Whole Web sites, whole books have been devoted to the verbal mishaps of folks like former Vice President Dan Quayle, who once managed to transpose the well-known advertising slogan of the United Negro College Fund into: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”
But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on, this month, with the former standard bearers of the Democratic Party.
Addressing an economic conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, former President Bill Clinton on Jan. 30 called the cartoon depictions of Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last fall “totally outrageous cartoons against Islam,” comparing them to anti-Semitic depictions of Jews.
In fact, the cartoons are pretty tame stuff -- the Islamic prophet is not shown as dirty, drooling, shaped like an animal, or engaged in any unsavory acts, all standard for cartoon depictions of Jews in the modern Arab press.
Only one of the drawings -- the one in which the prophet tells a line of sooty and smoking homicide bombers arriving in heaven to “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!” -- could by any stretch be called “against Islam.” And is it, in fact, a false and reprehensible “stereotype” that members of the Islamic faith continue to blow up innocent civilians all over the world, assured by their imams that they will be rewarded for such approved martyrdom with the attentions of virgins in heaven?
Mr. Clinton is entitled to his opinion, of course, though one wonders why he would want to gin up more hostility to the West with an inflammatory characterization of drawings which his audience may not yet have been able to view for themselves.
But if Mr. Clinton’s description was merely excessive, the remarks of former Vice President (and former Democratic presidential nominee) Al Gore to the Jiddah Economic Forum Sunday goes far beyond any mere verbal stumbling, or understandable desire to ingratiate himself with his hosts.
Mr. Gore told a mainly Saudi audience Sunday that the U.S. government committed “terrible abuses” against Arabs after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Gore said Arabs in the United States have been “indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable.”
This goes beyond being politically unwise. It is bizarre.
Have truckloads of Arab nationals or Americans of Arab descent been shipped to desert detainment camps, as was the fate of many Japanese-Americans in 1942? Those were “indiscriminate round-ups.”
In an Arab world where torture, beheadings, and the cutting off of hands are considered normal sanctions not just for real felonies but also for “heresy” and other thought crimes, what on earth must Mr. Gore’s listeners have imagined he meant by “terrible abuses”? What must an audience familiar with prison conditions in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia picture when Mr. Gore speaks of “unforgivable” conditions?
One doubts they were picturing a warm dry cot, indoor plumbing, and three square meals a day while an illegal immigrant who had knowingly outstayed his visa waited for a scheduled court hearing.
In the excess of caution following Sept. 11, were a few American residents of Arab extraction interrogated or even picked up and held incommunicado? Yes. Is it acceptable to criticize such abuses? Of course. Go to it.
But Al Gore clearly has a problem. The son of a famous father, Mr. Gore is “deeply insecure about his ability, stature and credentials,” political consultant Dick Morris wrote in the New York Post during the 2000 campaign, in an essay headlined “Why Gore lies.”
“He feels that he needs to go the extra mile to burnish his image even if he has to make things up,” wrote Mr. Morris -- himself no paragon of rectitude, let us hasten to add.
But perhaps it takes one to know one.
Mr. Gore famously “invented the Internet. He founded the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. His mother-in-law pays more for her medication than does his dog. ‘Love Story’ was based on him and Tipper,” Mr. Morris wrote, cataloguing the candidate’s less debatable whoppers for the big-circulation tabloid.
“He was shot at in Vietnam. His journalism sent politicians to jail. He didn’t know the Buddhist Temple event was a fund-raiser. He was in the bathroom when fund-raising was planned at the White House. All alluring stories. All untrue.
“Why does Al Gore lie?” Mr. Morris concluded. “What is the inner compulsion that leads him to risk so much by exaggerating, misrepresenting and embellishing? He gets caught every time, but he keeps on and keeps on and keeps on. ... He is just not content with what is. It never seems to be enough.”
Mr. Morris didn’t even get to Mr. Gore’s unusual opinions about the automobile, his claim to a union convention that his mother sang him the “union label” song as a child (the song was written when he was 27), or his claims that he wrote the laws that created the Superfund and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
All false. And all amusingly goofy, perhaps, so long as the performance was restricted to the political arena on these shores.
But those in foreign lands may not realize Al Gore is merely one of our more excitable peddlers of tall tales. What on earth might happen if they believe him?
Thank goodness no one ever placed this man in a position where the fate of nations might have hung on his word.
Oh, wait ...