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It was pretty appalling to read former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson’s
column recalling the way Sen. Al Gore made his decision about sending
U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf in 1991.

If anyone had any doubts as to whether Gore was 100 percent unfit and
unqualified for the office of the presidency, Simpson’s recollections
should be enough to put them to rest.

In case you missed it, Simpson disclosed something truly remarkable
about Gore. It seems his decision about the merits of the Iraqi invasion
hinged on which side in the debate would give him more face time on
television.

“The Gulf War vote was pretty serious business,” Simpson wrote in the
Rocky Mountain News. “I can’t think of anyone who didn’t have a lump in
his or her throat while weighing the situation: 500,000 American troops
already deployed; Saddam Hussein promising the ‘mother of all battles,’
most ‘experts’ predicting heavy American casualties. The choice was not
an easy one. Senators with combat experience on both sides of the aisle
were on both sides of the issue.”

Because the “seriousness of the situation” called for real — not
manufactured — debate with “no deal-making, no cajoling (and) no
politics,” Simpson said he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, along
with senior Democratic Sens. George Mitchell and Sam Nunn, met the night
before to work out details.

As Republicans, Simpson and Dole were responsible for scheduling
speaking time, while Mitchell and Nunn, as Democrats, were responsible
for scheduling time for those opposed to the effort.

As the nation was “on the verge of sending” young Americans to war,
Simpson said, and “our national credibility was on the line,” he and
Dole got a late-night visit from Gore in the Republican Senate cloakroom
the evening before the debate was to begin.

Simpson said Gore came “right to the point” of his visit: “How much
time will you give me if I support the president?”

“In layman’s terms, Gore was asking how much debate time we would be
willing to give him to speak on the floor if he voted with us,” Simpson
said.

After learning that Democrats were prepared to give Gore just seven
minutes to speak, Dole offered him 15 minutes and Simpson said he would
give Gore five minutes of his own time, totaling 20 minutes.

“Gore seemed pleased, but made no final commitment, promising only to
think it over,” Simpson said.

“Sen. Gore played hard to get. He had received his time. But now he
wanted prime time … and Sen. Dole and I knew it,” said the former
Wyoming senator.

Dole instructed GOP Senate Secretary Howard Greene to call Gore’s
Senate office and promise “that he would try to schedule Gore’s 20
minutes during prime time, thus ensuring plenty of time in the news
cycle,” Simpson said.

Later, when Gore called Greene inquiring whether Dole had scheduled
his prime time speaking slot for 20 minutes, the GOP Senate secretary
said nothing had been finalized.

Gore “erupted,” Simpson said.

“Damn it, Howard, if I don’t get 20 minutes tomorrow I’m going to
vote the other way,” Gore said, according to Simpson.

When Gore arrived in the Senate chambers the following day for the
debate, Simpson recalls, “I always thought” he had “two speeches in
hand,” still waiting to see which side — Democrats or Republicans –
would give him more speaking time.

After Dole asked for an increase in the amount of speaking time for
both sides, “I believe only then, after Gore realized we were asking for
more time to make room for him on our side, that he finally decided to
support the resolution authorizing the use of force to drive Saddam
Hussein out of Kuwait,” Simpson said.

Simpson said it “brings me no joy” to recount the events, but he felt
it was “something I have to do” after he learned the vice president was
running a campaign advertisement claiming to have broken with his own
party to support the Gulf War.

“In reality, it’s much closer to the truth to say he broke for the
cameras to support the Gulf War,” Simpson said.

Noting that the vote was “a moment of challenge and, sadly, Al Gore
was not up to it,” Simpson said he wanted to “set the record straight”
because of the importance of the Gulf War vote should not be a “victim”
of “politics and repulsive revisionism.”

Pretty damning stuff, huh? But, I’ve got to tell you, something else
bothers me about this story. Why is it that we didn’t hear about this
for nearly 10 years? Why didn’t this come out when Al Gore twice ran for
an office that would place him just a heartbeat from the presidency?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt the veracity of Simpson’s story –
not for a moment. But what troubles me is the way the Republican
leadership covered up this scandal for a decade. In fact, only after
Simpson’s retirement from the Senate did he dare to tell the story.

Something else bothers me. If what Gore did was so troubling to
Simpson and Dole, why did they go along with it? Why did they make the
deal? Why didn’t they tell him to vote his conscience as they would vote
their consciences?

You see, Simpson’s story is more than an indictment of Gore — as if
we needed another one. It’s further evidence that the Republicans do not
represent a viable alternative to the basic amorality of the Democrats.
They never have, and they probably never will.

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