WASHINGTON -- As they used to say, long ago and far away, there it is.
Tuesday night's debate gave us the real Al Gore and the real
George W. Bush. Gore won -- he may even have killed -- but he's
still annoying. One can only conclude that that smarmy, pietistic
streak of his is absolutely authentic; that's exactly who he really is.
He's sharp as a razor, knows his onions (does anyone else outside
of Congress know what "Dingell-Norwood" is?) and will probably be a
good president. Bush not only amply demonstrated his vast ignorance but
also was so profoundly misleading on his supposed role in the Texas Patients'
Bill of Rights that I have to conclude he knowingly lied.
It's possible to not know or be confused about a lot of things, but
Bush cannot possibly believe what he said: "As a matter of fact, I
brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the
state of Texas, to get a patients' bill of rights through."
He was there, I was there, and that's flat untrue.
He reviewed the details of the bill accurately, so it was clear
that he had recently prepped on the subject.
To add insult to injury, Bush went on to claim: "But we did
something else that was interesting. We're one of the first
(actually, the first) states that said you can sue an HMO for
denying you proper coverage."
What is called the Patients' Bill of Rights was actually a package of
bills, only one of which was ever controversial. That's the bill Bush
hated so much that he refused to sign it. He had to be talked out
of vetoing it because the veto wouldn't stand.
Texas Rep. Hugo Berlanga, who was chairman of the Public Health
Committee at the time, and Kim Ross, lobbyist for the Texas Medical
Association, both fought him on it.
In 1995, his first year as governor, the Texas Legislature passed a
Patients' Bill of Rights, and George W. Bush vetoed it. In 1997, the
Legislature passed very much the same Patients' Bill of Rights, this
time by a veto-proof majority, and Bush refused to sign the crucial
segment of the bill, the very one he bragged about -- that in Texas
you can sue an HMO for denying you coverage.
He refused to sign it because he hates trial lawyers and didn't
them to be able to sue HMOs. That's what that whole fight was
about for two sessions.
The person who deserves the credit that Bush so egregiously took
for bringing R's and D's together in support of a strong bill is a
Republican state senator, David Sibley of Waco. Bush was an
impediment throughout the entire process.
No one expects Bush to know the difference between Chernomyrdin
and Berezovsky, but the one subject that he `is' supposed to know
about is the state of Texas. In the course of these debates, he has
claimed that the governor of Texas appoints state Supreme Court
justices, which is a hopeless howler. He dwelled with great relish on
the claim that all three killers in the most notorious murder case of
our time got the death penalty. Only two of them did. And Bush in
fact did nothing to stop a hate crimes bill, which was the
Legislature's effort to bring something good out of that case, from
stalling. And now he claims that he passed the Patients' Bill of
Rights, which in fact was passed in spite of him.
If Al Gore had twisted the truth as grossly as Bush did on the
Patients' Bill of Rights, every Republican in America would be
screaming liar, liar, liar.
It is harder to tell if Bush actually believes his repeated claim that
he is a leader who brings Republicans and Democrats together. Can
he possibly think that he, rather than the since-deceased Lt. Gov.
Bob Bullock, was running the state? I'm not sure which would be
more troubling -- if he knows it's not true or if he actually thinks it is.
I have tried repeatedly to explain to non-Texans just how weak an
office the governorship of Texas is, but even if Bush suffers from
the illusion that he has a powerful job, he must know he doesn't
work at it by anyone's measure. `The New York Times' has just
discovered, with an air of great wonder, that Bush doesn't even
work 9 to 5 and that he knocks off work every day for a couple of
hours to jog and play video games.
This does not come as news to Texans. Our governors have varied
on how much attention they pay to the job. Some have been
compulsive workers -- John Connally, Mark White and Ann Richards
all come to mind as full-time governors, putting in killer hours most
of the time. Bill Clements, too, worked more than Bush does.
On the other hand, Dolph Briscoe spent most of his governorship on
his ranch, and they've all knocked off work to go dove hunting.
I have thought since he first ran that George W. Bush was too light
to be governor of Texas. Frankly, I can't imagine why anyone would
consider him for president. He's not smart, he doesn't know much
and he doesn't work hard.
The truth is, he is not terribly interested in government or how it works.
Damned if I know why he's running. He is a nice fellow. I've always liked him.
I like lots of people who I don't think should be president.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the `Star-Telegram.' You can reach
her at 1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, TX 78701; (512)
476-8908; or send comments to email@example.com