SINS OF THE FATHER ; Albert Gore Sr Was a Tobacco-Farming Eco-Barbarian, Who Rode to Success on the Coat-Tails of Oil Baron Armand Hammer. So Why Is He Referred to as the Greatest Political Influence on Would-Be President Al Gore Jr? Bill Kauffman on the Neglected Truth Behind a Father-Son Relationship
Kauffman, Bill, The Independent (London, England)
Don't ever doubt the impact that fathers have on their children," lectured Vice President Albert Gore Jr in his eulogy for his father the December before last. Albert Gore Sr, the Democratic Senator whose shady dealings turned him into the Croesus of Carthage, Tennessee, "made all the difference" in his son's life, testified the Vice President.
Gore's aides say that their man wrote this valediction himself, breaking with the ignoble tradition in recent American politics of producing ghost- written tributes to dead relatives. For once, the spinners may be selling the truth: Albert Gore Jr, heir presumptive to the power and the glory of President Bill Clinton, has spent his political career atoning for the sins - and sullying the one pure act - of Albert Gore Sr.
The old man made a fortune occupying one of the filthiest offices in the mansion of ecological defilement; the son built his reputation as an environmentalist. The old man left as his political legacy the culture of the expressway; the son decries reliance on the car. Like the Roman orator, Albert Gore Jr seems to have dedicated himself to the proposition that Carthage must be destroyed. But it is quite possible that, in an insidiously paternal way, the man buried in Carthage, Tennessee, destroyed his son.
The famously wooden Gore Jr has tried any number of gambits to create a notion of personality. He regularly turns up in the aftermath of natural disasters, where he is photographed projecting empathy for people whose homes and families have been swept away by flood or hurricane. He has mawkishly exploited his son's serious injuries from a car accident and his sister's death from cancer. Mourning his sister while attacking tobacco companies is a dangerous move, for his father grew tobacco (or, should we say, he paid real farmers to grow tobacco for him on Gore land).
In an amusing but revealing 1997 episode, Vice President Gore revealed that Erich Segal used him and his wife, the buoyant Tipper, as the templates for Oliver Barrett IV - hockey-playing preppie with the romantic soul of a poet - and his plucky but fated-to-die-young wife Jenny in his best- selling novel Love Story.
Segal, who knew the Gores at Harvard, gently corrected the Vice President; he said that Oliver was based largely on Gore's roommate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones. He did concede, however, that Gore's relationship with his father inspired the father-son conflict in the book between Oliver III and Oliver IV. And there the story, like Jenny Barrett, died. But Segal's admission sheds a somewhat lurid light upon the Gore family, for Oliver Barrett IV loathes and detests his father. He calls him "Old Stonyface", a loveless man who is "all form and no content". And indeed the Vice President - Young Stonyface, as the sobriquet might go - has spent his political career becoming, in form and content, a virtual negative image of Albert Gore Sr.
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," advised the newspaperman in John Ford's elegiac Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The legend of Albert Gore Sr, as told by the bible of the pundits, the Almanac of American Politics, is that he was "a dirt farmer's son" who "was one of the chief advocates of the little man against the big interests". He was a courageous "congressional maverick", as the New York Times put it in his obituary. Well now, the old man did attend a one-room school in the quaintly named hamlet of Possum Hollow and earn his law degree in night school, but it was not all hardscrabble and head lice. The Gores were an old and distinguished American family: a distant cousin was Senator Thomas P Gore, wise grandfather and mentor to the American man of letters Gore Vidal.
Albert Sr won election to the House of Representatives in 1938; in 1952 he moved up to the Senate. He was a bright young man with pliable principles, and before long he was serving two masters: the folks back home in the Possum Hollows of Tennessee, and Occidental Petroleum tsar Armand Hammer, Lenin's favourite capitalist, a man whose gluttony and mendacity make your average robber baron look like Mother Teresa. …