It brings tears to your eyes. Here’s this adorable, elderly woman
out in Iowa who’s so sick and so poor, that in order to pay for
medicines she needs to stay alive, she has to scavenge in a local dump
yard for cast-off tin cans.
The pathetic picture of 79-year-old Winifred Skinner scavenging in
the Altoona, Iowa, dump yard, stooped (possibly), bone-weary (possibly),
hungry (possibly), in the pathetic scavenging she (possibly) needs to do
to keep herself alive was so painful to the people of this America of
ours — this supposed land of plenty — that I can’t count the number of
potential voters who, on learning of Mrs. Skinner, decided on the spot
that this unspeakable situation must end. And that they must vote for
Vice President Al Gore, who was clearly the candidate to end it as it
was he who discovered Mrs. Skinner scavenging in the dump yard. Or at
least that was the way it sounded to millions of warm-hearted Americans
who heard Mrs. Skinner’s story — at first locally, then in the solemn,
televised debate Tuesday night between Mr. Gore and Gov. Bush of Texas,
contenders for the U.S. presidency.
Mrs. Skinner, who first told her story at a Gore campaign event in
Altoona, Iowa, repeated her sad story Tuesday to the nation at large —
or Mr. Gore repeated it for her. For to what must have been national
amazement Mrs. Skinner turned up in Boston, Mass., for the big debate
Tuesday night, at which her pathetic circumstances were set forth by the
vice president in the course of the debate not once, but twice. At her
economic level, the audience for the debate might have assumed that Mrs.
Skinner had walked, or hitch-hiked, from Iowa to Boston. But no, said
Mr. Gore, she had driven all the way in her Winnebago.
Now, the more detail you have on such a highly publicized event the
better you can judge it. As it happens, despite the impression given by
Vice President Gore, Mrs. Skinner is not an itinerant hobo. She is not
living “hand to mouth” as reported by Mr. Gore, but quite comfortably as
the mother of a well-to-do businessman, Earl King, a successful
specialist in heating and air conditioning. Mr. King and his wife, in
addition to his routine work, raise horses (not a poor man’s hobby) on a
farm west of Des Moines. They have made available to Mrs. Skinner a
900-square-foot Des Moines apartment where she would be welcome to live,
but she prefers her old home.
Listeners challenged Mrs. Skinner’s account when it was given on a
Des Moines radio talk show, when her son telephoned the talk show to say
that his mother had not been pleading personal poverty but when she
criticized the high cost of prescription drugs had been speaking up for
elderly people “in general.” It can be assumed that Vice President Gore
also had been arguing the case for elderly people “in general” and was
not dealing with this mother’s case specifically. This was most
decidedly not the impression given by the vice president, however, who
saved his tale about Mrs. Skinner for the very closing eloquent
statement in the Boston debate.
“She gets a small pension,” he said. “But in order to pay for her
prescription drug benefits she has to go out seven days a week, several
hours a day, picking up cans.”
It turns out, as the statement was rectified, Mrs. Skinner goes out
zero days a week, for zero hours a day, and that she was only speaking
“in the name of” people she assumes must do this. But in whose name was
the vice-president speaking in his closing sentences of the debate?
Apparently no one’s.
But this is apparently Mr. Gore’s technique when he wants to make a
dramatic public statement. He invents the “facts.” Another of his
forceful statements in the debate was the tale of a female student in a
public school in Florida who was forced to stand because there weren’t
enough seats in the classroom. But it turns out that the girl didn’t
stand at all. According to radio station WFLA in Sarasota, the school
was in the process of “leveling” the number of students per classroom
and for one day the girl had to sit, not on a chair, but on a
stool. Having sat on a stool now and then myself, I wonder if the
American people consider this a terrible hardship.
The press corps spent much of the day following the debate checking
Mr. Gore’s facts — and a sizeable portion of the country was left
wondering if it wanted as president a man who played as fast and loose
with his facts as Al Gore.
Mr. Gore places all his facts in what he calls a “lock box.” The
only trouble is that he seems to have lost the key.