Could you share our views with me?

February 17, 2000|By Matthew Miller

"At each stop on a cold and gloomy Saturday [in South Carolina], another victim of `push poll' calls stepped forward ..."

-- Washington Post

Feb. 13



"I'm with the Enlightenment Project, a research group dedicated to public discourse in a troubled world. Would you have a few moments to discuss the coming elections?"

"Sure ..."

"Here are points some people have made regarding George W. Bush's record of accomplishment. Mr. Bush was a failed oil executive well into his 40s who repeatedly got bailed out by his powerful daddy's rich friends. Then more of his daddy's rich friends helped him buy a stake in a baseball team, which they later helped him parlay into millions of dollars.

"Do you think a career based almost entirely on nepotism makes Mr. Bush more prepared or less prepared for the duties of the Oval Office?"

"Um, I ..."

"Here are some facts regarding Bill Bradley. Mr. Bradley's wife, Ernestine, is the daughter of a man who flew in the German air force during World War II. America fought against Germany in that war.

"In view of this, are you more or less likely to support Mr. Bradley's budget-busting plan to take your hard-earned money and spend it on health insurance for poor workers who are probably just as happy using the emergency room?"

"Well, I hadn't really ..."

"Here are some points people have made regarding John McCain. For a while, Mr. McCain's wealthy wife, Cindy, stole drugs from a charity she directed to support an addiction. Cindy avoided the kind of stiff criminal penalties that McCain wants for poor black drug offenders who do things that don't seem as bad.

"Do you think McCain's double standard here is (a) worse than the inconsistency he displays in shaking down lobbyists for campaign cash while crying about reform or (b) forgivable because it's wrong to ask such questions of a man who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam three decades ago?"

"Um, well ..."

"Here are two facts about Al Gore that some people have noted. Mr. Gore once made a speech at the Democratic convention in which he tearfully invoked the image of his sister's last breath as she perished from lung cancer to explain why he loathed the cigarette industry. Later, it was revealed that Mr. Gore continued to take campaign contributions from the industry after his sister had died and now employs as a top adviser a man who made his fortune keeping Big Tobacco big.

"Do you think this makes Mr. Gore (a) a low-down manipulator of the worst possible kind, (b) someone who laudably can do it what it takes to win in a world filled with even nastier low-down Republicans or (c) what is the difference?"

"Geez, when you ..."

"Last question. Here are some points people have made regarding the public.

"Voters pretend to be interested in issues, but their votes are often moved more by `negative' but truthful attacks that put narrow aspects of a candidate's past in the worst possible light.

"In view of the fact that voters respond to these techniques while claiming to be put off by them, do you think (a) candidates and their handlers are justified in using them,(b) we get the democracy we deserve or (c) it would be nice if someone could figure out how to give us something better than we deserve?"

Matthew Miller is a syndicated columnist.

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