If you’re feeling trapped in your career, imagine the vice president. No matter what he says or does, there’s no escaping those pesky 1996 campaign finance irregularities. Note to Al: 18 minutes of blank tape didn’t help Nixon; three years of deleted email won’t help you.

The most immediate advantage Vice President Al Gore has in his race to the presidency, other than the currently blissful economic climate, has got to be that he’s not as drop-dead stupid as his Republican challenger. Gore as a public speaker may be a more wooden than Pinocchio and he might have a Clintonesque morality, but you’ve got to like that he can form complete sentences without the help of cue cards.

And, in truth, Gore’s speaking ability—which he has seemingly stopped joking about, perhaps because his jokes were annoying, not very funny, and pointless—has improved. I’m not saying that a Gore State of the Union address wouldn’t send the nation into a collective Prozac dependency, but in earlier years you would’ve seen the frenzied lighting up of the suicide prevention switchboard.

I’d call that improvement.

One of the themes Gore’s been hammering is economic prosperity, and while I don’t think the executive branch deserves a whole lot of credit in that regard—presidents just don’t exert that much economic influence—certainly Clinton/Gore deserve their props for keeping Alan Greenspan in place at the FED and for not screwing things up. For an example of how things could get screwed up, we need only look at Dubya Bush’s tax cut plan which, should it take effect, will save the richest Americans a lot of money while doing virtually nothing for the working and middle classes. Additionally, Bush’s plan does very little for Social Security solvency or debt reduction. On the whole, it’s a blatantly self-serving idea and not very politically astute, but, as I’ve said repeatedly, Dubya is not a bright guy. (See Dubya’s snubs of John McCain as further evidence.)

Bush is, however, relatively honest, and when I say “relatively” I mean “relative to Al Gore.” Bush might “go negative” and stretch the truth on the campaign trail, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that he’s accepted illegal campaign contributions or otherwise broken the law. Americans might not be thrilled that he’s got a room temperature IQ—Celsius not Fahrenheit—but as with most politicians new to the national stage, they’re willing to give him the ethical and moral benefit of the doubt regarding his past actions and hope for the best concerning the future.

Gore’s problem in the 2000 election is that there’s no doubt of which to give him the benefit. Offered the chance to explain himself concerning the Buddhist temple fundraising affair, the normally implacable Gore becomes tongue-tied, which is truly amazing considering I’ve never heard anyone talk…more…slowly. And ultimately, Gore begs the question (because, really, what can you say when you’re guilty?) and says that the American people are interested in issues, not mudslinging.

Which is true. For example, I find the issue of the Vice President of the United States accepting illegal campaign donations fascinating. I don’t know if most voting Americans are similarly intrigued, but with one of Gore’s good friends, a fundraising associate, now a convicted felon for doing exactly what Gore did, November strikes me as as good a time as any to find out.

Of course, if we were only talking about one ethical lapse, voting for Al Gore wouldn’t be nearly so difficult. But there has been such an overwhelming amount of scandalous behavior in the Clinton/Gore era that one has to do some incredible mental gymnastics to imagine a scenario in which the Vice President can’t be implicated in a very big way.

The latest comes from an LA Times report on March 10, 2000 in which we learn that Attorney General Janet Reno, an AG so awful that she might be even worse than Ed Meese (who heretofore was in a class by himself), kept sealed for two years a report by the Justice Department’s former chief campaign finance investigator. The document accuses Reno’s top advisors of being intellectually dishonest in not pursuing independent counsel prosecution against Clinton, Hillary, and, I hardly need add, Gore.

The campaign finance chronology isn’t pretty. Gore’s testimony to investigators was an appalling collection of “failure of recollection,” storyline inconsistencies, and the eye-rollingly novel argument that he broke no laws because there was “no controlling legal authority.” Indeed, the evidence of Gore’s allegedly illegal activity is so overwhelming that there are literally photographs of Albert reviewing documents which he says he never saw. Add to this details of three years worth of “unintentionally” deleted emails which were under subpoena by various sources including campaign finance investigators, and you’ve got a pretty little mess that’s only going to get bigger as presidential campaigning becomes more intense.

Frankly, if Bush chooses to push the character issue, I don’t see any way Gore can beat the rap as judged by public opinion polls. He’s just not nearly as slick as Clinton when it comes to that sort of thing.

So in rejecting an honest reformer like Bill Bradley, the Democratic establishment has decided that they’re going to pound this Gore presidential pipedream into reality if it kills them. Which it might. For, with the storm clouds of the 1996 campaign still darkening the Democrats’ political skies, it may well be that Democratic candidates nationwide will suffer. First, though, comes the obvious conclusion that regardless of the victor, the country is condemned to suffer yet another sub-par leader for the nation no matter which party wins.

That’s a steep price to pay for a few bucks at a Buddhist temple.