This last debate was clearly important. We are about to elect the leader of the Free World. And what most of it comes down to is trust and honesty.
I decided that such a judgment was far too important to leave to gut instinct or to the opinions of self-appointed pundits. What price truth, freedom and the American way? I reckon about $160 (plus shipping and handling) should do it and that's the amount I invested in a new computer program that promises to sort the wheat from the chaff, the pretender from the president-elect the Bush from the Gore (or vice versa).
The program, hot off the Internet, is called the Truster. Made by an Israeli company, it is, in essence, an updated version of one of those lie-detector testers you see on cop shows, but scaled down for home use (such as flushing out that pesky lying spouse or fibbing teenager).
Just the ticket for testing politicians, I figured.
To apply the cyber truth serum to our two would-be presidents, I routed their voices directly into a high-end Pentium-equipped computer that was running the Truster 2.4 program. It instantly analyzed the voices and gave out a series of graph readings that clearly delineated the levels of stress, manipulation, excitement and plain old lying.
In addition to the scientific graphs, it also pumped out a constantly updated caption that acted as a running commentary on the voice it was hearing.
The headlines ranged all the way from "Truth" to "False Statement," with several gradations in between. "Inaccuracy" is defined as "the subject is exaggerating." And "Outsmart" indicates "the subject is being cynical."
The only thing that worries me slightly is that the program bases all its judgments after calibrating an indisputably truthful statement by each of the subjects.
I selected "Hello, I'm Al Gore" for the VP's sample and I hoped that this was not a gross exaggeration. I used one of the governor's trademark "I appreciate that" lines as his ground zero and hoped he was being sincere.
The Truth Bout was fought over several grueling rounds.
Gore came out swinging during the first three questions on health care. The Truster pronounced that he was under stress but mainly truthful. Discussing prescription drugs he registered a walloping 94 percent under the heading "Intensive Thinking." I have no idea what that meant, but Bush scored just 17 percent on the same topic.
Meanwhile, the governor lit up the "Inaccuracy" button when he talked up the Texan Patient's Bill Of Rights. "You can't gag a doctor," he claimed. "False Statement!" flashed on the screen. Perhaps the machine was being too literal. I would think it pretty tough to stuff a handkerchief in the mouth of the average physician. Incidentally, every time Gore said the words "Dingell-Norwood," his "Cognitive Level Indicator" spiked up 4 percent. Mmmm.
It was on education that we started to see real results. Bush jabbed at those who think he's dumb by proving he could count out consecutive numbers. “I believe we ought to measure a lot three, four, five, six, seven, eighth grade. We do so in my state of Texas." For some reason the Truster declared "The Subject might exaggerate from time to time." That seemed unfairly harsh. Perhaps it was chiding Bush for missing out on the first two grades.
It also gave Bush a hard time when he said "each of us must love our children with all our heart and all our soul." "False Statement"! it screamed. Maybe it was objecting to the post-grammatical syntax.
But Bush got a "Truth" reading when he said said that if schools failed "there has to be a consequence." Since "consequence" is Bush's latest buzzword (Saddam, Hollywood and unlicensed gun traders all face "consequences"), teachers should be afraid. Very afraid.
The computer rewarded Bush's "I don't know if you have to be a paperwork-filler-outer" declaration by presenting him his highest Intensive Thinking Score of the night, at 54 percent.
The questions about foreign policy and the military took a slight toll on Al Gore. "We're going to face some serious new challenges in the next four years" said Gore. "Inaccuracy" said the computer. Maybe we're not. Well, that's good news, I guess. But Bush was judged even more severely. His statement that we have to stand by Israel got a "Truth." But his follow-up, "We need to reach out to modern Arab nations as well" drew a big "False Statement." Either Bush was lying or the Israeli software was trying to short-circuit any pan-Arab sentiment.
The computer didn't like Bush's military deployment position, which included the statement "I think the mission has somewhat become fuzzy." The Truster's assessment was "The Subject was uncertain about many things he said." Far too long-winded, methinks. Maybe when they come up with Truster 3.0, it will just borrow a word from Bush and declare the subject "Fuzzy."
Al Gore said that he was going to "fight for you" so many times that the computer gave up judging him on it. Either Gore means it or he BELIEVES he means it. Which is more than Bush apparently does on farm policy. "I don't want to use food as a diplomatic weapon," said the governor. "False."
The question about morality exposed weaknesses in both candidates. Gore talked about Tipper's mid-'80s reaction to "some awful lyrics" on a rock record that daughter Karenna brought home. "Tipper hit the ceiling," claimed Gore. The Truster responded by hitting the "False Statement" button. Maybe it was judging him literally. Maybe Tipper didn't quite touch the beams of the living room. It seems to operate on a brutal standard of truth. Perhaps it depends on the meaning of "ceiling."
Bush declared, "I don't support censorship." That was declared an Inaccuracy. From this point on the Truster was either detecting some big-time evasions in the governor's voice or it developed a bad attitude about Mr. Bush.
His replies on how to reassure people about the political system "We need to shoot straight with young and old alike” and (most ironically) "It needs somebody in office who'll tell the truth" drew flashing "False Statements" from the computer. As did his comments on capital punishment ("It saves lives") and his Texas record ("I brought folks together.")
Gore, meanwhile, was pumping up his adrenaline meter and nearly overloaded the Pentium chips (his own as well as the computer's). "Here are some promises I will make to you now. I'll balance the budget every year. I will pay down the debt every year. I will give middle-class Americans tax cuts, meaningful ones. And I will invest in education, health care, protecting the environment and retirement security." The Truster recovered its poise and spat out a series of responses: "The Subject was stressed," "The Subject was excited" and, alarmingly, "The Subject was not confident in all his words." However, the "Truth" sign blinked for the majority of these pledges.
After both candidates gave their closing statements (during which they both hit high levels of stress), it was time to challenge the Truster to give us an overall analysis of each candidate.
Drum roll, please.
The Truster gave the following readings: In the category of Stress, Al Gore maxed out at a 44 percent reading, with a 29.2 percent average. Bush hit 38 percent, with a 30.7 percent average.
In "Uncertainty" Gore's average was 5.6 percent, while Bush got an impressive 6.6 percent.
Gore's Inaccuracy reading hit 9 percent while Bush's topped 14 percent. Gore managed three "voice manipulations" while Bush scored four.
Bush was way ahead in the False Statements category, registering 57, while Gore could manage only 23.
Intensive Thinking was a revelation. Gore topped this category at 94 percent (on prescription drugs), though he hit a low of 12 percent while discussing farming. His average was 47 percent. Bush scaled 54 percent on taxes and bottomed out at 3 percent on health care, averaging 34 percent.
The Truster then delivered its final conclusions:
In respect to Al Gore: The Subject was confident in his words. The Subject might exaggerate from time to time. The Subject was found reliable.
In respect to George Bush: He was uncertain about many things he said. The Subject might exaggerate from time to time.
Well, now we know! If only we had had the Truster before! "I am not a crook!" "Read my lips: no new taxes" "I never had sexual relations..." we might have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.
Whether we're ready for this is another story. One thing IS certain: If the Truster is right about George Bush and he still gets elected, you will have heard it here first.