gore with the candidate.

        • Again, the Gore that wrote “Earth in the Balance” in 1992?

        • Scott Lemieux

          Gore in 2000 was not a “conservative” in any sense meaningful to American politics, and there’s good evidence that he didn’t like Lieberman at all.

        • Anonymous

          You on the other hand conflate Gore 1988 with Gore 2000. Gorewas a moderate and did even mix a bit of populism in his campaign.

        • Post 2000 Gore and Candidate Gore are exactly the same person. His politics didn’t budge a millimeter.

          Candidate Gore is what post-2000 Gore looks like when he’s in a position of influence and responsibility.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Yes. Gore 2000 is what a moderate liberal sounds like when he’s trying to put together a winning presidential coalition. But it’s the same fundamental set of ideas. What he said about Iraq was essentially identical to the foreign policy views he laid out in the first debate.

            Gore 1988, I agree, was a less attractive figure.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Gore’s only run of good press came after the Lieberman pick.

      Not every key constituency has actual electoral-college vote.

  • Leeds man

    The Dean Scream was another example of media Hall of Mirrors bullshit.

    • John

      I remember thinking that the Dean scream was ridiculous immediately upon hearing it live. I never supported Dean to begin with, but it was a genuinely awkward moment, imo.

      • Leeds man

        You were in the hall where he gave his speech? Most people there saw it differently. If you saw it on the telly, you were listening to the output of a unidirectional microphone, without all the crowd noise. Another story created from nothing.

        • noise

          Even on television Dean didn’t actually scream.
          He was shouting over the crowd about continuing the campaign. (maybe that noise after he lists all the states but that is like 1 second of the 10 seconds that became the scream)

          Would have been a more interesting campaign if Dean stays out of Iowa and then writes of the Gephardt win as strictly a neighbor state/ag subsidy victory.

  • Wow, I was in high school in 2000. I remember the election well, but had never watched that first debate in full until just now.
    What in the world?
    The moment when Bush jokes about Gore being the inventor of the calculator because he mentions people making more than $25k a year is astounding.
    I’;m simply speechless.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Give Bush this — he was a very effective liar. Between Bush and Nader that campaign was a master class in the evasive non-sequitur.

  • The moment when Bush jokes about Gore being the inventor of the calculator because he mentions people making more than $25k a year is astounding.

    But, see, given the War on Gore, Bush pretty much knew at that point that he had the media’s winning scores dicked before he even walked on stage. He could afford to openly be the classic, sneering Mean Boy (i.e., himself) toward Gore under those circumstances. That “zinger,” nonsensical non-sequitur that it was, positively THRILLED a large segment of the public who by that time wanted to see “Liar Gore” and “Snotty Intellectual Gore” get smacked in the mouth.

  • I have no objective data to base this interpretation of events but this is how I remember it:

    1. Gore beat Bush senseless in the first debate. IIRC, even Chris Matthews, who also had a real hate on Gore, said Bush crawled into the fetal position in the middle of it.

    2. Gore’s sighing was not an immediate issue during. after the debate, although his condescension to Bush was obvious.

    3. Saturday Night Live did a caricature of the Gore ‘sighing’ and his condescension which reached harmonic resonance with the media Gore haters,


    4. the clincher was the VP debate where Cheney cleaned Lieberman’s clock and firmly established himself as the adult of the 4 folks on the two tickets and that he could be trusted to keep ‘Junior’ on a tight leash.

    And then the first Gore-Bush debate was retrospectively ‘regraded’ as a Bush win by the public.

    I don’t think the media narrative would have taken hold without the incredible whiney and ineffectual performance by Lieberman. The whole thing can be summed up here:

    “LIEBERMAN: Dick Cheney must be one of the few people who think nothing has been accomplished in the last eight years. Promises were made and promises were kept. Has Al Gore — did Al Gore make promises in 1992? Absolutely. Did he deliver? Big time. If I may put it that way. That’s the record. Look at the 20 — look at the 22 million new jobs. Look at the 4 million new businesses. Look at the lower interest rates, low rate of inflation, high rate of growth. I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.

    CHENEY: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

    MODERATOR: This question is to you.

    LIEBERMAN: I can see my wife and I think she’s thinking, “I wish he would go out into the private sector.”

    CHENEY: I’m going to try to help you do that, Joe.”

    What an idiot line by Lieberman, especially after Cheney landed the clear winner about the government having ‘nothing to do with it.’ It was like walking into the left hook.

    It’s taken way too long – 12 long years – to get Joe into the private sector..

    • Lieberman took a clear, overwhelming position of superior performance (22 million jobs, 4 million new businesses) and used it to remind everyone of Cheney’s private sector success (as it was understood at the time) and enabled Cheney to land a 1-2 combination right on Lieberman’s face.

      That’s actually much worse than the exchange between Bentsen and Quayle because Quayle’s competence was not an issue, he was a known idiot.

      Cheney on the other hand had to establish his gravitas at the level that he could be credibly seen as the power behind the throne. Lieberman teed it up and Cheney hit it about 350 yards down the middle of the fairway. Then holed the double eagle.

      • I say that Quayle was a known idiot as a constituent when he was a congressman from Huntington, IN. My brother was a friend of the Allen County , IN Democratic Party and attended a bipartisan event shortly after Quayle was elected to the Senate with Marilyn pregnant, as she had been in his previous campaigns.

        The Demo Party Chair congratulates her during the dinner:

        Chair: You must be so happy with Dan’s election to the Senate.

        Marilyn: Thank you. We’re ALL so happy and proud of Dan’s election .. blah … blah … blah.

        Chair: Of course, but I meant YOU must be so happy.

        Marilyn: Yes . . . (quizzically)

        Chair: Now you only have to get pregnant every 6 years.

        Marilyn: (Strained smile)

        I wasn’t there, but that’s the story they told me.

    • Breadbaker

      Note to Joe (knowing most who read this site know this): The rejoinder is, “Nothing? What percentage of the revenue at Halliburton is government contracts? 100? Or just 99?”

      • Njorl

        Do you mean US Government only? You have to remember, much of their work was for the Iranian government.

    • chris

      LIEBERMAN: . . . I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.

      CHENEY: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.

      So is Cheney dumb enough to believe that, or smart enough to know that a lot of the audience is dumb enough to believe it?

      It really seems to be one of the best examples of the right-wing myth that will not die.

      If he really thinks that the government had nothing to do with his business success, I’d like to see him repeat that success in a place with no effective government, such as Somalia.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        My guess at the time is that Cheney, of course, knew it was a lie, but also knew that Lieberman was perfectly comfortable with this grift and would happily let him get away with saying this.

        God was Lieberman awful in that debate!

  • JosephW

    Amazing how, just a mere 12 years later, the same media that went so gaga to ensure Dubya’s election is now doing its best to get Obama re-elected or so saith the current con-servatives who are unhappy with polling results. (I recall reading a report from some time back that showed how the media was treating Dubya as “presidential” during the recounts and court case while basically describing Gore as a whiner and sore loser. Nothing like an impartial media, interested in getting to the truth, is there?)

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      The media is less driven by an ideological bias, I think, than a bias in favor of conflict and story. Give ’em a good narrative and they’ll run with it…sometimes even if it doesn’t fit the facts.

      • Bruce Baugh

        There’s also a matter of psychology so intense it becomes ideology, though: a lot of the really influential media people, both reporting and managing, clearly regard callousness and arrogance as the defining marks of real genius.

      • Hogan

        But underlying how they choose to construct those facts is that most of them emotionally have never left high school, and they still believe that establishing their cool cred depends on backing the jocks agaisnt the nerds. Especially since reporters and columnists themselves are total nerds.

        • mark f

          Yes, and many are extremely entitled nerds. Dana Milbank is Skull & Bones, Mark Halperin is a legacy douche, etc. Sally Quinn’s “goodness, the barbarians aren’t kissing the right rings” shtick is unique only in its explicitness.

    • Suffern ACE

      Nope. But I wouldn’t trust them to stay “loyal” either. There are people who are a little better at pushing back now than in 2000. In 2000 Somerby was pushing back. They have their own script this time. That the election should have been a cakewalk for Romney. That it should be hard for Obama to win. That Obama is somehow Can’t connect with people as he is so aloof. In this election, however, my guess is that they dislike aromney quite a bit so it’s a was.

      • Suffern ACE

        Was = wash

      • Walt

        They clearly loved Clinton in 92, but the turned on him shortly thereafter.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Honest question, Scott: what’s your assessment of Bob Shrum, who’s certainly not Dick Morris or Mark Penn, but who’s been attached to a whole series of mediocre-at-best campaigns (e.g. Dukakis in ’88, Kerrey in ’92, Kerry in ’04). Gore is the closest he’s come to actually winning.

    The Gore campaign (not unlike the Dukakis campaign before it and the Kerry campaign after it) never seemed to devise any strategy to respond to the waves of bullshit it faced such as you describe in this post. I’ve always held Shrum largely responsible for this failure in the case of Gore and Kerry (he wasn’t in charge in ’88, so other people are more to blame for Dukakis’s failure to respond). Is that fair?

    • when the bullshit is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE- meaning not the Gore campaign, but not the Bush campaign either, meaning the House as in the press, I think they had no idea how to deal with direct fabrication by the media and the novelization. Somehow I think Bill could have done it- but not Al.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        But the Bush campaign was actively manipulating the media to reinforce its anti-Gore narratives. The basis of the bullshit about Gore was a longstanding series of nonsense stories (claiming to have invented the internet, etc.) that long predated the campaign. But the press’s bullshit about W was very carefully nursed by the Bush campaign.

        I don’t mean to let the media off the hook here at all. But it’s clear that Rove had a much better idea about how to manipulate the media and the public than Shrum did (who did things like hiring Naomi Wolf to figure out how to get Gore to appeal to women).

      • WhatDragon

        Not to get all Nixon on it, but my understanding is that you just attack the press as biased. Directly and publicly attack them. Then make up frat boy type names for them, while continuing to abuse them as biased liars.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks


          Here’s the thing about the media: on the one hand, they obviously have enormous power to shape the narrative; on the other hand, the public has long had very little confidence in them (as the Gallup polls on public trust in institutions always indicate). There are ways of responding to media unfairness. (Nixon is an interesting case because the media really didn’t like the guy going back to the ’50s, but he became such a master of media manipulation that, even after Watergate and the exposure of his criminality, he was able to reshape himself as an elder statesman and foreign policy sage in the eyes of the press.)

          I think it’s perfectly accurate to point out how massively unfair the media was to Gore in 2000. But media unfairness to Gore was well established before this campaign and the Gore camp did not deal with it nearly as effectively as they might have (compare the Gore campaign in 2000 to, e.g., the Clinton campaign in ’92).

          • ajay

            on the other hand, the public has long had very little confidence in them

            I don’t think that’s true, though. People say they don’t trust the media, but that’s not the way they act: they instinctively believe pretty much everything the media tell them.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I don’t think much of Shrum, like I don’t think much of most consultant types, but I think Kerrey’s campaign was fine – he overperformed the fundamentals.

      The reaction to both the first and second debates is a good illustration that there’s no strategy that’s going to work well if the media is out to get you and indifferent at best to the truth.

  • Suffern ACE

    There were other problems than the media coverage with the party in the 1990s and 2000s that I think Clinton’s wins covered up. I don’t know how much of those problems can be blamed on the campaign. Putting aside conspiracy theories for the moment. The Republicans were able to convince 10,000,000 million more voters to vote for their presidential candidate in 2000 than in 1996. democrats were able to get 3,000,000 more. That kind of disadvantage probably reflectsmamfew misplaced priorities on the part of the DNC. Those voters did not just appear after the debate.

  • James E. Powell

    If this year’s press/media were treating Romney like 2000s press/media treated Gore, the tax returns, the Caymans, Bain’s layoffs and pension-squandering, and the Romney’s houses and car elevator would never go away. They’d be there every single day.

    And when it comes to Seamus, every one would be like Gail Collins. If you weren’t there, I don’t expect you to believe it.

    • Scott Lemieux

      And Seamus wouldn’t have actually existed.

      • Yeah, stuff that wasn’t real would be made up and brought to bear, while everyone would be eating donuts and palling around with the competitor.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          While it’s idiotic that the media cared so much about the donuts and the palling around, once it became obvious that they did, why Shrum didn’t supply more donuts and Gore didn’t do more palling around is kinda inexplicable.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I think it’s pretty naive to think that would have worked. “Gore is pretending that he likes to eat donuts and pal around! What a phony! Naomi Wolf probably told him to do that after she stole his penis! He’s uncomfortable in his own skin!”

            • James E. Powell

              Exactly. It was, “We hate Gore and so will you if you want to be cool.”

          • mark f

            Back around 2001 I was watching Conan O’Brien’s show and heard him tell the following story:

            Conan was n

            • mark f

              Ugh, phone.

              Conan wasn’t much for going out, according to him. After work he tended to just go home to CT or wherever. But one night a member of the show’s house band offered him a ticket and backstage access to a Bob Dylan show at MSG. Being a big fan, he decided to accept. So at the big moment, when Conan was shaking Dylan’s hand and meeting an idol for the first time, he heard “Conan, how very nice to see you!” It turned out to be Al Gore, who then awkwardly monopolized the conversation until Dylan was gone.

              In short, I don’t think Al Gore is very good at paling around. He may have beaten Bush by every other measure, but I don’t think he ever could’ve at that one.

            • ajay

              Back around 2001 I was watching Conan O’Brien’s show and heard him tell the following story:

              Conan was n

              “He said Conan was near!”

              “No, dagnabbit! I said Conan was n”

  • “Gore scored a knockout win with the public in the first debate. Bush ended up as the ultimate “winner” because of the way the debate was spun by a media that was engaged in an ongoing War On Gore.”

    I’m not sure how you’d quantify it, but it does seem like the professional gossips have a harder time living in their own world these days. I seem to recall that after the first debate in 2008, CNN’s giant panel of unemployed campaign professionals all thought McCain had cleaned Obama’s clock, but their little Twitter aggregator disagreed and so they couldn’t just sit there and talk about how presidential McCain looked. There was nothing to push against them in 2000, now there is.

    Also, thinking about 2000 is nauseating.

    • Jonas

      In addition, say what you will about the stupidity of showing the hot/cold rating of a panel of undecided voters during the Obama/McCain debates, but seeing the voters liking Obama and not liking McCain for the entirety of each debate didn’t quite allow pro-McCain spin that would have come from his base, the press.

      • mpowell

        Next time they will probably figure out how to put hard-core Republicans on the panel and that will fix the problem.

  • mcd410x

    The media told Gore he needed to run away from Clinton, and when he obliged they knew they could bully him into anything. And did!

    The campaign was also ineffectual at combating anything. It’s almost like Al had lived his whole life in D.C. and decided he wasn’t really up for it any longer. At least, that was my impression.

    • Jameson Quinn

      This theory (giving in to bullies is what encourages them) is actually the first time it makes any sense to me.

  • TT

    I hope Ceci Connolly spends her off hours volunteering to help disabled Iraq veterans. But that should only delay her spot on the bullet train to Hell.

    • But she got a gig with Faux News for years after that. So it worked out for her.

  • David Alexander

    Two comments. There is an excellent book by Richard Johnston and Kathleen Hall Jamieson on the 2000 campaign. The argument: you can find clear evidence of campaign driven turnarounds in the polls. The Gore lies! narrative mattered considerably. But even more effective was Gore’s late response of Bush will privatize Social Security.

    The other point: do not read history backward. The world did not know Obama would lose southeast and border states in a landslide election in 2008. They did know Clinton had won many of these in the non landslide of 1992 and landslide of 1996. Certainly long term changes were underway, but it isn’t obviously those were inevitable and certainly wasn’t obvious at time that they were upon us and irreversible for the next few cycles.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      The second point is excellent. Gore’s failure to contest NH seriously (a state he could have won if he had done so) looks much more obviously stupid in retrospect than it did at the time.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I’m not talking about people who made that argument in 2000. I’m talking about people who are still arguing that Gore should have won Tennessee and West Virginia in 2012 — as you can see from our recent threads, there are a lot of them.

      I’ll also note that Gore may well have contested NH more strongly had Nader not forced him to waste substantial resources in states like WA and MN.

      • Well if running as a conservative can’t win you the state where you won a bunch of Senatorial elections, you are a pretty bad candidate. Which Gore was.

        Look, it isn’t my call whether he runs right or left. But he did run far to the right, lost some of the left and the center, and lost. That is his fault, and maybe yours for supporting such a lousy candidate and then blaming other voters and the media for the loss.

        • Hogan

          In other news, Germany lost WWII, therefore the Wehrmacht was a lousy army.

        • Scott Lemieux

          But he did run far to the right

          You keep asserting this, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Voters perceived Gore as further to the left than Bush was to the right. The most fundamental of your many basic misunderstandings of American politics is that you seem to assume that the typical Democratic voter is like a Norwegian social Democrat.

    • John

      Given that the electoral college map was pretty close to identical from 1992 to 1996 (Georgia, Montana, and Colorado flipped Clinton to Dole; Arizona and Florida flipped Bush to Clinton), and that Clinton’s popular vote margin increased from 5.5% to 8.5%, I’m not sure it makes much sense to describe 1996 (or 2008) as a “landslide”. The last genuine electoral college landslide was 1988 and the last genuine popular landslide was 1984.

      • Scott Lemieux

        2008 is about as close to an electoral college landslide as it’s possible for a Democrat to get given current partisan coalitions.

  • Speaking of (VP) debates, am I the only person out there eagerly anticipating the chance to see Paul “Lying sack of shit” Ryan sit down with Joe “Noun/verb/9-11” Biden?

    • spencer

      I can’t wait for that. Even though it’ll have basically no effect on the outcome, I still want to see it.

    • Apparently not. Although it seems like it will be a whole lot of avoidable pain.

  • Eggplant

    I mostly agree with this, but I do think Somerby underplays the sighing. I remember freaking out about it at the time.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I think that’s fair. Somerby’s right about the quantity, but you absolutely do notice in real time. I’m sympathetic to Gore, in that sighed while Bush was lying egregiously, but it was more a media exaggeration than a media fiction.

  • ralphdibny

    My biggest complaint about Gore’s handling of his campaign was the seeming lack of outreach to young voters. Clinton had made a big push for younger voters in 92, but I didn’t see any evidence of Gore doing the same.

  • BC

    This morning on NPR, they reprised the Gore sighs. So this is a myth that will be perpetual every time they talk about presidential debates.

    • ACM

      I heard it this morning too. I had just read this piece, got into the car, and NPR came on with “analysis” of the 1st debate in 2000. It’s amazing how much conventional wisdom continues to stand in for actual empirical research–even on “liberal” NPR. They may as well hire Joe Morgan to assess the quality of debates.

  • charles pierce

    I love Bob, and he’s right about 99.9 percent of this but I’ve watched aton of debates at every level during my career, and GHWB is the only person I ever saw look at his watch.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Also fair. I mean, Bob is right on some abstract level that it shouldn’t matter, but public speaking is an art and especially in a public interaction format looking at your watch should be an obvious no-no. It is a well-recognized sign of rudeness/boredom in some contexts.

  • charles pierce

    I love Bob, and he’s right about 99.9 percent of this but I’ve watched aton of debates at every level during my career, and GHWB is the only person I ever saw look at his watch.

  • Bart

    My worry is that Olds Lehrer and Scheiffer will let Romney off any hooks that he presents. Both these individuals should be down in Florida at some dog track.

  • Bruce Vail

    Is it possible that I am the only LGM reader out there that remembers that Gore actually won the 2000 election, only to have it stolen by Jeb Bush and the Supreme Court?

    • Scott Lemieux

      No, but you seem to be one of many LGM readers who doesn’t seem to understand that Bush winning the initial count was crucial to making the theft work. “Stop the recounts” isn’t a very effective strategy when you’re behind.

      • Heron

        I’d say the SC’s intervention was more crucial. Most people went to bed that night thinking Gore had won due to the networks initially calling Florida for him. Waking up the next morning to find it called for Bush just made them think the whole thing was fishy, and at least opened the door for the idea that Gore’s call for a recount wasn’t just him being a sore loser.

        What the SC did on the other hand was blatantly and atrociously illegal. First, they hijacked a State case. Then, they effectively decided a close election judicially, in direct contravention of the Constitution which lays out clear protocols for what ought to be done in too-close-to-call Presidential elections. The SC clearly stepped outside of its bounds for the purpose of expressing political partisanship, calling off a lawful -and mandatory- recount in the process.

      • Bruce Vail

        Okay…but my point was merely that Gore’s debate performance did not prevent him from winning the election. Jeb Bush & SC did. (I include Jeb in the list perpetrators because he was responsible for voter list purges in Fl,. BEFORE the election)

    • Gore conceded unnecessarily which put him into the ‘reverse on replay mode’ trying to undo his ill advised premature acceptance of the loss.

      Just one of a dozen unforced errors by Gore/Lieberman, but that was the biggest one. If the Gore team had a process to simply check with all the undecided states, including Florida, BEFORE conceding, he could have let the night pass, he would have been the popular vote winner and the pressure would have been much greater on Bush ‘to do the right thing’ as opposed to Gore trying to his already conceded loss.

      Gore was simply not as prepared as be needed to be at every step in the whole cycle. The difference between Gore and Bush was in their reaction to the situation in Florida on election night – when told FL went for Gore, USB said that can’t be right and made it clear he wasn’t conceding a thing. Gore conceded without checking. The difference in commitment to winning between Republicans and Democrats was clear during the recount – Brooks Bros riot vs Palm Beach/Dade/Broward Democrats going home for Thanksgiving dinner instead of having it brought in to complete the recount in time.

      Democrats were simply outmuscled and outcommitted on the ground by the Republicans in Florida. And if you think it was unprecedented and unexpected, you can check Tom Delay comments prior to the election when it looked like Bush could win the popular vote and lose the electoral college. They weren’t going to let that happen without a huge fight. On the Democratic side, the results speak for themselves.

      • Sorry hard to edit on iPhone – USB is Bush and ‘Gore trying to UNDO his already conceded loss’ is the key point.

      • Ed

        I think also of the way the Republican establishment came out for Bush once the fight was on. Every day you saw some Republian bigwig on the air arguing Bush’s case. The Democrats were barely there. Gore was the author of many of his misfortunes but his party let him down badly in the biggest fight of his life.

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  • Heron

    Entirely off topic, but after reading this post I happened to run across the “Manbearpig” episode of South Park and was doubly reminded of why I decided to start disliking Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

    • Another Halocene Human

      I think their hatred of environmentalists hits on something inadvertently, though. Gore was the sort of elitist environmentalist, the Sierra Club Republican NIMBY who doesn’t want his view spoiled.

      Obama and Van Jones have avoided the “elitist” charge because they came at in a way working people can understand–getting trained for new jobs in a new, growth economy that’s domestically based. Gore’s sermonizing about carbon use plays well with very rich heirs who feel vaguely guilty about it all. But it’s out of touch to people who, say, can’t afford to take those plane flights that run your carbon score into the stratosphere, or who may be polluting their local air right now cooking outside because their electricity has been turned off.

      Gore was too much in the bubble. Him running in 2K was a big mistake. My fear is that the Democratic Party doesn’t have enough Obamas, people who have struggled and “get it” and can sell progressive notions to people who don’t share upper crust neuroses.

      The Cuomos aren’t it. Granholm’s a durned furriner. And the Castros seem more Cory Bookerized than Cory Booker. The bench looks like crap to me.

      I know people who fell for Edwards. He was the only one talking about poverty and they lapped it up. I never listened to him b/c I thought he was a phoney, oh big surprise, but everyone has different tipping points.

  • SN

    “Certain common individual arguments are comically ignorant about inexorable trends in American history(Gore was incompetent for losing southern and border states Obama lost by 15 points in a landslide year not even running against an orthodox conservative!)”

    Cute choice for goal posts. But Gore lost Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. Clinton won all of these states 4 years earlier. Comparisons with the African American candidate 8 years later is either dumb or dishonest.

    Why the focus on one man and one election twelve years ago? Are you Arnold Toynbee? and Bush is the archetypical name of the father?

    Show us where the 2000 election touched you.

    • If you think it’s reasonable to think that a Democrat running against an orthodox conservative could win Tennessee, Kentucky, or West Virginia, you’re dumb or dishonest. (Hint: check out the very white John Kerry and compare his performance in those states with his national vote.)

      As for the last sentence, I take it as a concession that your point about Gore being incompetent because he couldn’t win Tennessee is indefensible. So we agree!

  • Scott, Gore lost his home Congressional district.

    If he wins that, he wins Tennessee.

    If he wins Tennessee, we don’t even think about 537 hanging chads in Florida.

    It’s that simple. He fucked up his home district. He was a lousy candidate.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Tennessee-4, the 93% white district that has a Cook score of Republican +13? That district? This is idiotic. You think Romney is winning Massachusetts even if he wins?

      • No, but I’d bet if Romney was a Congressman from Massachussetts at some point, he’d win his own district this year.

        Gore wins his district, he wins Tennessee. That’s a lot different than Romney having an island in the middle of a blue state. Gore was Senator, after all. He could, should, have carried at least that much.

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