What’s all this nonsense about Al Gore being boring?
The public, the press and the President share the opinion that our Vice President needs to loosen up-loosen his tie, his coat jacket, his clenched jaw, and become more a man of the people, one of us. “I have told him to go out and have a good time,” our good-time President told The New York Times .
But surely this is unfair. Al Gore is 51 years old. In that relatively short span of time, he has done more than most people would ever dream of doing. If all of his accomplishments sound boring, then life must be pretty exciting for the rest of us.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a native of Nashville, Tenn., and my family has had a relationship with the Gores. So I am familiar with his public record and his political biography. Here is a man born into the lap, not of luxury but of politics, the son of a country teacher turned national Senator. Young Al spent his school days with his family in Washington, D.C.-the hotbed of democracy in the fever heat of the 1960′s. He spent his summer days in small-town Tennessee, working with hired hands on the family farm as his father took courageous stands for civil rights in what was then a very uncivil South.
Here is a man who at Harvard was hip enough to smoke pot. (And, later, man enough to admit it.) Though an opponent of the war in Vietnam, he clenched his jaw and went to serve. But he was wise enough-before he left-to marry a smart and feisty young woman, the love of his life.
Here is a man who, back home in Tennessee, spent his nights exposing corruption as an investigative reporter and his days attending-how’s this for depth-Vanderbilt Divinity School. He then went on to study law. When the Congressman for his home district decided to retire, Al Gore leaped into the race and he won. He established himself as a politician who studies an issue, masters it and acts on it. Nearly every weekend, without fail, he boarded a plane bound for his home state to host town meetings with the people who elected him.
Simply put, Al Gore is the most involved Vice President in the history of our country, a partner rather than a puppet, standing loyally by his President while other not-so-loyal supporters flee into the ever-open arms of TV talk-show hosts.
He is a good father, a supportive husband, a churchgoer, a practical joker, and, one-on-one, one of the most compassionate people you’re likely to meet. Yes, he has erred, particularly on the dicey matter of fund-raising. No one believes he went to that Buddhist temple to throw out the money changers. He must answer for those mistakes and we, as voters, must take them into consideration. But he is without doubt a man of substance and, yes, poise, who still has the chutzpah to dress up each Halloween and pose for the world with his wife on their front porch.
We sit around our boring dinner parties and tut, “What a bore!” But take a look at the other candidates? Has anyone done more?
Whenever we ponder what we want in a President, we-the American public-say that he (do we ever say “she”?) should be intelligent, loyal, compassionate, dedicated, effective, strong, well-educated, a good family man with strong moral values, who is willing to take risks, who understands and deals with issues, and is handsome to boot. But now, when presented with Al Gore, who is such a candidate, we throw away our long list of criteria and worry about whether he is charming enough. Are we choosing a dinner companion or the leader of the free world?
There once was a day-and I’m sure Al Gore remembers it-when little boys and little girls stated proudly, “I want to be President.” With enthusiasm and creativity, they charged forward to earn merit badges, science fair prizes, 4-H ribbons and cross-country trophies, yearbook citations for “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Most Talented,” “Most Popular” and “Best All Around.” All with the aim of getting as close to greatness as they could. But today, in this land of one-liners and two-timers, such childhood pursuits matter little. It’s flash and panache that attract our attention. We draw a picture of “the ideal candidate” and Al Gore smiles back at us from the page. Yet the polls say we are looking for something else. Why are we so bored? Does it reflect more on Al Gore or on us-on our insatiable desire to be seduced, to eat chocolate, drink champagne, puff cigars and imagine it’s love.
Perhaps Al Gore will take Bill Clinton’s advice. Perhaps he will drop the serious subjects for the sound bites. Perhaps he will plunge more often into crowds. Perhaps he will shed the blue suit for blue jeans.
Still, the next time he attempts yet another bad joke about his wooden approach, he will surely be wondering: “When did they change the rules?”
Terry Golway is on a short leave. He will return next month.