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Off the Trail

A Great Debate (Translation: Same Ol' Same Ol')


Presidential candidates often say one thing and mean another. Even Al Gore brought up the topic of "code words" during the campaign's first presidential debate Tuesday night.

The Times put its top code breakers to work on the debate transcript to determine what Gore, George W. Bush and moderator Jim Lehrer were really thinking.

Lehrer: I have asked [the audience], and they have agreed to remain silent for the next 90 minutes.

Translation: They'll all be asleep in a few minutes anyhow.

Gore: He would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%.

Translation: I think only 1% of you are smart enough to remember this, so I'm going to repeat it 149 times in the next 90 minutes.

Bush: The man's running on "Medi-scare," trying to frighten people in the--in the voting booth.

Translation: Medi-scare? Is that a word? Sounds like one. What about Medi-prayer? Medi-hair? Gore could use some Medi-hair on his bald spot.

Gore: There's a man here tonight named George McKinney from Milwaukee. He's 70 years old. He has high blood pressure. His wife has heart trouble.

Translation: Vote for me or the McKinneys die.

Bush: The Strunk family in Allentown, Pa.--I campaigned with them the other day--they make $51,000 combined income.

Translation: Only $51,000 a year? Are these guys really Republicans?

Gore: [Audible sigh]

Translation: If I'd only known George was going to wear the same red tie, I'd have gone with my polka-dot one.

Bush: Let me make sure the seniors hear me loud and clear.

Translation: Please turn up your hearing aids now!

Gore: Both of us use similar language to reach an exactly opposite outcome. I don't favor litmus tests.

Translation: I favor litmus tests.

Bush: Voters should assume that I have no litmus test on that issue or any other issue.

Translation: I have litmus tests.

Gore: I think we need to put Medicare and Social Security in a lockbox. The governor will not put Medicare in a lockbox. I don't think it should be used as a piggy bank for other programs.

Translation: And I've got $10 million in soft money in a safe deposit box in Zurich.

Bush: It's a school full of so-called at-risk children. It's how we unfortunately label certain children. It means basically they can't learn.

Translation: This is my core constituency.

Gore: No, no, no. No, no.

Translation: No, no, no, no. Nobody can do the shing-a-ling like I do. Nobody can do the skate like I do.

Bush: I think what the next president ought to do is to promote a culture of life in America--as the life of the elderly and the life of those living all across the country, life of the unborn.

Translation: Let the executions begin!

Gore: There's a woman named Winifred Skinner here tonight, from Iowa. I mentioned her earlier. She's 79 years old. She has Social Security. She came all the way from Iowa in a Winnebago, with her poodle, in order to attend here tonight.

Translation: I've got the poodle in a lockbox.

Bush: The other day I was honored to be flanked by Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who stood by my side and agreed with me.

Translation: Flanked? I meant spanked. (I like big men in uniforms.)

Gore: I am asking you again to see me for who I really am.

Translation: A two-faced robot who will do anything to be president.

Bush: This is a man who's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math.

Translation: All math is fuzzy to me.

Gore: I stand here as my own man.

Translation: Bill told me to say that.

Bush: There's a lot of shut-in gas that we need to be moving out of Alaska by pipeline.

Translation: I shouldn't have had Tex-Mex for dinner.

Gore: I'll pledge here tonight: If I'm president, the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

Translation: And we'll add an amendment to that bill that protects the right of every American to raise money in a Buddhist temple.

Bush: I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life.

Translation: Except for anything I did before the age of 40.

Gore: The size of the federal government will go down in a Gore administration. In the Reinventing Government program, you just look at the numbers, it is 300,000 people smaller today than it was eight years ago.

Translation: That's the number of people who have been investigated by special prosecutors.

Lehrer: We will continue this dialogue next week on October the 11th at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. The format then will be more informal, more conversational, with the two candidates seated at a table with me.

Translation: I'm tingling with excitement already.

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