photo credit: AP
The best thing Al Gore has ever done was gracefully bowing out of contention for the US presidency after the 2000 election, not that he had any choice. But he did so in order to spare the country more weeks of judicial, political, and emotional turmoil and deserves credit for that. After his concession, he tried academia, and became even more pedantic in nature and speech than before. He went to the mountaintop and had a revelation. He left the world of political officeholders and turned to his pet topic - the environment. It took the top spot on the agenda of Al Gore for his incubating second life in the public eye.
In his youth, he lived a pampered life in a posh hotel in Washington, DC, attending exclusive private schools and returning to his home state of Tennessee on vacations. He claims to have worked on the family farm while living there.
He graduated from Harvard in 1969 and enlisted in the Army soon afterward serving as a military journalist. He spent a few months in Vietnam after which he returned to the States to attend Vanderbilt for a part of a year as a divinity student. Not finding theology his true calling, he put his journalism skills to work for five years at The Tennessean, a newspaper in Nashville.
He then attended law school for a year, before realizing that his next calling was to the government. He followed his father into government service, entering politics and winning election to Congress for four terms as a Representative from Tennessee before winning a seat in the Senate. Having the same name as his father, a long-time Tennessee member of Congress and Senate, could only have helped.
photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corbis.
The Clinton-Gore-Clinton Administration
Tapped by Bill Clinton in 1992, Gore became Vice President for eight years. Mostly untouched by the Clinton scandals, he had more than enough trouble of his own, most of it due to his own miscalculations, hypocrisies, overstatements, and unethical, if not illegal, political dealings. A few are recounted here:
1. Tobacco Hypocrisy -(Al Gore, 1988) -
"Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put in in the plant beds and transferred it. [ed. I assume he meant transplanted it.] I've hoed it. I've chopped it. I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it."He sold more than tobacco. He sold himself, too. He defended tobacco farmers and received contributions from tobacco companies into the '90's, all the while milking his sister's 1984 death from lung cancer during the 1996 convention. He then claimed to be firmly on the anti-smoking bandwagon. He explained that his "emotional numbness" after his sister's death allowed him to continue to defend and profit from the tobacco business. That "emotional numbness" excuse didn't ring true and while Democrats looked the other way, Republicans made careful note of it.
2. Fundraising Shenanigans -
Unsavory characters (Jose Cabrera and others) donated big bucks to the Gore coffers. The DNC was forced to return some of the illegal gains. Gore himself was caught participating in fundraising at a Buddhist Temple when individual monks, living a life of poverty, were unlawfully reimbursed by the Temple after donating money to Al Gore and the Democrat party. An example of Gore's poor political judgment is that he made some ridiculous claims after the incident came to light, such as not knowing he was attending a fundraiser.
He also made his well known claim that "There is no controlling legal authority" to state that the many fund-raising phone calls he made from his VP office in the White House were illegal. He and Clinton were such weasels. I wonder what Gore's definition of the word "is" is?
3. Exaggerations and Downright Lies -
When the New York Times bemoans the fact that their candidate of choice tends to over-exaggerate, you know it's too evident to ignore.
(NYT, Oct.5, 2000)
"For years, his political opponents have groused that Vice President Al Gore has trouble with facts. They pounced on statements he made about his service in Vietnam, about his record in Congress and even about the price he has to pay for his dog's arthritis medicine."
"...Mr. Gore's shading of the truth has become so frequent that some politicians are no longer dismissing it as sloppy oratory from a candidate under the glare of television cameras.This predilection of Mr. Gore's is all the more surprising because it often involves trivial matters — ones that could easily be checked — such as how Mr. Gore recalled a childhood lullaby that did not exist."
Two examples: (1) Remember how he claimed that he and his wife Tipper were the inspiration for the book and movie "Love Story"? Not true. (2)Remember his boastful stretch of the truth stating that he "took the initiative in creating the internet"? No way. As a Congressman he was in a position to help prevent governmental roadblocks to internet development, but the internet was already in existence without any help from Gore.
A comprehensive list of Al's prevarications, or "exaggerations", can be found here.
The 2000 Presidential Election
The media intelligentsia was certain that Gore would demolish Bush in the debates. That didn't happen. The American people watch the debates and get more information about a candidate by watching how he answers the questions, not just hearing what he says.
I remember the three debates and the three different Al Gores that participated in them. During the first debate he smirked, sighed while George W. Bush was talking, and generally acted like a pompous jerk. For the second debate he was cosmetically made up to look like Ronald Reagan, with makeup sculpting shadows on his face to mimic Reagan's facial planes. His hair was even styled with that little ridge at the top like Reagan's. If a man has to resort to makeup to glom onto the reputation of a popular ex-president, it's a clear indication that he is not comfortable in his own skin. His behavior during the second debate was more controlled, even a bit docile. In the third debate Gore deemed himself "just right" - not too aggressive, not too passive. Others had a different opinion. The three different Al Gores diluted the results for the Democrats; there was only one George Bush and he attended all three.
The revelation that Gore paid Naomi Wolf bongo bucks ($15,000 per month)to become his personal "personality" consultant made people wonder just exactly what she did. Was she his wardrobe maven, urging him to switch from navy suits to brown? Is she the one who advised him to growl like the Alpha-male, sneering while being pompously condescending?
"When a man has to pony up a fortune to a woman to teach him how to be a man, that definitely takes the edge off his topdogginess," wrote NYT columnist Maureen Dowd.
The Gore campaign and Ms Wolf denied her micromanagement of his earthtone hues and alpha-male coaching but the damage was done. The insinuation that Gore was not sure of himself and needed coaching was enough to turn some people away. Combine that with his constant exaggerations of his accomplishments and his unabashed use of his family's personal tragedies for his personal electoral advantage cost him a multitude of supporters and votes.
His stiff demeanor, pedantic mode of expression, and arrogant "know-it-allness", comprised the main ingredients in a recipe for defeat. Add to that "The Kiss", the rather inappropriately prolonged liplock with Tipper Gore during the Democrat convention. It may have been the time, but it certainly wasn't the place.
Of course it didn't help Al being closely associated with scandal-ridden Bill Clinton. It was widely assumed that there was bad blood between the Gores and the Clintons. Bill's deference to Hillary instead of to Gore, i.e., assigning her the plum job of restructuring the health care system, had to have grated on Gore's nerves for quite some time.
There was also a brouhaha over office assignments. Hillary wanted the office wing traditionally assigned to the Vice President and it was only when Al Gore threatened to resign that he was allowed to occupy the office. This was widely known in the political arena soon after the inauguration. The New York Times Magazine stated that "Al Gore hasn't yet realized there is going to be a co-presidency but he's not going to be part of the co," and that, according to the Clintons' close friend and adviser Susan Thomases, Gore "would have to adjust to a smaller role."
As a consequence of all his experiences with the Clintons, before and during the 2000 presidential campaign, Al didn't know whether to praise Clinton or damn him. Resentment over the allocation of a large portion of DNC resources to Hillary's NY Senate bid, and Bill's numerous personal appearances for her added to Gore's chagrin. An article in the Nov. 2007 issue of Vanity Fair states:
"At the same time, Hillary's ascendancy had a significant impact on the presidential prospects of Al Gore, diverting attention and resources from his candidacy and adding to the growing tensions between the Gores and the Clintons over Bill's involvement with Lewinsky."
He tried to differentiate himself from Clinton by stating his and his wife's committment to fidelity and "family values" without distancing himself too much from a popular president. It was a fine line he was walking.
With all the baggage accumulated, his own and some from the Clintons, it was little wonder that Gore had trouble in the election. He didn't even win his own state, and what was assumed to be a runaway for Gore turned into the closest election in US history.
I don't even want to rehash the post election squabbles and travesties. Suffice it to say, when all the dust had settled, Gore won a half million more popular votes than George W. Bush, but lost in the electoral college by 5, 271 to 266. With no more hope of claiming a victory, Gore did concede gracefully.
In his desire to reinvent himself, after the election, much as he claimed to have "reinvented the government", he took himself to academia, grew a beard and professed to "profess" for a seminar at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. His qualifications for the gig were his brief stint in Vietnam as a military journalist, his time with The Tennessean in Nashville, and his eight years on the other side of the fence facing reporters as Vice President. He placed a weird gag order on his students, insisting that his class lectures were "off the record." Equally bizarre was Columbia University journalism school administrator's statement that off-the-record lectures promoted free and open discussion.
“We expect that you will comply with the decision to offer the seminar on an off-the-record basis; your attendancewill be taken as evidence that, in accordance with the School’s honor system, you accept this stipulation.”
Catching some grief for that, Gore wisely lifted the gag order.
Revelation and Reward
Soon after his brief career as a University professor, he shed his beard and threw himself wholeheartedly into his new career as Earth Savior. Long an environmentalist (author of Earth in the Balance, published in 1992) he went to the mountaintop, and came down with a new mission for his life. He delved further into his environmental research (and Powerpoint classes) to produce his second book, supporting the documentary of the same name, An Inconvenient Truth. For his efforts, Gore brought home an Oscar, soon to be followed by the formerly prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
In spite of being heavily sponsored by Clinton and especially Gore, the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty had absolutely no chance of passing the Senate. Instead, the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res 98) against the US signing the protocol was passed 95-0 and the Clinton Administration never even submitted it to the Senate for ratification. Gore continues to pass condemnation on his own country for not ratifying the treaty, even though it has been shown to be ineffective in the countries who did sign on. Mark Steyn in the OC Register recently revealed the following:
"At the recent climate jamboree in Bali, the Rev. Al Gore told the assembled faithful: 'My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here.' Really? the American Thinker's Web site ran the numbers. In the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, here's what happened:
•Emissions worldwide increased 18.0 percent;
•Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21.1 percent;
•Emissions from nonsigners increased 10.0 percent; and
•Emissions from the United States increased 6.6 percent.
Gore's statements to the contrary, there is no universal consensus on man-made global warming, global climate change, or whatever you want to call it. The mainstream media keeps most skeptics' reports on back pages, but they do keep popping up. Gore's refusal to debate the issue with "global warming deniers" (lumped in with Holocaust deniers) or even take questions from the press at some events makes one wonder why.
The larger question is what is Al Gore's desired legacy? He has been a successful Congressman and Senator, and a two-term vice president. Failing to succeed Clinton as President, and maybe having to endure 8 years of a presidential Hillary Clinton, Gore may have set his sights on something far grander than the presidency of the United States. He may be angling for a position that would grant him the respect and gratitude of the world. Whether or not he truly believes what he preaches is open to discussion. He certainly talks the talk even as he neglects to walk the walk. Globe-trotting, complete with retinue, and living in a huge, energy-gobbling home, carbon credits notwithstanding, seem to indicate a less than full committment to practicing what he preaches.
To add to the muddle of his involvement in fighting global warming is his founding and chairmanship of Generation Investment Management (GIM), an international investment firm with extensive holdings (as of March, 2007) in some companies participating in industries directly in line with alternative energy, the "greening" of the world, and organic foods. Other companies are more mundane, insurance, pet healthcare, food service and financial services. Whatever their business attachments, Gore stands to profit from others following his advice to purchase carbon credits from his company to atone for their energy using ways.
As more and more people begin to learn of his direct interest in personal profits from his dire threats of global disaster, we can only hope that a truly open discussion of the consequences of global warming and man's ability to affect climate change will shed light on the issue. As long as Al Gore remains the figurehead of supposed "looming calamity", we must remember his reputation for exaggeration and wonder if his true legacy will be as a world-class snake oil salesman.