Thursday, March 25, 1999

Farmer Gore's adventures in the heartland

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Poor Al Gore. He is backpedaling like crazy again. If he doesn't stop saying such ridiculous things, we voters are going to begin to suspect that he thinks we're stupid. This will hurt our feelings, and we will vote for somebody who pretends to think we are smart.

        Inventing the Internet? It turns out that in 1986 Mr. Gore was chairman of a science subcommittee, which championed the creation of five supercomputer centers. This eventually led to what we now know as the Internet.

        Loosely speaking.

        Mr. Gore has never been less than semi-honest with us. And no wonder. He has the bitter example of his father to demonstrate what happens when one is tempted to dole out too much truth to the American electorate. Al Gore Sr. lost his 1970 Tennessee race because of his support of civil rights and his opposition to the Vietnam War.

        Al Gore the younger is simply learning the lessons of the past. It doesn't pay to put yourself too firmly on one side of an issue. For instance, when you are talking to the anti-tobacco folks, it makes a lot of sense to bring yourself almost to tears recounting the death of your sister, a smoker, from lung cancer.

        But, then again, what can it hurt, when you are among tobacco growers, to remind them that you “raised, shredded and sold” tobacco?

        And if the Ivy League Gore doesn't seem homey enough for Iowa farmers, why not trot out Farmer Gore? He reminisced in a speech there this month about shoveling hog manure and plowing with a team of mules. I feel sure that this is absolutely accurate.

        Loosely speaking.

        It must also be said that Mr. Gore sandwiched the hogs and mules in between life at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, where he lived while his father was a U.S. senator. And between school at St. Albans and Harvard and Vanderbilt.

        Stiff? Boring? A guy who can't chew gum and macarena at the same time? How would we feel about the revelation that Al Gore and Tipper were the inspiration for the sexy, passionate couple in Erich Segal's Love Story? Well, we may have been interested. Mr. Segal was absolutely amazed.

        I don't remember what Mr. Gore's joke writers said to get him off that hook, but I'll bet it was charming and self-deprecating. In a speech shortly after the Internet remark, Mr. Gore said, “The truth is, I was very tired when I made the comment because I had been up very late the night before inventing the camcorder.”

Learning experience
        When he campaigns here in the Tristate, I wonder if he'll remember fighting back the flood waters in 1997. (He dipped the toe of his well-polished shoe into water in downtown Cincinnati.) Or perhaps when he comes back here, he will discuss his education at Cincinnati State College a year earlier.

        His visit there was a hastily assembled answer to criticism that he was using public money to raise campaign funds. This criticism, it must be noted, came from inside his own party. Democratic Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates suggested that Mr. Gore, who raised $100,000 at a private dinner, should reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his trip — about $24,000.

        “This is a learning trip,” Mr. Gore said after talking to 125 students, faculty and business executives for 20 minutes. Sure it was. Just like putting a file cabinet in your house makes it an office and mentioning your company means you can write off lunch.

        Every election, there's a debate over whether character “matters.” Is this debate over? Have we finally, resoundingly, embarrassingly noticed that it does? We can't possibly know what crises and choices will be considered during the terms of our presidents and senators and council members. So, we have to notice how they behave generally.

        What they do is important.

        But so is what they say.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.


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