The US presidential election campaign has descended into lunacy. George W. Bush lacks the mental capacity to explain his own policies, which is just as well, given that he is on the losing side of just about every major issue. Instead, he, his staff, and most of the media are engaged in a campaign of character assassination. That's the only word for it. They've decided that their strategy is "Al Gore's tendency to exaggerate", and they are mass-producing factoids that fit the pattern, accompanied by frequent, pointed suggestions that Gore is mentally ill. The trouble is, the vast majority of these factoids are false, exaggerated, or trivial. They are bunk.
The Mother of All Factoids
The mother of all "Gore's tendency to exaggerate" factoids, of course, is his supposed claim to have invented the Internet. This factoid is just plain flat-out false. Gore made a perfectly accurate statement taking credit for his legislative work on the Internet, and the Internet's inventors back him up on it. Even Newt Gingrich backs him up on it! But still the claim is endlessly repeated by the Republican candidates and the media. For more examples, see:
Why isn't it big news that the Internet's inventors speak so heatedly against the Republican media claim? Where are the headlines about that? I've enclosed the most recent of many statements, this one from Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf [see bottom of this article]. Presented with this statement, the Wired News reporter who originated the false accusation against Gore actually responded by suggesting that Vint Cerf was speaking in bad faith, covering Gore for political reasons. These people will say anything, which of course is the reason why they accuse Al Gore of the same. Read it here:
A recent article in First Monday also adds some facts to the story by digging up some of the specifics of Gore's congressional record:
But this story is defective in two ways. First, it fails to trace the false claim back to Wired News. And second, more disturbingly, it accepts, for no clear reason, and despite the massive evidence to the contrary, the claim that Gore's assertion was false. This is so strange. It's like we're all in a lunatic asylum. Look: Al Gore, during his service in the United States Congress, took the initiative in creating the Internet. This is a plain fact. It sounds like a wild claim only to people who aren't acquainted with the remarkable reality of Gore's very early and very extensive work on the issue.
How Smear Campaigns Work
This is how smear campaigns work: lie or exaggerate, and then never report the facts that would make your lies and exaggerations sound wrong. It's the same thing with the Buddhist temple deal: the press rarely, if ever, reports the simple fact that the Buddhist temple event was free! No money changed hands at it! Gore didn't use the event to ask for money! Only if you don't know these facts can you sit calmly while politicians and pundits question Gore's character and even his sanity for insisting that the event was not a fund-raiser.
Another example is Gore's supposed claim that his mother sang him the "union label" song as a lullaby. It was a joke! Any sane person who thinks about it for one second can see that it was a joke! It was a union audience, and he was telling a union joke! The audience laughed! It's incredible.
Yet another example is Gore's supposedly false claim to have worked on a farm. It sounds crazy so long as nobody reports the fact that, well, it's true. And not just slightly true but completely true. At least three biographies of the man, as well as several news articles from the days before the "exaggeration" lunacy, describe his onerous childhood farm chores in detail. Yet this lie is repeated down to the present day:
The examples go on and on and on. The underlying pattern, as I have explained at length, is projection: accusing your opponent of what you are doing yourself. George W. Bush makes false statements all the time, enormous ones about issues that really matter to people's lives, but because of the spin machine it's Gore who is supposedly the liar.
The pattern was extremely clear during the first debate between the two of them, which was one of the strangest things I have ever heard. Bush said a long series of things that were utterly false. He pulled a trillion dollars out of the air. A trillion dollars! He asserted that he is proposing new spending equal to his tax cuts -- the truth is more like one quarter to one third. He asserted that a family would receive benefits under his plan when they clearly would not. He issued a bunch of numbers from the Republican Senate staff, all of them based on dubious assumptions. And when Gore challenged him on this stuff, Bush simply asserted that Gore was lying. He did this repeatedly. He issued phony numbers and then accused Gore, on no evidence, of dealing in phony numbers. He engaged in fuzzy math and then accused Gore, on no evidence, of dealing in fuzzy math. He stated that Gore is spending more money on the campaign than he is, when the truth is the reverse by a huge margin. He's spending that money on a smear campaign of false attacks on the character of his opponent. This disturbing pattern of exaggeration is a disgrace, hardly anybody is calling him on it, and I'm sad to say that it appears to be working.
The Assault on Rational Thought
There is method in this madness. If your followers believe that your opponents are liars -- that everything they say is a lie -- then you can tell them whatever nonsense you like, and they will automatically screen out anybody who says anything different. It's part of the overall strategy of crushing people's reason so that, for example, they won't ask whether your numbers really add up, but will instead assume that anybody who wants to check the numbers must be one of Them.
Indeed, I think the single most disturbing thing I've ever heard George W. Bush say was in comments quoted in the very pro-Bush Daily Telegraph (9/26/00), in the context of a discussion of Bush's conspicuous lack of brainpower: "We need less planners and thinkers", he said, and then he referred to "thinkers and planners and plotters in the nation's capital". What's disturbing here is the primitive way in which he is trying to equate "thinkers" with "planners" and "plotters". Following the basic method of public relations, he is trying to create a mental association between thinking and those other bad things -- "planning" (aka communism) and "plotters" (conspiracy). In other words, he is insinuating, people who think are communist conspirators. But only insinuating, because in the public relations style he is creating this association in a subrational way that is fully deniable because no clear, accountable assertion has ever been made, even though the utterance has no meaning otherwise.
You'll recall that in early September the Republicans broadcast a TV ad in which the word RATS appeared in very large type for one frame. It had been part of the word BUREAUCRATS, which had broken into pieces and scattered across the screen. The New York Times article on the subject, while correctly pointing out that a big-time political ad maker would definitely know what's in every one of the 900 frames of a 30-second ad, omitted one fact that was reported in the Guardian: that the same political ad maker had included a much worse subliminal image in an ad that he made for Jesse Helms in his 1990 campaign against a black opponent named Harvey Gant. This would be the famous "white hands" ad, in which a pair of white hands crumples a letter that supposedly tells their owner that he has been passed over for a job because of affirmative action. "[B]ut for a fraction of a second", the paper reports, "the letter fades to a picture of Gant and the hands appear to be crushing his head". The article quotes Kathleen Hall Jamieson as saying that these are the only two known examples of subliminal messages in political ads.
Hearing about that ad reminded me of the climactic scene in Orwell's "1984". You will recall that Party member O'Brien, in the culmination of his campaign to crush Winston's mind, straps a device to his face that contains some large, starving rats. He pulls open a door in the device, and the rats come flying at Winston's face, only to be stopped by one final door, which he then threatens to open. The Bush campaign is higher-tech than that. They, too, have omnipresent video screens that broadcast lies all day long, but they have developed their own Newspeak to such a degree that they think they can crush our reason with video rats. In a few weeks we will see whether they are right.
Statement from Vinton Cerf & Bob Kahn
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000 17:43:58 -0400
From: vinton g. cerf
To: Declan McCullaugh , email@example.com
Subject: Al Gore and the Internet
Dave and Declan,
I am taking the liberty of sending to you both a brief summary of
Al Gore's Internet involvement, prepared by Bob Kahn and me. As you
know, there have been a seemingly unending series of jokes chiding
the vice president for his assertion that he "took the initiative in
creating the Internet".
Bob and I believe that the vice president deserves significant credit
for his early recognition of the importance of what has become the
I thought you might find this short summary of sufficient interest to
share it with Politech and the IP lists, respectively.
Al Gore and the Internet
By Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf
Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of
the Internet and to promote and support its development.
No one person or even small group of persons exclusively "invented"
the Internet. It is the result of many years of ongoing collaboration
among people in government and the university community. But as the
two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols
that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore's
contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President.
No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater
contribution over a longer period of time.
Last year the Vice President made a straightforward statement on
his role. He said: "During my service in the United States Congress
I took the initiative in creating the Internet". We don't think,
as some people have argued, that Gore intended to claim he "invented"
the Internet. Moreover, there is no question in our minds that
while serving as Senator, Gore's initiatives had a significant and
beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet. The fact of the
matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long
before most people were listening. We feel it is timely to offer our
As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high
speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and
the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected
official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have
a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and
scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was
an unproven and controversial concept. Our work on the Internet
started in 1973 and was based on even earlier work that took place
in the mid-late 1960s. But the Internet, as we know it today, was
not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early
stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual
leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of
high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored
hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas
like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural
disasters and other crises.
As a Senator in the 1980s Gore urged government agencies to
consolidate what at the time were several dozen different and
unconnected networks into an "Interagency Network". Working in a
bi-partisan manner with officials in Ronald Reagan and George Bush's
administrations, Gore secured the passage of the High Performance
Computing and Communications Act in 1991. This "Gore Act" supported
the National Research and Education Network (NREN) initiative that
became one of the major vehicles for the spread of the Internet beyond
the field of computer science.
As Vice President Gore promoted building the Internet both up and out,
as well as releasing the Internet from the control of the government
agencies that spawned it. He served as the major administration
proponent for continued investment in advanced computing and
networking and private sector initiatives such as Net Day. He was and
is a strong proponent of extending access to the network to schools
and libraries. Today, approximately 95% of our nation's schools are
on the Internet. Gore provided much-needed political support for the
speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to
become a commercially-driven operation.
There are many factors that have contributed to the Internet's
rapid growth since the later 1980s, not the least of which has been
political support for its privatization and continued support for
research in advanced networking technology. No one in public life has
been more intellectually engaged in helping to create the climate for
a thriving Internet than the Vice President. Gore has been a clear
champion of this effort, both in the councils of government and with
the public at large.
The Vice President deserves credit for his early recognition of the
value of high speed computing and communication and for his long-term
and consistent articulation of the potential value of the Internet to
American citizens and industry and, indeed, to the rest of the world.