Magazine article The Spectator

Strange and Boring

Magazine article The Spectator

Strange and Boring

Article excerpt

AL GORE:

A USER'S MANUAL

by Alexander Cockburn

and Jeffrey St Clair

Verso, L15, pp. 284

A1 Gore likes to aim oxymorons at the morons he conceives the American electorate to be, calling himself a `raging moderate', a `centrist realist' and a `practical idealist'. Such self-descriptions don't give him a broader appeal. They provide voters with a wider range of reasons to dislike him, and an explanation for why, even running on a booming economy, with an opponent who is an intellectual flyweight, Gore is by no means certain of winning next week's US elections.

What bugs the radical journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair about Gore is not the same thing that may lead American voters to reject him at the polls. The authors worry that Gore is as rightwing as any merchandise the Democratic party has in stock. He has learnt the rhetoric of American progressivism, they say, and `spent his adult life using the rhetoric to destroy the substance'. His proudest achievement as vice president, the bureaucracy-slashing Reinventing Government Initiative (Rego), is anathema to the two because it sold off uranium-- processing plants, sought to abolish racial favouritism in hiring, and `shrunk the government to its smallest size since the Eisenhower administration'. Voters object to Rego for opposite reasons. They hate racial quotas. The cuts are actually excessive demobilisations following the Cold War. And government work, even if `contracted out', still must be paid for. In fact, the size and reach of government have grown under Rego. Similarly, Cockburn and St Clair worry that Gore 'steeled' a reluctant President Clinton to eliminate welfare benefits for the poor. It's crazy to think that Clinton could have won re-election in 1996 without doing so.

Still, the authors and Middle American voters easily find two areas of common ground. First, the populism that Gore has made his political idiom is phony. Gore is dead set against hazardous pyjamas that burst into flames. He stands boldly against birth defects caused by toxic waste. He's pro-wealth. And he will bomb any tyrant, provided America suffers zero casualties.

Second, Gore is a rare combination of strange and boring, calling to mind the description Kingsley Amis once sent Philip Larkin of a mutual friend: `the most uninterestingly unstable character I have met'. He is an embarrassing, American kind of soul-seeker. For years, the authors write, `Gore has fallen for self-help gurus with the same velocity as Clinton for Hollywood stars. …

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