During a recent interview, presidential aspirant Al Gore said he
finds it tough to talk about himself and break through his legendary
stiffness. “I’m not used to it because the way I was raised you don’t
talk about yourself too much. But in a campaign, you’ve got to introduce
yourself and the experiences which have shaped your life.”
Maybe Gore’s discomfort in talking about himself explains why he so
often is talking about someone else when describing himself. He is
becoming renowned for his tall tales, including taking credit for
inspiring the hero in the popular book and movie, “Love Story.” Author
Eric Segal denied it, saying actor Tommy Lee Jones, Gore’s Harvard
roommate, was the model for the character.
Gore’s most recent embellishments were his claims to have invented
the Internet and that he was a rugged hog farmer. Say what you want
about Dan Quayle and his notorious gaffes, but at least he didn’t suffer
from delusions of grandeur or of ruggedness, for that matter.
One commentator suggested that Gore’s exaggerated self-descriptions
show that he suffers from an identity crisis. Others have suggested that
Gore is enduring another kind of identity crisis, i.e., trying to emerge
from the shadow of Bill Clinton. Both advise Gore to discover and reveal
his true identity, grounded in reality and apart from Bill Clinton.
Don’t be fooled by this. Gore isn’t experiencing an identity crisis
at all. He knows exactly who he is. He just happens to be given to
self-serving storytelling and has deliberately and opportunistically
chosen to attach himself to Clinton’s record, hoping that he will
receive electoral rewards for the prosperity while escaping the taint of
Gore’s real challenge is not to discover who he is, but to keep us
from discovering it. He is a complex creature and part of him is a
little scary — a little kooky. The fewer people who know that, the
better his presidential chances.
Gore is somewhat of an enigma. He sometimes comes off as a bumbling
buffoon, such as when he pointed to certain easily recognizable Founding
Fathers artistically depicted in Monticello and asked, “Now, who is
that?” At other times, he projects himself from the stump as a fiery
orator, vigorously championing causes to which he is sincerely
Gore’s stiffness also leads opponents to underestimate him. Ross
Perot obviously did so at his peril prior to getting his clock cleaned
in a debate over the virtues of NAFTA hosted by CNN’s Larry King a few
years ago. Gore was anything but wooden in that debate; animated and
aggressive are more accurate.
But just when we may be tempted to take Gore seriously, we are
reminded of what happens when we do. He certainly intended to be taken
seriously in his environmentally extreme “Earth in the Balance.” The
book reveals one unmistakable side of Al Gore, and the disclosure is
frightening. In it, he identifies the automobile’s internal combustion
engine as the greatest threat to civilization.
We have one image of Gore as a wooden, humorless character, bereft of
any personality at all. We have another image of him as, well, a
full-blown lumberyard. This, coupled with Clinton’s exceedingly negative
personal reputation to which Gore is inevitably compared, doubtless
contributes to his reputation as being squeaky clean.
Does Gore deserve his choirboy reputation? In the marital fidelity
department, he appears to have been faithful to Tipper. But his record
in campaign finance shenanigans is much less pristine.
Few people, including Democrats, believe that Gore was unaware of
what he was doing in the Buddhist temple incident. And many were
outraged when Janet Reno gave him a pass on other alleged criminal
campaign-finance activities. Gore remains a bit of a mystery. Is he an
environmental whacko or a sophisticated Harvard graduate (not that the
two are mutually exclusive)?
Is he a delusional buffoon, or is he reliable and stable? Is he corrupt,
or is he pure? Is he a second-rate cheerleader, or is he presidential?
Will the real Al Gore please stand up? Will the other one please sit
Gore’s best bet is not to find his identity, but to continue to
shroud it, or at least part of it. If voters find out all about him,
Bill Bradley, who is ominously waiting in the wings, may graduate from
dark horse to favorite.
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