In 2000, there was Kailey. Today, there’s Debbie.
On October 3, 2000, America watched the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush. That night, Vice President Gore told the emotional story of Kailey, a 15-year-old girl at Sarasota High School who was, supposedly, the 36thstudent in a 24-student classroom. “They can’t squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class,” Gore said.
As it turned out, that wasn’t really true. The next day, the principal of Sarasota High School told a Tampa Bay radio station, “I think the facts that he was provided with were inaccurate because we don’t really have any students standing in class, and we have more than enough desks for all of our students.”
Oops. The story wasn’t the reason Gore lost, but it certainly didn’t help the campaign.
Flash forward 10 years. Last week, Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias addressed roughly 1,500 people at a brunch hosted by the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association in Springfield. From the State Journal-Register:
“I’ve heard a lot of sad stories,” Giannoulias said, “but this is one that I think about every single day.”
He said he met the “extraordinary woman” about two months ago. Her husband was a welder for three decades but lost his job two years ago. She was fired from her job as a high school administrative assistant about three months later. Both applied for jobs regularly, but about 1½ years later, her husband committed suicide. Her home was taken.
“Debbie told me that she was forced to live in her car,” Giannoulias said, and he didn’t quite believe it until he saw the luggage and pillows in the vehicle.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this race is not about me,” Giannoulias said. “This race is about Debbie….”
…That all led to an obvious question, which I posed to Giannoulias later when he appeared at a news conference with U.S. Sen. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill., as they announced a downstate tour. Who is Debbie?
“Out of sort of respect for her story, I’d probably want to check to make sure she wanted to make it public,” Giannoulias said.
Does she still live in her car?
“I’d rather not get into those details,” he said.
For all the money being spent on this campaign, somebody might have thought it important to craft a speech that doesn’t leave a gaping detail hole. If you are going to use someone’s life to illustrate your point to more than 1,000 people, you should have gotten that person’s permission and had some details to provide. And if you are so touched by her plight, what did you do to help? A speech shouldn’t raise those questions.
Bernard Schoenburg, political columnist for the State Journal-Register raises an excellent question: Who is Debbie?
This is certainly a heartbreaking story – and all the more reason America needs to change direction in November and get our economy back on track. But, what if the story is not accurate? A quick search of news articles in Illinois finds no mention of this story. Of course it’s possible this tragedy occurred and was not covered by the media, but it’s equally possible that Giannoulias is the latest in a long line of fabulist politicians.
This should not be a difficult question for the Giannoulias campaign to answer: who is Debbie? It’s been a week since Giannoulias told this story and still no one knows.