Gore Finds the Kids Are Alright

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Gore up in Michigan

Al Gore's underwear remains a secret after his stint on MTV's (and TIME's) "Choose or Lose" 2000 Forum, in which an assemblage of 150 college-agers in Ann Arbor, Mich. (yes, that's a swing state), got to very slowly pepper the veep with whatever questions they'd gotten past the show's producers. Gore, strutting on the stage like a frontrunner, came through fine — well-spoken, well-read and reasonably cool. If there was no shining moment, there was also nothing in the performance to burst his current bubble.

Then again, this was a friendly audience for Gore. The questions swarmed mostly around broad social issues, such as abortion (See it here in Real Video on slow fast or broadband connections), race, guns (See it here in Real Video on slow fast or broadband connections), popular culture, race again, and medical marijuana — along with a few demographic pet issues like Napster and the intentions of hip-hop. They asked a lot of patently impossible, Miss America–type questions (Mr. Gore, what will you do as president to end pain and suffering?) and Gore did not miss any opportunity to frolic in his boilerplate material. Which went over very well. The future of America, if this was it, seems genuinely interested, if a bit preeningly idealistic and not particularly incisive. And they're social liberals — to a point.

Which certainly wasn't a problem for this New-Old Democrat. A few unpleasant things popped up for Gore: a touch of emotional tone-deafness — gunplay isn't "mischief," Al — a bit of the pandering square, and those weird pulsing "mm" sounds he makes when, presumably, he's trying to simultaneously listen to the question and figure out which answer to use. He thinks while he talks, too — when a specific question was asked, Gore would reel off the platform line for a while before risking a direct response, if he risked one at all. He has a nervous sort of snort-laugh that pops out at inappropriate times, and he apparently thinks "y'understand what'm sayin'?" is what all the kids are sayin' these days.

But he only really condescended once — these people know what misogyny means, Al — and he managed to squeeze in everything he's ever stood for and every slogan he's ever spit out. And in politics, that's a good performance. He even did a couple of mini-Sister Souljahs, once when he set his jaw and told a redhead he was opposed to any form of marijuana legalization (see it here in Real Video on slow fast or broadband connections), and once at the end, challenging a young hip-hop Turk to "become the change you want in the world," instead of just moaning explicitly about it. Points for quoting Gandhi, history's ultimate noodge.

Populism being the most versatile of all the political faiths, Gore had something for everyone — a Pell grant, a promise, a platitude, a plan. He is perfecting his schtick, which is working very well for the incumbent of this sunny status quo: With all this money lying around, we've got enough for everybody that needs it — why do anything crazy? He covered all the ideological ground from Ted Kennedy to Bill Clinton, and refused to give anybody there a reason to vote for George W. Bush (though he did take a stand on the Constitution as a living document, which nobody there seemed to mind at all). In fact, the punch line question of the night actually gave Gore the most trouble. "Paper or plastic?"

Paper or plastic. Gore didn't want to choose, each option carrying its own environmental stigma. "Paper, just because I like the paper," he said, after grimacing theatrically. But he had a third way of his own. "How about this — you just lump it up in your arms and take it like that."

For Bill Clinton, it's "boxers or briefs." For Gore it's "paper or plastic." Yep, that about sums it up.