After the 1988 election of George Bush the Elder, the nation's media elite pulled their chins in forums and seminars up and down the East Coast, proclaiming in unison: Never again. Bush had crushed Michael Dukakis with withering negative advertising and campaign rhetoric, they believed, and the media had been far too passive in defending the Democrat against Republican fusillades.
So in 1992 they premiered the "ad watch," a regular feature where media experts in civility and statistics predictably singled out the Republicans, regularly flogging the Bush campaign for being "misleading" and "wrong" - for outrageous claims such as Bill Clinton would raise taxes on the middle class. The historical record absolves the Bush team: Slick Willie did just that.
In the 2000 election cycle, Al Gore should be a great challenge for the media's fact checkers. With his penchant for truth-twisting, the press might need a whole brigade working around the clock.
For example, see his performance in a June 15 interview with PBS anchorman Jim Lehrer. Mr. Lehrer asked Gore about who could take credit for the economy: "Let me read you what Governor Bush said about it. 'The momentum of today's prosperity began in the 1980s with sound money, deregulation, the opening of global trade and a 25% tax cut.' Has he got it wrong?"
To hear Gore's response is to be amazed at the degree to which this man, like his boss, will shamelessly....lie. "Oh yeah, of course. Because we had a miserable economic performance in the 1980's, and you don't have to take my word for that. Just ask anybody on the street who went through it. We had the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930's."
How on earth can anyone pretend that we had a "miserable economic performance" on a national scale in the 1980s? Reagan saved America from Jimmy Carter economics: inflation went down from 13.5 to 4.1 percent; unemployment, from 9.5 to 5.2 percent; the federal discount rate, from 14 to 6.5 percent; the number of jobs up almost 20 million; median family income up every year from 1982 to 1989. It was the greatest peacetime expansion in history.
As for Gore's claim that "anybody on the street" (presumably this includes his almost-evicted tenants?) would agree with him about the 1980s, if Gore is counting on voters giving him credit for today's booming economy, perhaps the media's fact-checking brigade could consult the election returns in 1984 and 1988, when allegedly despairing Americans kept re-electing allegedly recession-maintaining Republicans.
Gore said the economy never quite got going in the Decade of Greed: "Every time the economy started to pick up a little steam, it drove interest rates up and it slipped right back into recession."
But Gore wasn't done with the statistical whoppers. He added: "We had a quadrupling of our national debt. We had $300 billion budget deficits stretching out as far as the eye could see....There was no hope in the minds of many people that the deficits would ever be taken care of."
Fact: The national debt did not "quadruple" in the 1980s. Fact: The United States has never had a nominal budget deficit of $300 billion. Fact: the Democrat-controlled congress refused Reagan's pleas to control deficit spending. Fact: The last three budget deficits of the Reagan years came in around $150 billion.
And fact: The big deficits came after Gore and his Democratic colleagues pressured George Bush into breaking his no-new-taxes pledge with the 1990 budget deal, after which they really opened the spigot on deficit spending. As for hopelessness about deficits "as far as the eye could see," that sounds exactly like projections from President Clinton's budget analysts - until the Republican Congress forced them into supporting a balanced budget.
Why all these deficits in the 1980s? Gore explained: "There was no plan to do anything about it. The policymaking process was paralyzed; nothing got done."
That would ignore the Kemp-Roth tax cuts in the early '80s, the Gramm-Rudman attempts at fiscal discipline, not to mention the 1986 tax reform bill. In 1982, Reagan expected Democrats to approve two or three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases he signed - which they never honored.
Jim Lehrer didn't jump on these outrageous Gore statements, and neither has any other journalist on the campaign trail. If the media's fact-checking brigade are going to just take the day off when the Democrats defy all logic on public television, they risk the appearance of appearing interested in only one goal: not letting the wrong President get elected.