Al Gore and the failure of the Democrats
Reviews of "Al Gore: A User's Manual" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, a book that reveals who Al Gore really is, and what the Democratic party really is.
This fine book masterfully catalogs the awfulness that is Al Gore - every lie, every exaggeration, every rhetorical trick, every betrayal. If you already don't like Gore, this user's manual will remind you of why, and probably tell you a lot of things you didn't already know. If you're thinking of voting for him, it might change your mind, by showing that the "lesser evil" is still evil. If the Gore campaign were smart, they'd buy up every copy and pulp the lot of them, but fortunately they're not that smart."
author of Wall Street
"Al Gore: A User's Manual is...a pitiless requisitory of broken promises, bent principles, sentimental exploitation of family calamities (including his sister's death), careerist back-stroking and shameless favour trading."
Al Gore: A User's Manual
by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
What sort of a man is Al Gore? What's his real political record? This is the first unsparing look at the man whom his parents raised from birth to be president of the United States. Inside these pages, you will find:
° How Al Gore and his father got on the payroll of one of America's most ruthless tycoons, Armand Hammer
° How Al Gore has relentlessly exploited his sister's death and son's accident for personal political advantage
° How Al Gore violated the most basic journalistic ethics by helping the cops run a sting operation on a black politician in Nashville
° How Al Gore played midwife to the MX missile
° How Al Gore became a soul brother of Newt Gingrich
° How Al Gore race-baited Jesse Jackson and introduced George Bush to Willie Horton
° How Al Gore shopped his vote in support of the Gulf War to get prime-time coverage for his speech
° How Al Gore pushed Clinton into destroying the New Deal
° How Al Gore plotted to stop Democrats from recapturing Congress in 1996 in order to keep his rival Dick Gephard from becoming Speaker of the House
° How Al Gore leached campaign cash from nearly every corporate lobbyist in DC, and broke pledge after pledge to protect the environment
Al Gore: a user's manual by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair
Godfrey Hodgson / The Independent (London) 1nov00
AS THE closest American presidential election since 1968 reaches a nail-biting crescendo, here is a new offering in that familiar genre, the campaign biography. There was a time when the biographer, often directly in the pay of the candidate, offered a flattering portrait. The candidate's steel-trap mind, his exemplary marriage, his devotion to the good of the republic, were predictably extolled.
That time has gone. Today's candidate can expect an examination of his or her past with tools that make the proverbial fine toothcomb look like a powder -puff. One recent biography devoted impressive energy to questioning whether Hillary Clinton's parents were married, and to suggesting that one of her forbears ran a brothel and that she herself was infected with anti-Semitism.
This new biography of Al Gore by the (originally British) radical journalist Alexander Cockburn, now based in northern California, and the environmental muckraker (his own word) Jeffrey St Clair, is in the same pitiless tradition. The Democrat candidate is presented as a hardball specialist, ruthlessly skilful as a fundraiser, and a reliable defender of corporate business interests in general and of those of his own backers in particular.
Cockburn and St Clair do not spare the Vice-President's family, either. They make deserved sport with Tipper's attempt to clean up the language of rock and rap music. They give a distinctly unsympathetic account of her campaign for mental health and her relationship with Eli Lilley, the
company that manufactures Prozac. In alternative journalism style, at once insinuating and exaggerated, they say that Mrs Gore's "achievement is to have converted the difficulties of her childhood and of being with Al into a national malady".
They unveil the close financial relationship of Gore and his father, Senator Al Gore Sr, with Armand Hammer - the Kremlin's favourite capitalist. Hammer put father Gore in the way of a $ 500,000 salary and helped Al Jr with money and political favours.
At times, this manner of putting the most unsympathetic spin on every aspect of the victim's life approaches mere cruelty. When the Gores' six-year-old son dashed across the road and was horribly mangled by a truck, the authors' cold-eyed comment is that "seldom has a nasty accident been more sedulously worked over in politico -literary rhetoric".
Unattractive as this hard-man posturing is, this is a useful book. It punctures the Vice-President's elaborately promoted image as Mr Nice Guy. Together with Bill Clinton, Gore was one of the builders of a New South brand of Democrat politics that snuggled close to business, surrendering in the process a dangerous proportion of the ground that separated Democrats from Reagan Republicans.
It reminds us that Gore's wooden speaking style and proclaimed devotion to government reform and environmental protection have distracted attention from some ruthless pragmatism and down-and-dirty infighting. The authors point out that it was Gore who, in the 1992 primaries, first played up fears of the black murderer Willie Horton, who killed and raped when on parole - a ploy shamefully borrowed by George Bush Snr's campaign.
They tax Gore with a knee-jerk support for Israel, dictated both by his loyalty to Marty Peretz, publisher of the New Republic, and by his need for funding from Israel's more uncritical supporters. They tell how Gore sabotaged the 1988 campaign by Jesse Jackson, which promised (or threatened) to reach out beyond the African -American electorate to wide swathes of the white working class.
Over the top as it sometimes is, this book helps to explain why the market is no longer for reverential candidate biographies, but for more acerbic offerings. The US electorate sees the political game as cynical and self-interested, dominated by sordid grovelling for money to pay for TV ads. And the electorate is now only half the population. The other half has given up altogether on the political ethos pitilessly but all too accurately described in this new genre of biography.
Cockburn/Gore Filets Gore In Scathing Detail
by John Nichols
After reading "Shrub,'' the delicious dissection of George W. Bush's short political journey penned by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, I was left with just one question.
Would there be an equally scathing critique of the longer but not particularly more meritorious career of Al Gore?
The answer is yes, and the book is "Al Gore: A User's
Manual'' (Verso). Authored by Alexander Cockburn, the veteran left-wing columnist and commentator whose ability to filet the deserving is unrivaled, and Jeffrey St. Clair, one of the nation's ablest and most aggressive environmental journalists, the "User's Manual'' offers a deconstruction of Gore that is every bit as chilling as the job done on Bush by Ivins and Dubose.
The masterful hand of Cockburn is at work from the start of this eminently readable tome: "Like a street mountebank fluttering a handkerchief to distract attention from his sleights of hand, Gore has always used his proficiency with the language of liberalism to mask an agenda utterly in concert with the Money Power.
"Nowhere is this truer than in his supposed environmentalism, which nicely symbolizes the chasm that has always separated Gore's professions from his performance. He denounces the rape of nature, yet has connived at the strip-mining of Appalachia and, indeed, of terrain abutting one of Tennessee's most popular state parks.
"In other arenas, he denounces vouchers, yet sends his
children to the public schools of the elite. He put himself forth as a proponent of ending the nuclear arms race, yet served as midwife for the MX missile. He offers himself as a civil libertarian, yet has been an accomplice in drives for censorship and savage assaults on the Bill of Rights.
"He parades himself as an advocate of campaign finance reform, then withdraws to the White House to pocket for the Democratic National Committee $450,000 handed to him by a gardener acting as carrier pigeon for the Riady family of Indonesia.
"He and wife Tipper were ardent smokers of marijuana, yet he now pushes for harsh sanctions against marijuana users.''
Over the next 284 pages, Cockburn and St. Clair expand on the premise in detail that, for Gore apologists, can only be described as agonizing. For clear-eyed voters of every political stripe, however, "Al Gore: A User's Manual'' is necessary reading -- as is "Shrub.'' Even those who will chose to cast a lesser-evil vote are best served by an honest portrayal of the major candidates -- and of the diminished democracy they represent.
Of course, such realism is at odds with contemporary politicking. There is an embarrassing tendency on the part of adherents of both "major'' parties to try every fourth November to turn their respective presidential candidates into unassailable heroes. The problem with this increasingly difficult process is that it fosters a lie that the vast majority of voters see <through.Given> my druthers, I'd decommission the lousy debates between Gore and Bush and put Cockburn and Ivins on stage to debate which of their subjects poses a greater threat to all things good and noble. In the meantime, the next best option is to check out Cockburn, who will be in town Thursday to make the compelling argument that "Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party.''
Required Reading for Liberals
Bloomington (IN) Independent
By Steve Higgs
Ever hear the one about Al Gore, the newsman, whose investigative reporting "landed some people in jail?" How about the one about Al Gore's reinvention as an anti-smoking crusader following his sister's death from lung cancer? About Al Gore the friend of labor? Al Gore the environmentalist?
These and dozens of other rib ticklers about the life and times and career of the Tennessee politician who could be president are chronicled in Al Gore: A User's Manual, co-written by Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn. They will convince you that Al Gore is indeed a man for the times, the perfect symbol of America's latest Gilded Age. They expose Al Gore for what he is: a shameless political sycophant. "Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party," the authors declare in the book's first sentence. Over the next 272 pages, St. Clair and Cockburn make that case in convincing, painstaking detail.
Required reading for liberals When St. Clair and Cockburn began writing Al Gore: A User's Manual, the vice president's politics were largely unknown. "This is a guy who's been around for 25 years, and no one knew anything about him," St. Clair said. "We wanted to give a critique from the progressive side." Reporters should read about Gore's "investigative reporting" on Nashville government corruption during his stint at The Tennessean. The truth is that when a developer tipped off Gore in 1974 that an African-American city councilman was on the take, he and the paper didn't adopt the Woodward-Bernstein journalism model; they became narcs and took their scoop to the District Attorney. As for "landing some people in jail," Councilman Maurice Haddox was acquitted after two trials. Voters who don't see Gore as a politician who will say anything to get elected should compare the anti-smoking crusader's speech to the 1996 Democratic Convention with his
record. After describing the scene at sister Nancy's death bed, Gore told the convention: "That is why, until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking." What Gore failed to mention was that for seven years after Nancy's death, he "went on accepting tobacco money, and went on accepting government subsidies for his tobacco allotments
in Tennessee," according to the book. Blue collar workers, like the 1,400 GE workers whose jobs are headed to Mexico, should understand the role that the man who pledges to represent working families played in their current life tragedies. "As a senator, Gore had backed the Caribbean Basin Initiative of Reagan-time, which had encouraged the growth of the maquiladoras, just south of the U.S. Mexican border," St. Clair and Cockburn say in the book. Gore then tapped Bill Daley to be commerce secretary, where he ushered the China Trade Bill through Congress. Daley now heads Gore's presidential campaign.
St. Clair's Hoosier Roots: An Indianapolis native, St. Clair is known to many in Indiana as the founder of the forest protection group ForestWatch, which he organized in 1985 in response to a U.S. Forest Service plan for off-road vehicle trails in Brown County near the isolated ridge-top cabin he, wife Kim and family called home. Throughout the Hoosier struggle, St. Clair earned a reputation as a tenacious, unyielding defender of the forest's environmental integrity. He went to work for the Hoosier Environmental Council and wrote the Conservationist Alternative, which became the foundation of the ecofriendly management plan that has guided Hoosier management activities since the early 1990s. St. Clair moved to Oregon in 1990 to work with forest economist Randal O'Toole, editing a newsletter called "Forestwatch." When the two split in 1993, St. Clair started a newsletter called "Wild Forest Review," an early preparation for writing Al Gore: A User's Manual. "Wild Forest Review's" debut coincided with the early years of the Clinton-Gore administration when mainstream environmental groups were positively giddy at the prospect of a Gore vice presidency. Early in 1993, Clinton and Gore came to the Northwest and convened a summit on ancient forest logging and the spotted owl. Their proposed solution, known as Option 9, was among the initial issues covered in "Wild Forest Review." St. Clair was among the first ecojournalists to recognize that environmentalists who embraced Clinton-Gore were abandoning their principles. "Eventually, the national environmental groups were coerced into supporting Option 9, which ensured that old growth forests would be logged for the next 50 years," St. Clair said from his home in Oregon City near Portland. "During the Bush years, these people saw the logging of old growth forests as a crime. Under Clinton and Gore, they saw it as political expediency."
Environmental muckraking:St. Clair began covering the new environmental movement, which was composed of younger, more militant activists "who challenged the bona fides of Clinton-Gore." He also became a leading critic of the large national environmental foundations and their connections to corporate money. After three years, "Wild Forest Review" folded from lack of funding. But St. Clair's writing on Gore and the North American Free Trade Agreement had caught the attention of Cockburn, whose progressive writings in the Village Voice, The Nation and other publications had always inspired St. Clair. St. Clair and Cockburn now co-edit the political newsletter Counterpunch. In 1998, they collaborated on Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. In 1999, St. Clair and James Ridgeway co-authored A Pocket Guide to Environmental Bad Guys. The Village Voice has dubbed St. Clair "America's best environmental muckraker."
Ozone man?: Most significantly, those who care about the earth should familiarize themselves with Gore's environmental record. The author of Earth in the Balance manages a lifetime rating of only 64 from the League of Conservation Voters, whose rankings are notoriously skewed to make Democrats appear greener than Republicans. And his early efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act demonstrate that from the beginning, his claim as a friend of the earth is self-serving political doublespeak. Gore was a Tennessee congressman when biologists discovered the endangered snail darter clinging to life in stretches of the Little Tennessee River, which was being dammed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Tellico Dam was 95 percent complete at the time. Environmentalists brought suit under the Endangered Species Act and prevailed through the Supreme Court. Stunned that such a pork-barrel project could be threatened by a piece of environmental legislation, Gore and fellow Tennesseean, Senator Howard Baker, attached a rider to the 1979 appropriations bill that would allow the dam to be built. They threatened to withhold support for President Jimmy Carter's Panama Canal Treaty if he vetoed the bill. The dam was completed, and the snail darter vanished from the Little Tennessee. "As the defenders of the snail darter predicted, the path to destruction of the Endangered Species Act now lay open," St. Clair and Cockburn wrote, "and first down that path had been none other than Al Gore." After reading Al Gore: A User's Manual, one can't help but wonder what paths Al Gore will lead us down.
Albert the Terrible
Despite his many years in the public eye, Al Gore remains an unknown quantity to most people. Lucky for him.
Steve Perry / The Stranger
TO HEAR HIS apologists tell it, there is a good Al Gore and a bad Al Gore. Good Al is a man of thoughtful mien, probing conscience, and gentle spirit who never really wanted a life in politics, a first-rate painter in his school days and later the author of an impassioned, soul-searching treatise on saving the planet_saving it, that is, from men like Bad Al, a craven, preening opportunist who did indeed enter politics and whose performance with respect to foreign policy, the Pentagon, the environment, crime, and poverty would do the most rabid claque of Republicans proud. The truth is that no one besides Tipper and their family therapist need trouble themselves over Good Al, as he has never intruded on the business of governance. In that domain there is only Bad Al, the man once described by his cousin, Gore Vidal, as having "all the makings of an American Cromwell."
David Maraniss wrote a fine biography of Bill Clinton, *First in His Class*, but in that case he had a good character to work with_wily, engaging, and genuinely complicated. He's not so lucky this time. Both Maraniss and Bill Turque devote considerable energy to the purported tussle between Good Al and Bad Al without ever seeming to notice that it's always Bad Al who carries the day. Their ethically embattled Gore is pure contrivance. In one sense they had little choice in the matter, it being the job of Beltway journalists (Maraniss and co-author Ellen Nakashima labor for the *Washington Post*, Turque for *Newsweek*) to invest presidents and presidential candidates with qualities such as intellectual substance, moral concern, and the capacity for fruitful introspection whether they possess any of them or not.
In their telling, consequently, even the most cold-blooded political decisions are frequently made to seem the product of anguished internal debate. Consider an episode from Gore's record on defense spending and foreign interventionism, a fair place to start in light of his striving to position himself as an arms control expert from his earliest days in the Senate. In 1991 Gore was one of only ten Senate Democrats to vote in favor of George Bush's Gulf War resolution. Turque relates with the utmost credulity Gore's own story of his "excruciating" choice, then adds: "It was a gutsy decision, perhaps the one in his career closest to a pure act of conscience." Maraniss's version is less swooning, but he too buys the line that Gore experienced moral agony over the Gulf War vote.
This is plain silly. A cursory review of Gore's record suffices to prove his enthusiasm for all things war-related, but only Cockburn and St. Clair bother to undertake one. (Of the three books reviewed here, theirs is far superior in its exhumation of his record on policy questions as a legislator and as vice president.) During the '80s, they report, Gore supported Reagan' s bombing of Libya and invasion of Grenada, voted for the B-1 and B-2 bombers, and engineered a deal with the Reagan administration that helped resurrect the moribund MX missile program. Gore partisans like to claim their man and his coterie were snookered by the White House in that instance, but in the words of one former House Armed Services Committee staffer, "They were willing pawns of the Reaganauts, determined to screw over the [nuclear] freeze movement in order to advance Gore's career." Later Gore would oppose a series of efforts to trim the defense budget after the collapse of the Soviet Union, among them the transfer of a relatively meager $3.1 billion from the Pentagon to fund a variety of domestic programs, including Head Start.
Approximately one million Iraqi children have died since the 1991 Gulf War as a direct result of the war's bombing raids against the country's civilian infrastructure and the subsequent <U.S.-led> sanctions against the import of vital goods, avidly backed by Gore. As vice-president, in fact, Gore has been a steadfast proponent of foreign interventions. He pushed both of the Clinton administration's bombing raids against Iraq as well as its excursion to the Balkans and its still-unfolding foray into Colombia. And on the campaign trail this year he has promised that a Gore administration will bring more of the same. Terming his foreign policy "Forward Engagement," he pledged "a more robust form of Clintonism," write Cockburn and St. Clair: "highlighted by quicker interventions, less diplomacy and more firepower[.]"
This, per Turque and Maraniss, is the man who writhed in moral anguish over his Gulf War vote. Gore no doubt fretted, but it had nothing to do with the prospective loss of life on either side. The real source of his angst was laid bare in a subsequent conversation with an aide, Steve Owens. If the war went badly, he said, "I may just have thrown away whatever future I had with the Democratic Party." If it went well, on the other hand, Gore would be almost uniquely well-positioned vis a vis prospective Democratic rivals. It was not a terribly risky proposition; the war would be unpopular only if it involved protracted ground fighting with heavy American casualties, and one has to suppose Gore knew enough about U.S. military capabilities to presume that unlikely. Happily for him, unhappily for us, his modest gamble paid off. It appears now that Gore will coast to victory next month. If he does, he will make liberals and progressives miss Bill Clinton; he may make them miss Nixon before he's through.
AL GORE WAS born in 1948, his parents' second child and the only male heir to a budding Tennessee political franchise. His father, Albert Gore Sr., was a New Dealer elected to the House of Representatives in 1938 and subsequently to the Senate in 1952. The elder Gore was not without his own presidential ambitions_at the 1956 Democratic convention, he worked himself into an unseemly lather at the prospect he might crowd his way onto the ticket as Adlai Stevenson's number two_and he was thought by colleagues to be pompous and aloof. But there ends any similarity between father and son. Gore Sr. was one of the Senate's earliest opponents of the Vietnam War, one of the architects of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and a supporter of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Owing in no small measure to his position on Vietnam, Albert Gore was defeated for re-election in 1970. All three books ponder the Oedipal significance of his father's rise and fall for young Al. Suffice it to say that if Gore took anything from his father's example, it was an unshakeable resolve that *he* would never be caught up short by bucking powerful forces on principle. He would instead slay his father symbolically, and avenge the old man's political demise, by winning at all costs.
Toward that end he has been petty and mean-spirited, greedy and self-seeking, to an extent only a Nixon man could truly appreciate. This side of Gore emerged in full flower during his first run at the presidency, in 1988. The other Democratic candidates fairly reeled at the attack posture Gore brought to that year's primary season debates, but the watershed moment came late in the game when, after an insufficient showing on Super Tuesday, Gore chose to continue his dead-in-the-water candidacy through the New York primary. Turque and Maraniss take the Gore camp at its word as to motive, characterizing the move as a bit of self-delusion bred by the heat of competition. Cockburn and St. Clair make the rather more convincing case that Gore served as the party's designated hit man, sent in to help torpedo the insurgent candidacy of Jesse Jackson in concert with Jackson-bashing former mayor Ed Koch, who felicitously turned up as Gore's top endorser in New York. In reward for his efforts, they write, Gore was able to retire a $2 million campaign debt in near-record time that summer_a striking lesson in what the combination of phone work and fealty to power could do for a candidate's war chest.
As Bill Clinton's vice president, Gore reputedly possessed an almost unprecedented amount of clout in several areas, most prominent among them foreign policy and the environment. In regard to the latter, Gore proved an architect of the Clinton administration's signature stratagem of triangulation, whereby the Clinton gang aligned itself with a bipartisan coalition of congressional Republicans and the most conservative elements of the Democratic party against progressives inside (and outside) the party. At Gore's behest a number of environmentalists were appointed to staff positions in the administration, and Gore aides such as Katie McGinty were always available to listen to the plaintive cries of activist groups. They got "access," in short, but it was all they got. Clinton/Gore proceeded, meanwhile, to build an environmental legacy that one veteran activist, David Brower, termed "more [harmful] to the environment than Reagan and Bush combined." The administration opened old-growth forests for cutting, sold off oil rights in federally owned nature preserves, and, perhaps most consequentially, passed major trade agreements that undercut scores of environmental regulations in the U.S. and other countries_efforts in which Al Gore played key roles.
But the undiluted essence of Gore may be best captured in a snapshot from the last presidential campaign, in the fall of 1996. At the time Clinton enjoyed roughly a 20-point lead over Bob Dole. His re-election was assured. The notorious Republican Congress of 1994 was on the run; indeed, Clinton's rehabilitation after a disastrous start to his first term was due in great measure to the even greater unpopularity of Newt Gingrich and his feral, beady-eyed horde. Around this time, two things happened. First, the latest congressional welfare reform bill landed on Clinton's desk. He wavered in regard to signing it; the election was drawing close and it looked as though the Democrats might retake the House, at which point a less extreme bill might be passed. Most of the Cabinet favored a veto_even Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin reportedly deemed it too draconian. Only Al Gore, along with Dick Morris, pressed Clinton to sign, as he of course did. The second telling incident came when representatives of the Democratic National Committee approached Clinton about the release of some of his campaign funds to help finance races in close House districts. Gore vehemently opposed the plan. As Cockburn and St. Clair tell it, "It's a measure of how a number of Democrats view Al Gore that some participants in that meeting felt the only explanation for his conduct was that he did not want the Democrats to recapture the House because victory would elevate [Gore rival Dick] Gephardt to the prominence of Speaker of the House."
The point is that_contrary to the desperate mythologizing of liberals who still cling to the party_no one pushed Gore toward being a reactionary New Democrat; he jumped, early and avidly, and he did so for exactly the same reason as Clinton, because he saw in it the greatest chance for his own advancement. What a bitter little joke it is to watch him criss-crossing the country now as Al Gore, Trust Buster. (And lest one doubt that it *is* a joke, take the reassuring word of Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, the group that anchors the Clinton-Gore-Lieberman right wing of the party. From is quoted nodding and winking at the reinvented populist Gore in a recent *Washington Post* article.)
Gore is one of the more shallow, grasping, transparent figures to skulk across the national stage in an age that has seen no shortage of them. His closest contemporary in this regard, though deceptively different in public demeanor, is probably his fellow technophile and sometime-dinner partner Gingrich. David Maraniss spoke about Gore with Richard Ben Cramer, the author of *What It Takes*, the epic-length tale of the combatants in the 1988 presidential race. Cramer interviewed Gore for the book but quickly decided to drop him from radar after Gore started testifying to the "thousands" of letters he had received begging him to run for president. "I thought to myself," Cramer said, "life's too short to talk to this guy anymore. It wasn't the fact that he wasn't telling me the truth, it was the pallid bankruptcy of the lies, all in service of a picture of himself that wasn't even interesting. He wasn't even an interesting liar."
Cramer added that he thought Gore incapable of giving an honest rendering of his motives and feelings because "he was scared. He was scared of his own self." In this, at least, it behooves us to heed Al Gore.
No Mirth in the Balance
The Nation 13nov00
"Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party. He did not attain this distinction by accident but by sedulous study from the cradle forward."
Thus unambiguously do Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn and frequent collaborator Jeffrey St. Clair stake out the terrain in opening their brief against the Vice President. Political handbook rather than full-blown biography, it effectively paints Gore as a walking sandwich board for Democratic Leadership Council values, tapped for higher office because Bill and Hillary saw in him "a kindred soul in political philosophy, hewing to the pro-corporate, anti-union positions...which together they had founded and
nurtured." From his family connections to Occidental
Petroleum to his education partly under Martin Peretz (from Peretz's pulpit at Harvard, not The New Republic), Gore's background is shown with no mirth in the balance but his "propensity to boast excessively" demonstrated at every turn. The authors,
wearing their hearts on their pens, chronicle Gore's role in fighting against graphic rock lyrics but for NAFTA, his boardroom brand of environmentalism, his evolution from "centrist realism" to (stretcher alert) "pragmatic progressivism." He's "never been a political Boy Scout," they write. On their honor.
He Really Will Say (and Do) Anything to Get Elected
Earth First! Journal
By Michael Donnelly
Al Gore is on the cusp of becoming the first American president who grew up in a hotel suite (rent-free courtesy of a relative who owned the hotel), ordering breakfast from room service and riding a limo to his private school for the elite. Like everything else about Gore, this reality clashes with the public myth of the hard-working, pig shit-shoveling, mule team-plowing farm boy from Carthage, Tennessee.
Authors Cockburn and St. Clair's excellent dissection of Gore's public myth is a must read for any progressive--especially those who continue to bleat the fear-inflating nonsense that the wagons must be circled around Gore as George W. Bush is an oil-drenched, military thrall out to roll back worker's rights, environmental protections and a woman's right to choose. This, the first thorough examination of Gore's 25-year public career from a Left (or any for that matter) perspective shows that those very feared rollbacks have been the bases of the chameleon Gore's
In Al Gore: A User's Manual, we learn that Gore, himself, has been a major Defense department sycophant. After a politically-motivated short tour of Vietnam as an Army reporter complete with constant bodyguard (note to Creedence: he was a Senator's son), Gore, once in Congress (how he got there another great story) became one of the Pentagon's most trusted water carriers. The hawk Gore virtually invented the Midgetman missile, midwifed the MX missile, voted against every effort to cut the Defense budget, backed the invasion of Grenada, supported the contras and, then in what he called his "finest hour," voted for the Gulf War - only after shopping his vote on the very day of the debate to each side in order to secure the most favorable TV slot during the debate.
While in Congress, Al Gore was not only a hawk, but also a voice against homosexuals, whom he called "deviants." Gore also preposterously claims to have always "supported a woman's right to choose" when, in fact, he has an 84% pro-life rating from National Right to Life, even stating that he believes in "the fetus' right to life" and voting for the Hyde amendment AND Rep. Mark Siljander's effort to undercut Roe v Wade.
The authors relate tale after tale of Gore's use of personal epiphanies to explain his beliefs. The book exposes how Gore used the death of his sister, Nancy, from smoking-related cancer as a prop, saying in 1996, "that is why until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause
of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking." Seven years after her death, Gore was still on the Big Tobacco dole - accepting tobacco money and accepting government subsidies for the tobacco he still grew on his Tennessee farm. Though Al and Tipper once smoked a lot of pot, Gore now opposes its use, even for medical purposes, ignoring how his sister got relief from chemo primarily from the beneficial effects of smoking marijuana!
Other family events become similar props. A pedestrian/auto accident where his son, Al III, was hit on the streets of Baltimore was similarly milked for political use. After lying that his son (who fully recovered) was down in the street unconscious on the verge of death (two nurses who happened by say Al III never lost consciousness), Gore claims that it became yet another of his epiphanies and dedicated himself to being a more present dad. In the end,
however, he soon sequestered himself away from Tipper and kids in his family's old hotel suite to pen "Earth on the Balance."
It is here, in Gore's supposed reputation as an environmentalist, that his penchant for lying and double-dealing is most obvious. The man, who wrote that protection of the environment should be the "organizing principle" of government, in his political career, has done nothing of the sort. The authors point out that it was Green Al who first used opened the door to weakening the Nixon-signed Endangered Species Act by creating the "god squad" to in order to advance the Tellico Dam in his home state over concerns about the dam's effect on the Snail Darter. At the same time he was a foremost, even fanatical, proponent of the Clinch River breeder reactor.
In 1992, candidate Gore promised to oppose the WTI hazardous waste burner in East Liverpool, Ohio. Once elected, it became the first environmental promise, written at that, broken by the Clinton/Gore administration. Soon thereafter, Clinton and Gore came to the Pacific Northwest and forced the supine Big Greens, over the objections of local grassroots environmentalists, to drop an injunction against old growth logging that was issued by Reagan-appointee, Judge William Dwyer. Once Green Al left town, the ancient trees were again rolling down to the mills and the Northern spotted owl, the species the injunction was out to protect have now on the brink of extinction. The Gore-brokered Northwest Forest Plan calls for 50 years of continuedcutting of the Ancient Forests. Not satisfied, Clinton, at Gore's urging, then, in 1995, signed the so-called "Salvage Rider" which delivered millions of acres to the chainsaws unfettered by any ability for citizens to challenge the destruction in court.
On and on it goes. Al Gore is a man of political expediency. The man who famously "reinvented" government, has been constantly reinventing himself. The rap that Gore is a man who will say anything to get elected is verified time after time by the authors. He has said famously that he "invented the Internet." He claims that he and Tipper (who comes off quite sympathetically in the book despite her censorship efforts) were the models for Erich Segal's book, "Love Story." He claims falsely to have "got a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail" when he unethically became part of a police sting while a reporter for the Tennessean. He claimed to have authored the earned income tax credit, which was enacted two years, before he was elected to Congress. He even claimed he did not know he was even "in a Buddhist temple" much less there to collect campaign cash.
Cockburn and St. Clair have done a service by exposing the Al Gore myth and providing the background information we'll all be looking for once the rhetoric and actions of a Gore administration, like those of the Clinton/Gore one, begin to not add up.
One can hope that the oily (yes, they delve deeply into the Gore family ties to Occidental petroleum and its shady head, Armand Hammer) Gore history will be looked at seriously BEFORE any vote casting, but, in the end, the fear inflation and collusion of the rudderless Democrat special interests will likely win out. Cockburn and St. Clair have earned the right to be first in line when it comes time to say, "I told you so."
TWO journalists from the Washington Post, David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima, have written a timely, if patchy, account of the career and character of Vice-President Al Gore. For all the apparent similarities between him and his presidential opponent, George W. Bush, their approach brings out the differences.
Take the small matter of their briefing habits. The standard view is that, unlike Mr Bush, whose taste in memos matches his attention-span, Mr Gore is a details man. This is putting it mildly, say the authors, and they illustrate their point with Mr Gore's reaction to news of his sister's lung cancer. When a doctor started to describe what was wrong with her, Mr Gore cut in, naming ten or so forms the disease can take and demanding to know which she had. It was typical of him that, before meeting his sister's doctor, he had briefed himself thoroughly at the National Institute of Pathology. Obviously, the Harvard graduate does his homework. What's more, Mr Gore really did himself write his green bestseller, "Earth in the Balance" (1992).
The authors fault, by contrast, the vice-president's well-known tendency to exaggerate his achievements and to sway with the wind. They recognise, as worldly journalists, that boasting and compromise are part of politics. All the same, they mark Mr Gore down on handling. Though President Clinton, they say, is deft at this sort of thing, Mr Gore strikes them as "especially clunky".
This awkwardness may be to do with the unusually high standards that Mr Gore seems to have set himself when he was small. His father, Albert Sr, was United States senator for Tennessee in 1953-71, and the young Gore grew up in the adult world of political Washington, broken by summer idylls at home. The authors are good at illuminating Mr Gore's scrupulosity with stories from his youth. Once at school, a teacher passed out an old exam which the young Albert had already seen. Immediately, he fessed up. More importantly, almost alone of his Ivy League contemporaries (including Mr Bush), Albert Jr served in Vietnam.
Though valuable, these insights are no substitute for the hard detail of Mr Gore's career. His rise was not unusually rapid. He had eight years each in House and Senate before becoming vice-president in 1993. He has been active in that job, but bizarrely, the authors devote only ten pages to this period, skating over issues such as his shifts on abortion or his talents as a fund-raiser.
What sort of a president do the authors think Mr Gore would make? An intriguing answer comes from a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, which Mr Gore attended while a reporter before entering politics. The professor told them that, like President Jimmy Carter, Mr Gore will "want to do everything". Yet unlike Mr Carter, who thought the world "could be made right", Mr Gore believes only that it "can be made better". According to his old divinity teacher, Mr Gore has a fixed, Calvinist notion of sin and can, at times, come over as irritatingly moralistic. Yet, all in all, the professor thinks Mr Gore is a good egg, reminding him, indeed, of no less a president than Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln, as we know, saved the Union and freed the slaves. Debunkers will remind us that he also shared the racial prejudices of his day and, as a corporate lawyer before becoming president, defended Illinois railways against claims from widows of workers killed on their lines. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair take just such an unexalted, muck-raking approach to Mr Gore.
Their short book is a pitiless requisitory of broken promises, bent principles, sentimental exploitation of family calamities (including his sister's death), careerist back-stroking and shameless favour trading. Neither Mr Gore, nor any of his allies, are called to defend him, and he is judged throughout against the ideal, not the competition. The implied standard to which the authors hold the vice-president would require that all seekers of high office in America show the commitment to principle of St Francis and the self-sacrifice of Rosa Luxemburg. You might think that Republicans would seize on this book as valuable campaign ammunition. But the worst thing the authors hold against Mr Gore is that throughout his career -- they eagerly supply the detail -- he has always caved in to pressure from the right and from big business, especially when it comes to the environment.
Does "Al Gore: A User's Manual" tell us anything besides the fact, which we knew, that Mr Gore is a rather conservative centrist? If its stories of his bad relations with colleagues of both parties in the House and Senate are representative, President Gore will have fences to mend on the Hill. Of course, he must already know -- and probably knew then -- that new presidents have plenty of patronage with which to compensate for old slights. A campaign biography of Al Gore delves into his early years. Another new book on the vice-president rakes over his recent career
Taking the Hide Off Gore
By Peter Hannaford
The first thing to know about this book is that the authors, who take the hide off Al Gore, are not politically-motivated Republicans. Far from it: Alexander Cockburn calls himself "an old leftist" and Jeffrey St. Clair is described as "America's best environmental muckraker." Together, they explore both well-known and little-known aspects of Gore's life, showing him to be thoroughly calculating, manipulative and disingenuous. Coming at the Gore story from the left, as they do, the authors routinely dismiss policies they don't like as being "ridiculous" or "ludicrous." Although these and similar labels are applied to various policies with which conservatives generally agree, the reader is cautioned to overlook the left-wing polemics and enjoy this extremely lively dissection of the Democrats' nominee for president. It seems that Al Gore's life has been one long Road to Damascus. He has one epiphany after another, each described with great melodrama. There was his sister's death, his young son being hit by an automobile, his decision to vote for the Gulf War, his authorship of the doomsday book, Earth in the Balance--to name a few. His elder sister, Nancy, died of cancer. At the 1996 Democratic convention, Gore launched into an emotional discourse about it: "...I knelt by her bed and held her hand and in a very short time, her breathing became labored and then she breathed her last breath. And that is why until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking." A noble sentiment, but the authors inform us that Gore continued to accept tobacco company money and government subsidies for his own tobacco allotments in Tennessee for another seven years! Four years earlier, at the 1992 convention, Gore described another epiphany. Following a Baltimore Orioles game in 1989, the family was about to cross a major street when Gore's six-year-old son, Albert III darted across the lanes and was hit by a car. Al Gore told the conventioneers that, "...he was motionless, limp and still, without breath or pulse. His eyes were open with the nothingness stare of death, and we prayed, the two of us, there in the gutter, with only my voice." According to the authors, two nurses who happened to be at the scene and looked after the boy until the ambulance arrived, said he never lost consciousness. Albert III made a full recovery. Nevertheless, his father said the boy's experience was a "catalyst" for a "life change..." He promised his wife, Tipper, he would spend more time with the family. Alas for the family, this particular epiphany required Al to write a book about the impending eco-catastrophe confronting the globe and the importance of eliminating the internal combustion engine. He spent his evenings writing this opus in a Washington apartment owned by his parents. So much for the stay-at-home dad. Every step of Gore's political career is documented, from his decision to run for an open House seat from Tennessee in 1976, to his current candidacy for President. This account is instructive, especially in describing Gore's Senate vote to support the Gulf War. He voted only after a 20-minute speech to his colleagues in which he said he had spent much time "questioning, probing, seaching for the truth." It seems, however, that the road to Damascus did not require quite so much handwringing. Senator Alan Simpson, then the Republican Whip, says Gore "shopped" his vote with both parties, picking the side that would give him the best television coverage. "Southerner" Al Gore was reared in Washington, where his family lived in the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row. The authors unearth the fact that they lived rent-free, thanks to the generosity of a relative who owned the hotel. Gore often derides George W. Bush as being in the pocket of "Big Oil." He omits the role Occidental Petroleum has played in securing his own financial well-being. The authors spell it out. Gore's father, Albert Sr., after losing his Senate seat in 1970, was employed by the buccaneer Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental and, for years before, had been beholden to Hammer for financial favors. Al, Jr., from his student days onward has been the beneficiary of Occidental largesse. Here is a book from the left that has plenty of worthwhile material for those on the right.
Peter Hannaford is a public affairs consultant and author. He is editor of The Essential George Washington.
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