Memo To:The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Guest in the House
Re Bette Bao Lord’s Nov. 22 Op-Ed article , “Gore Had it Right”:
By going to Malaysia for a long-scheduled international conference and using the opportunity to criticize the country’s leadership for an alleged human-rights violation, Vice President Gore may have acted courageously as Ms. Lord argues. Or, he may have been playing career politics with a cheap shot that he believed would play well back home.
To determine which it is, we should know if the administration in general or Mr. Gore in particular expressed any public or private complaint to the Malaysian government about its behavior prior to his visit. If there was a letter delivered to President Mahathir through diplomatic channels prior to the Gore visit, I would tend to agree with Ms. Lord about the appropriateness of the Gore critique once he got into the Malaysian house as an invited guest. My guess is that there was no such private protest.
In the spring of 1992, when he was still Governor of Arkansas and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Clinton accepted an invitation to participate in a forum of the Rainbow Coalition, chaired by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. At the conference, Mr. Clinton surprised his host by delivering a carefully prepared critique of another of the invited guests, Sister Souljah, a rap artist whose recording lyrics Mr. Clinton said he found offensive.
At the time., Mr. Jackson criticized this guest in his house by saying Mr. Clinton had a “character flaw” for having behaved in this manner. The Times seemed to agree by suggesting Mr. Clinton had “played the race card,” by signaling white voters that he was prepared to publicly criticize black Americans for their behavior.
When President Reagan went to Moscow at the invitation of the government and delivered straight talk in citizen forums, there was no doubt the hosts knew in advance of his arguments, which had been delivered in many ways previously. As far as I can tell, Vice President Gore sprung a complete surprise on his hosts with a specific criticism involving the treatment of a specific individual. If I were he, I would have stayed at home in protest, making it clear why I was doing so, or would have in advance let it be known that I was going to criticize the Mahathir government.