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Crossing Bloodlines

July 6, 2000

Al Gore’s past keeps coming back to haunt him. Unlike Bill Clinton, who can wriggle out of any squeeze — Clinton is the O.J. Simpson of American politics, right down to the DNA samples — Gore has no skill in shaking off embarrassments. His gaffes become running gags. His old fibs hang in the air like bad gas. It’s impossible to hear the phrase Buddhist temple without thinking of Gore and his clumsy attempts to deny knowing what everyone else knew.

Mechanical, transparent, and aggressive, Gore inspires no liking or loyalty. He has the worst speaking style of any politician since ...

After several minutes of ransacking my memory, I can’t finish that sentence. Names like Dukakis, or even Romney, just won’t do. Gore makes them all seem like Demosthenes.

But, party politics being what it is, he’s the Democrats’ presidential candidate, thanks not to merit but to heredity and seniority. His father was a senator so Al became a senator too and, though still young, he has been running for president for such a long time that he’s already his party’s unchallengeable prince and heir apparent.

How did this democracy get so many dynasties? Any boy can grow up to be a president, governor, or senator, but history shows that his chances of being the people’s choice are sharply increased if his name is Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, Taft, Lodge, Long, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Byrd, Bush, or Gore. Maybe all men are created equal, but bloodlines still count.

So does money. Familiar names attract money, so the sons of successful pols have an edge over others when they go into politics. The Communist oil tycoon Armand Hammer — pal (and agent) of Lenin, Stalin, and their successors — decided that young Al, as a senator’s son, was a good prospect early on and generously offered to fund his political career.

Hammer also kept Al’s father on the payroll, a fact discreetly omitted from old Albert’s laudatory obituaries last year. I kept trying to imagine how those obituaries would have read if Hammer had been as tight with Hitler as he was with Stalin. Somehow I think the tone would have been rather different. I doubt that the Hitler connection would have been overlooked.

[Breaker quote: Al Gore's 
nonscandal]For that matter, I doubt that Al would have enjoyed such polite press coverage throughout his career if he’d been bankrolled by a Nazi. He has never been forced to explain his friendship with and dependence on Hammer. This is one part of his past that doesn’t seem to embarrass him, because it doesn’t interest the media. Exposing links to Nazis is “investigative journalism,” but exposing links to Communists would be “McCarthyism” and “guilt by association.”

Hammer was that interesting phenomenon, a capitalist who invested in Communism. He wasn’t what Lenin would call a useful idiot; he knew what he was doing, and he did it enthusiastically — and very profitably. Canny Western businessmen figured out that one great advantage of doing business with the Worker’s Paradise was the absence of labor problems: they found cheap labor, and there were no bothersome strikes. Some of the profits from Soviet slave labor eventually trickled down into the pockets of the Gores.

The columnist Robert Novak reports that Gore continues his lucrative “intimacy” with Hammer’s company, Occidental Petroleum, and still favors legal exemptions for it. For many years, Gore was getting more than $300,000 annually from the company through a sweetheart deal, even after Hammer had died.

Gore’s favoritism to Occidental has become a potential scandal for his campaign, since he assails Junior Bush as “the candidate of Big Oil.” But the campaign isn’t worried about the Communist links in his past, only his capitalist links in the present.

Hammer himself might understand. He never got into trouble for befriending Stalin; he got into trouble for befriending Richard Nixon. He was convicted of making illegal contributions to a Nixon campaign. The obvious moral is that you can play footsie with Communists, but those Republicans will get you into the soup every time.

Even so, Hammer’s munificence made him friends in both major parties. He eventually received a presidential pardon from the father of George W. Bush.

Joseph Sobran

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