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Plain Spoken and Folksy? Bushit!
December 11, 2002
By Patrick Ennis

Remember the ridicule to which then-Vice President Al Gore was subjected in the spring of 2000, as his presidential election was heating up, over his tall tales of summers of back-breaking labor on his family's Carthage, Tenn. farm as a boy?

Anyone familiar with Gore family history knew that the family did indeed own a farm in Tennessee, and young Al did spend a modicum of time there each summer - although his family actually lived in a hotel suite in Washington, D.C. where Albert Gore Sr. was a U.S. Senator and he and his wife were on the A-list of the capital's social circuit.

Anyone not already familiar with Gore family history soon was, as the selectively vigilant media had a field day with this stretch of the truth. It became one the examples, along with the internet invention misspeak and the Love Story inspiration gaffe, frequently cited by Bush supporters as evidence of Gore's "inability to tell the truth."

But while the "farmboy Al" schtick was eventually exposed for the specious attempt at common man populism it was, it's easy to see in retrospect why the campaign thought it might work. Vladimir Lenin once said "A lie told often enough becomes truth." American politics is a testimonial to the accuracy of this, although the number of times the lie (or in this case, a gross exaggeration) can be told is directly dependent on the bank account of those doing the telling. In other words, the more dollars you have, the more you can dictate what truth is. Want proof? Just look at the Bush campaign, then and now, since it never really ended.

Polls showed in 2000 that George W. Bush was the man Americans would most like to have a beer with, never mind that we are repeatedly told that Bush doesn't drink beer (a revelation which would get you dirty looks and unkind comments in rural Tennessee or Arkansas). He was and is commonly described as "folksy", and "plain spoken". He speaks with a discernible Texas twang, wears cowboy boots, and sometimes even a ten-gallon hat, as he did at last week's tree lighting ceremony at the White House. He vacations at his ranch in rural Crawford, Texas.

Thus, he achieves the populist appeal that his Democratic rival had sought with his tales of busting his hump on the family farm. Why did Texas Rancher George ring so much more truthfully than Farmboy Al? After all, there is nary a sole in the electorate, generally uninformed as it is, that doesn't know that Texas Rancher George, he with whom they'd like to have a beer and talk about baseball, comes from a wealthy family originating in New England, via Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business School (but not Vietnam).

Ironically, the same people who promoted this down-to-earth persona also managed to label Gore as an elitist, even though he wasn't the one who claimed not to drink beer. Does anyone seriously believe that the boys at Andover really say things like "That dog won't hunt," or that Miller Lite was ever a beverage of choice at Kennebunkport? Whether or not Al Gore literally shoveled manure as a lad, it seems the President still figuratively does.

Bush has the support of legions of poorly educated, beer-swilling, shotgun-toting, pickup-driving good ole' boys who have been duped, through the magic of sophisticated and expensive marketing, into believing he's one of them. They are oblivious to the fact that they would never be allowed to spend a night at the White House, as so many of Bush's wealthy campaign contributors have, not only because they can't afford the right size donation, but also because the Bush's are afraid they'd get drunk, pee in the Rose Garden, and steal the silverware and dishes after breakfast. They might leave a ring in the bathtub. How gauche!

You see, this is why the Bush campaign in 2000 had to line up more in campaign contributions than any presidential campaign in history, the result of a massive and sophisticated fundraising effort that has never really stopped. The lie of Texas Rancher George had to be told many, many, many times, across a wide and diverse country that includes the world's most expensive media markets, before it could become truth.

But let's give them some credit. They did what it took, and got the job done. And because they did, we now have neither the peace nor the prosperity bequeathed to Bush by his predecessor. The War on Terror parallels the war on American's civil liberties, and with control of the Senate now shifting to the Republicans, depriving Democrats of their last remaining hold on power and influence over the national legislative agenda, Team Bush is gearing up to wage the wars against the environment and worker's rights.

And the good ole' boys in their pickups far from the White House are just as happy as a flea on a warm dog in November.


Patrick Ennis: Articulating the views of the liberal Midwestern working class because somebody has to, and nobody else is.

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