WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Al Gore has finally gotten around to questioning presidential ethics. Unfortunately, the ethics he questions are not those of former President Bill Clinton, who had none, but of George W. Bush, whom polls show the public trusts.
In a New York Times column last Sunday, Mr. Gore tipped his hand on where he's headed with his first sentence: "There has always been a debate over the destiny of this nation between those who believed they were entitled to govern because of their station in life, and those who believed that the people were sovereign."
Who would know more about being "to the manner born" than Al Gore, whose father, the late Sen. Albert Gore Sr. reared his son in a pricey Washington hotel and sent him to a pricey private school so he wouldn't have to associate with public school riff-raff?
Today, Mr. Gore takes the side of the rich against the poor by opposing school choice, which would give everyone the opportunity to have the same quality education his parents could afford.
Before Mr. Gore starts attacking the honesty and integrity of President Bush, perhaps he should be reminded of the eight years he spent defending and dissembling for Bill Clinton, the most ethically vacuous president certainly since Warren Harding and perhaps in history. Has it been so long that Mr. Gore can't remember dialing for campaign dollars inside the White House, or those White House "coffees" that raised millions in campaign cash, or the treatment of the Lincoln Bedroom as a five-star Motel 6, or President Clinton's statement, "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky," or the lying under oath and impeachment of his former boss, or Mr. Gore's association with shady Chinese "businessmen" who raised gobs of foreign cash for Clinton-Gore that had to be returned because it violated federal election laws?
Through all of this, one never heard Al Gore question Bill Clinton's ethics, or his own -- and he now brazenly questions the ethics of George W. Bush?
Mr. Gore himself is ethically challenged. In addition to the claim that he invented the Internet, Mr. Gore once praised tobacco growers, only to later join in demonizing them when it became politically expedient. Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming recalls Mr. Gore approaching then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to request extra time for a Senate speech Mr. Gore intended to make in favor of using American troops in the 1991 gulf war. Mr. Gore reportedly told Mr. Dole he would vote against a Senate resolution endorsing U.S. military action in Kuwait unless he got more time to speak. (Mr. Gore once claimed to hold a pro-life position on principle but later flipped when polls indicated he couldn't get the presidential nomination of his party unless he was pro-choice.)
In the Aug. 4 New York Times column, Mr. Gore again tried to position himself as a populist, but that doesn't even wash with his 2000 running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Mr. Lieberman said recently that Mr. Gore's populist message was inconsistent with his previous record and "ultimately hurt" their 2000 campaign, making it "more difficult for us to gain the support of some of the middle class, independent voters who don't see America as 'us vs. them.'"
Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said last week, "I disagreed with the strategy in the last campaign. I think it was wrong, and I also think it doesn't work."
Clinton Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater agrees. At a recent gathering of the Democratic Leadership Council, Mr. Slater said that by hanging onto a populist strategy, Democrats "were in danger of slipping back to pre-1992, and that has to be checked."
"Pre-1992" would refer to the disastrous (for Democrats) candidacies of Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale and even George McGovern. If Mr. Gore wants to return to those thrilling days of liberal yesteryear, Republicans will be delighted to see him go. They might even ask to see his ACLU membership card and question his ethics.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun.
Columnist Jules Witcover is on vacation.