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The Real Al Gore

June 1, 2000

“I’m afraid I don’t care much for your manner,” a client says to Raymond Chandler’s wise-guy detective, Philip Marlowe.

“I’ve had complaints about it,” Marlowe replies, “but nothing seems to help.”

So it is with Vice President Al Gore’s persona: nothing seems to help. He has tried everything to correct his wooden persona: playing the farm boy, exploiting dead and injured relatives, changing his wardrobe, taking alpha-male counseling, undergoing intensive humor training, slashing at his opponent, George W. Bush (the media call it “negative campaigning” when Republicans do it), and now a gentler approach, with the beanballs delegated to his surrogates. We may yet see him driving Michael Dukakis’s tank.

He has also tried to distance himself from his boss, President Bill Clinton, but Clinton just can’t help himself: at every opportunity he grabs the limelight, upstaging poor Gore. He is still the star of his own administration, and as the clock ticks on his final months in office he wants all the attention he can get. His efforts to help Gore only get in the way of Gore’s need to show he’s “his own man.”

Al Gore has been a familiar figure in American politics since at least 1988, when he first ran for president, and his problem now is the same one he’s always had: he’s one of the most boring human beings who ever droned into a microphone.

If he’s a human being at all, that is: there’s some doubt about this. Despite Gore’s earnest efforts to save the earth, many suspect that earth isn’t even his home planet, that if you yanked off the rubber mask you’d expose a green reptilian face right out of some cheap old sci-fi movie.

At least Bill Clinton is a mammal, as he has amply proved. Clinton has been quoted as privately marveling that a man so lacking in people skills as Gore should make a career in politics. But Gore got into politics via heredity: his father was a U.S. senator too, and Al grew up in a Washington hotel, attending St. Albans and Harvard. He never had to serve the usual apprenticeship at the grassroots. His chief contact with ordinary people occurred when he called room service.

So the top priority of the Gore campaign is to “humanize” the candidate. It isn’t easy. He generates no excitement even when he goes on the attack; his motives are too transparent. How boring is he? If he committed an ax murder, the witnesses would yawn.

[Breaker quote: If there 
is one]Like many lonely children of privilege, Al Gore has led an elaborate fantasy life. Among other things, he has claimed credit for launching the Internet and for inspiring the romantic novel Love Story. He has no idea how silly he sounds when he makes such claims. His obliviousness to the impression he makes only reinforces the impression itself — as when he chanted the phrase “no controlling legal authority” no fewer than seven times in response to questions about his fundraising methods.

Many people remake their public selves, but Gore’s efforts to do so seem like a feat of engineering — as mechanical as the self he is trying to remake. He may have a fantasy life, but he has no inner life. We know this because we can see through him as he tries to change the way we see him: the political calculation is so obvious that it can’t produce the desired effect. The louder his words, the more hollow they ring.

In fairness, Gore is merely the most boring of a boring lot. Today’s politicians are hollow men who never meditate and consequently never say anything memorable. The American political tradition has had its full share of eloquence, but not lately.

In the first century of that tradition our politicians were philosophic men whose words expressed their own thoughts; the idea of hiring speechwriters never occurred to them, and their words were studied, pondered, even memorized. They tried to emulate the political oratory of Demosthenes, Cicero, Shakespeare, and Burke, and they did a pretty fair job.

Today’s politicians don’t aspire to emulate their forebears; they want their ghostwriters to emulate John Kennedy’s ghostwriters. Al Gore is only the worst of a bad lot.

Joseph Sobran

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