Al Gore's Declaration for Independents

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Before Los Angeles, Al Gore was some 20 points behind in the polls among independents. Where does Gore stand in the minds of such voters now?

THE POSITIVES

  • Transparency and the Weird Al Factor
    Before Los Angeles, Gore gave the impression (much remarked) of an alien passing through experimental selves, in the way that Hillary Clinton once underwent experimental hairdos. One picked up Gore's strange premeditation, his discomfort with himself.

    He leaves Los Angeles seeming a good, smart man — able, strong, and, er, normal. Gore accomplished the transformation not only through his speech (Gore for the first time playing entirely his own game, in the full confidence of his gifts), but also through his family.

    This was the political convention as '50s sitcom: Karenna Gore's radiant young transparency, the sweetness of her childhood memories, validated her father in a charming way and delivered the message that the American family could expect Al Gore to run a 0safe, secure home. Tipper is the perfect sitcom wife, bouncy and warm. Nobody doesn't like Tipper. (Incidentally, the custom of spouses or other people in the family introducing the candidate still strikes the traditionalist as a little bizarre. I can think of hilarious possibilities if, say, Bess ("The Boss") Truman had introduced Harry to the 1948 convention.)

    Gore shrewdly enhanced his transparency by listing his policy priorities (campaign finance reform, social security, health insurance, education, and so on) as in a State of the Union address. Full disclosure — or the impression of it, anyway.

  • The Un-Clinton
    One realized on Thursday night, with a feeling of immense relief, that the Clintons had left the room. (If only). For so long, everyone said Gore's problem was that he is not Clinton (lacks Clinton's something-or-other, his con artist charisma, his unstoppable cunning, his long thin fingers, his deck of cards). But when Gore told the convention, "I am my own man," one not only believed it but muttered, "Thank God." The sight of the Gore family made one think again of Bill and Hillary and all the tediously unpleasant, dysfunctional business they brought into the People's House.


    THE NEGATIVES

  • Too much old orthodoxy
    The independent had a sense he had walked into the political equivalent of cocktails in Stepford, Conn. All the guests had had their minds ideologically programmed. One sniffed the stale air sometimes of a museum of liberalism, filled with dinosaurs (Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, e.g., who are the left-wing equivalent of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond) and pseudo-populist interest groups (the teachers' union, for example.) One's heart sank to see that Joe Lieberman, who went to Mississippi in the early '60s to work in the civil rights movement (dangerous work — Schwerner and Chaney and Goodman got killed there), had to be condescendingly vetted by Maxine Waters. Cubans drive around Havana in pre-Castro Lincolns and Chevies. Too many of the Democratic delegates seemed to be riding around in unchallenged assumptions, sometimes as old and clunky as the Cuban cars. That class warfare stuff ("the party of the people, not the powerful") is vintage populism, but it only hits on a couple of cylinders. There are newer, better models.

    People said the Republican convention presented a pageant of false, fuzzy diversity. Democrats praised their own true diversity; they repeated clichés about their party's bumptiousness — a sign, they said, of real people, of authenticity. A small voice in the back of the mind said, "Bull." What's wrong with the Democratic party is its slightly sinister orthodoxy, the mortmain of the liberal apparat. You'd better not raise the whisper of a doubt about certain matters (affirmative action, for example, or "the right to choose," or hate crimes). These subjects, and others in the continuum of right-thinking, are closed to further discussion and even to further thought. They are foregone conclusions. If you don't like it, you go to outer darkness, as to Siberia.

    But on the whole, an independent thinks, Gore had a good convention. Its greatest accomplishment was to bring Al Gore into a sharp, attractive focus as a leader and as a human being. He did what he needed to do.