The Green Papers Commentary

Yet more garbage littering the Fall campaign trail

Thursday, October 26, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

Earlier today, I received yet another of these sleaze-bag pre-Election e-mailings to which I have referred in two previous Commentaries: I was so very grateful, however, to have received this one in particular because it is actually rather vehemently anti-Gore (so maybe now all you pro-Gore people out there who continue to send me that trickle of e-mail suggesting that I am not really all that nonpartisan in my Commentaries after all will finally get off my back!) and I will now have a chance to so gleefully skewer the other side for once.

This e-mailing came from "Wake Up!". That phrase "Wake Up!" sure got MY attention, if only because I also, at the same time, tended to think of the phrase Deutschland Erwache! with all THAT portended. The Subject heading of this e-mailing was "Straight Talk About Al Gore" and the e-mailing itself is purportedly a list of lies Al Gore has told in the course of his campaign- many of which may, in fact, be lies (though I myself could care less, because these are not going to be the focus of this particular Commentary)- all under a series of headings: "Al Gore's True Record on Taxes", "Al Gore's True Record on Senior Citizens" and the like.

I'm not going to deal with everything in this mailing, but I do want to quote extensively from one section therein because it dovetails so nicely with what I have already written in two previous Commentaries: "LET THE NASTINESS BEGIN!" and "THIS IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF STUFF I WAS TALKING ABOUT!!!". Here's the relevant portion from this "Straight Talk About Al Gore" e-mailing:

Moreover, Gore's graduate school record - consistently glossed over by the press - is nothing short of shameful. In 1971, Gore enrolled in Vanderbilt Divinity School where, according to Bill Turque, author of ''Inventing Al Gore,'' he received F's in five of the eight classes he took over the course of three semesters. Not surprisingly, Gore did not receive a degree from the divinity school. Nor did Gore graduate from Vanderbilt Law School, where he enrolled for a brief time and received his fair share of C's. (Bush went on to earn an MBA from Harvard).

Though the vice president has publicly admitted to only rare and intermittent drug use during the time he flunked out of one school and dropped out of another, at least one former friend challenges that version of events. In January, family friend John C. Warnecke went public with his account of what he says was the Vice President's far more substantial drug habit during the five years between Gore's 1971 return from Vietnam and his decision to enter politics in 1976:

"Al Gore and I smoked regularly, as buddies," Warnecke told DRCnet's The Week Online. "Marijuana, hash. I was his regular supplier. I didn't deal dope, I just gave it to him."

Warnecke says they got high together regularly during the years when Gore's poor academic performance turned him into a dropout: "We smoked more than once, more than a few times, we smoked a lot. We smoked in his car, in his house, we smoked in his parents' house, in my house ... we smoked on weekends. We smoked a lot."

Last fall, contacted Vanderbilt University and requested information about Gore's academic record. The school said the material could not be released without Gore's permission. In 1988 - as Gore prepared for his first run for the White House - Warnecke says he got a call from the then-Tennessee senator, who tried to pressure him into falsely denying the drug story. Warnecke acquiesced at the time but decided to come clean last year when Turque interviewed him for his book. The media has all but ignored Warnecke's account, despite its relevance to Gore's short-circuited academic career.

Now, besides the obvious- and, frankly, somewhat pathological- obsession the author of this piece has with Vice President Gore's alleged past drug-use history (which, of course, is "tit-for-tat"- as it mirrors the same rather bizarre obsession with Governor Bush's alleged drug use seen in the "Democrats Press" e-mailings I have scored- but hard!- in two previous Commentaries), let us look more closely at what has actually been written above:

First, the final sentence "The media has all but ignored Warnecke's account, despite its relevance to Gore's short-circuited academic career"... but IS Warnecke's account relevant to Gore's academic career? Hardly. I myself smoked marijuana (and quite probably- though I wasn't necessarily told at the time- "hash": that is, hashish to the "uninitiated" among you readers) the most I ever would in my entire life during my junior and senior years at Boston University; if one were to go to that fine institution of higher learning and review my grade transcripts, one would see that I had the best semesters of my entire academic career- going back through high school and even back to my halcyon days of yout' in the Madison (NJ) Junior School- during that same period when I, as I've just admitted, smoked pot fairly regularly.

Now, I seriously doubt I am going to soon get a call from Partnership for a Drug-Free America to do a voice-over for one of their Public Service Announcement TV spots; I mean, what am I supposed to say? "Don't smoke pot, it's bad for you- but I got the best damn grades I ever got while smoking it fairly regularly"? Those who would be most appalled by such a statement on my part- let alone offended by its flippancy- would surely argue that my experience was merely anecdotal and should not be taken as necessarily indicative of cause and effect; yet, the use of anecdotal evidence cuts both ways. How do we know that Warnecke's account is relevant to "Gore's short-circuited academic career"? Answer: we don't know- but, of course, neither does the author of this piece; the difference between him and me is that he won't tell you he doesn't know because it is not in his interest to do so.

" 'Al Gore and I smoked regularly, as buddies... We smoked more than once, more than a few times, we smoked a lot. We smoked in his car, in his house, we smoked in his parents' house, in my house ... we smoked on weekends. We smoked a lot' ", Warnecke is quoted as saying in the piece. This is a pet peeve I have always had when it comes to discussing the problem of illegal drug use in this country as a political issue (which usually just degenerates into a rather useless discussion about how often some politician or other had used illegal drugs himself or herself in the past: of course, "Little Johnny" may yet be out there on the street scoring lids while "Little Johnny"'s parents are still wasting their time arguing over which candidate for public office scored lids more times in his or her youth).

To quote from one of my earliest Commentaries on this site: "the issue of past drug use by candidates for high office is totally irrelevant... Moreover, it is just further evidence of the sorry inability of Americans to hold an honest political debate about drugs, legal as well as illegal, and truly face the issue of substance abuse in this country; it is little wonder we have never been able to deal with the drug problem as we, instead, waste our time going through the trash heap of our politicians' pasts"; to quote from another portion of that same Commentary: "There is this bizarre notion in our society and culture that if someone used (pick one: marijuana, cocaine, etc.) when they were 20-something, they are totally incapable of enforcing the drug laws when they get into their 40's or 50's. Knowing whether Bill Clinton actually inhaled or George W. Bush, indeed, snorted actually tells the voter nothing about either politician's policies re: the drug problem. All we learned from that "I didn't inhale" episode in '92 was that Bill Clinton was inherently capable of gross obfuscation and more than a little prevarication, practices he has evidently improved upon during his tenure as President; all we will learn from the stories about the Texas Governor's alleged drug use is that he has the innate ability to evade the core of a thorny issue for political gain, a skill I am sure he will all the more perfect should he be elected our 43d President." What goes for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in the immediately preceding quote applies to Al Gore as well: knowing the Vice President's past drug habits will tell you absolutely nada about how he would deal with the problem of substance abuse as President.

John Warnecke is quoted in this piece as saying, about himself and the Vice President: "We smoked more than once, more than a few times, we smoked a lot."- aye! but there's the rub when it comes to discussing someone's drug use. What is "a lot"? For that matter, what is "a few times"? What, indeed, is the definition of "a time" in the phrase "a few times"? I remember, at a party in the mid-1980s, getting into a heated discussion with one of my more conservative friends about Drug Policy in America. We had pretty much decided to agree to disagree (there being little alternative) when he suddenly asked me "How many times have you smoked pot?" I answered- admittedly rather flippantly: "It all depends on what you count as 'a time': not knowing your definition of 'a time', I would have to say: either just under a hundred... or, perhaps, five!" He grew somewhat indignant at my response: "You're no different than the politicians, Rich! You can't have it both ways!! How can it be almost a hundred and, at the same time, only five??!!"

But my friend had missed my essential point, which was that he had not clearly defined his definition of 'a time' smoking pot; of course, he was asking me his question- albeit in a friendly way- in the same spirit he would have asked the same question of a politician- a spirit in which it would not have been his intention, nor in his interests (assuming the question were being asked of a politician he opposed), to clarify said definition. Since this person was a friend, I decided to enlighten him- something I might not have stooped so low as to do had he been a complete stranger to me.

"The problem with any real attempt to answer a question such as that you posed", I stated to my friend matter-of-factly, "is that not all 'times' smoking pot are equal to others. If I went to a party while in college and someone passed me a joint and I took a toke and, a half hour or so later, someone passed me a pipe and I took a hit and then, say within the next hour or so, someone then passed me another joint and I inhaled another hit- is that one 'time'- or is it three? Or is it, in fact, NO 'times'? Because, in that two hour period, I've also downed three or four beers and smoked three or four cigarettes- both legal drugs legally procured, I might add. I dare say my system was the more affected by-or, if you will, my body suffered the greater damage from- the alcohol and nicotine then in my system than anything my short intakes of cannabis could have put in there! Most of the time I smoked pot was like that: I can think of only five times in my entire life when a bunch of people, of which I was one, sat down in a circle- like one sees in some grade-B movie about the late 60s and early 70s- specifically for the purpose of passing around a 'jay'! So which is it: five or close to a hundred? You tell me- because I can't tell you, but only because the nature of the question posed is inherently unfair!"

And so we are here- since Mr. Warnecke had not deigned to define "more than a few times" or "a lot" (or is "a lot" or "more than a few times", perhaps, somewhat equivalent to his original "more than once"?: under that criterion, TWICE could even be "a lot"!)- left merely with images of a much younger Al Gore smoking pot "in his car", "in his house", "in his parents' house"- "on weekends" no less! But all of this with little information to tell us whether, let alone how, all this activity had the least bit effect on the Vice President's grades in divinity school- or anywhere else for that matter. The author of this piece, like those of the "Democrats Press" e-mailings I scored earlier this month, does little to enlighten us, for his purpose is not to enlighten- of course- but, rather, to smear!

And what about the author's report that " contacted Vanderbilt University and requested information about Gore's academic record. The school said the material could not be released without Gore's permission"? What?! Does someone honestly believe Vanderbilt put little notes like "Gore and Warnecke seen smoking pot together on such-and-such a day" next to each "F" on the Vice President's grade transcript??!! The fact may be, instead, that Al Gore was not cut out to wear the cloth of clergy; maybe the Vice President was simply not very good at understanding Biblical Exegesis or merely couldn't master the subtler points of Christian Eschatology. For all we know from the rather shallow depth shown by the author of this piece, he even cut classes- but this could have been for reasons other than sneaking off for a quick few tokes with his pal John Warnecke: maybe he was having doubts about what he was doing in seminary in the first place- maybe the call he thought he heard was, in the end, not enough of a call (I know of at least one person connected to my own family who once thought he was called to the ministry only to later- already in school for that purpose- change his mind!). We, of course, don't know why Al Gore got F's while in seminary- but, again, neither does the author of this piece; nevertheless, this lack of knowledge did very little to stop the author from disseminating this tripe!

And what is this obsession with grades in the first place (keeping in mind, of course, that- just as the digging into Bush's military record is used as a "cover" for fishing for illegal drug use, the digging into Gore's academic record is here being used for that very same nefarious purpose)? I already told you about my best academic years in college: my worst academic year in college (though it was still a damn sight better than anything I produced academically in high school) was my sophomore year and it had little- if anything- to do with pot-smoking: yet I still- despite some C's in Music History during that year- think I could handle myself well today in any discussion about Jacob of Liege's Speculum musicae as an attack on Jean de Muris' defense of Ars nova; I also have enough experience as a composer of music since that sophomore year in college a quarter century ago to know that my slump in my Music Theory grades that year has not in the least made it all that difficult for me to properly utilize Leading-Tone Seventh chords in minor keys should I find the need to do so. Likewise, I don't see much of a connection between the Vice President's F's in Theology and his subsequent intellectual abilities or lack of same; if absolute academic excellence were a requirement for public service, I dare say something like half of Congress would be ineligible to serve and would have to resign forthwith. Come on!

But, again, this is not about academics anyway, is it? It's about drugs, pure and simple. The author of this piece apparently has no intention of concentrating on Al Gore's academic record- or lack thereof (just as those who impugn the Texas Governor's military record or lack thereof have no intention of concentrating solely on that); he engages in a sleazy sleight-of-hand by placing what I quoted in italics above under the heading of "Al Gore and Intelligence" when "Intelligence" is the least of his concerns in this section of his piece.

There are two problematic issues for any "Baby Boomer" who runs for political office: Vietnam and illegal drug use. Very few can come to this issue- as the Romans would have said was required of those who wished to pursue a case at equity- "with clean hands". In the meantime, for those of you reading this Commentary from outside the United States of America, keep on laughing at us. You have every reason to laugh. For we have met the Joke and it is us- as in "U.S."

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