His Father's Son, and the Worse for It

By Stephen, Andrew | New Statesman (1996), March 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

His Father's Son, and the Worse for It


Stephen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)


It struck me long ago that it's hard to be the son or daughter of a politician: while politicos selfishly bask in some spuriously glamorous spotlight, their children are all too frequently emotionally neglected. A surprising number of political offspring on both sides of the Atlantic - far higher than national averages, I suspect - end up committing suicide, becoming drug addicts, alcoholics, and so forth. Over the years, I've therefore developed an acid test when trying to deduce the true personality of a politician - look at his (as is usually the case) kids first. Most of all, does he exploit them for political ends?

Kennedy, Nixon, Carter et al: all fail this test immediately. Ludicrously, Jimmy Carter once even invoked the views of his nine-year-old daughter Amy on nuclear proliferation. Surprisingly, and notwithstanding his manifold sins and wickednesses, Bill Clinton passes my test; with a few exceptions he has done his best to keep Chelsea out of the spotlight.

That's not so, however, with Al Gore. I remember standing in Madison square Gardens in the 1992 Democratic political convention listening to Gore delivering a much-rehearsed tear-jerker about how his young son was almost killed in a traffic accident. Then the boy was ushered on to the stage to roars of acclaim. It was all truly nauseating: not just the use of a family trauma for political soap-opera ends, but the invasion of the little boy's privacy.

Heaven knows what this does to the psyche of a child too young to understand his own father's exploitation of him.

That boy is now a teenager who - at least partly because Gore used him as a political pawn when it suited his own ends - most of Washington feels free to gossip about. The Washington Post reported that the boy has since become involved with drugs. His school then refused to make him a prefect.

The vice-president, furious that a Gore - yes, a Gore! - could be slighted in such a way, wrenched his son out of that school and put him in another. Just another day in the life of a child of a politician obsessed with his own image.

You may have gathered by now that I am not too taken with the man who is now a shoo-in (or, as the Independent memorably put it not long ago in an effort to show it knew its Americanisms, a "shoe-in") as Democrat candidate in next year's elections.

Amazingly, only four vice-presidents in US history (including the father of the man who may be his opponent, George Bush) have gone on to be elected to the presidency; if forced to make a prediction, I would guess that Gore is more likely to end up on the much bigger list of vice-presidents consigned to history rather than to the White House.

His 2000 campaign, nonetheless, is superbly organised. He kicked off this week in New Hampshire, where he was hugged by Dick Gephardt, House minority leader.

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