Inventing Al Gore : a biography /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Turque, Bill.
Imprint:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, xiv, 2000.
Description:xiv, 448 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.
Subject:Gore, Al, -- 1948-
Gore, Al, -- 1948-
Vice-Presidents -- United States -- Biography.
Presidential candidates -- United States -- Biography.
Presidential candidates.
United States.
Format: Print Book
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Notes:Includes bibliographical references (p. [430]-432) and index.

1 "Well, Mr. Gore, Here He Is" No son of Albert Gore's was going to enter the world quietly. Humility had never come easily to Gore, and underneath his hill country populism lay a touch of the aristocrat. The male heir he had longed for, all nine pounds and two ounces, arrived at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington on March 31, 1948. The Gores had ten- year-old Nancy, but waiting a decade for a second child had been difficult for the couple, especially Pauline. Having little Albert Arnold, when she was thirty-six, "has always been kind of a miracle to us," she said. And miracles, Albert Gore believed, merited more than passing mention. Gore had noticed several months earlier that when a daughter was born to Representative Estes Kefauver, his principal rival in Tennessee politics, the story appeared on the inside pages of the Nashville Tennessean. He set to work and eventually extracted a promise from the paper's editors. With their help, he would both hail the arrival of his son and one-up Kefauver, who was on his way to the Senate seat that Gore coveted. "If I have a boy baby, I don't want the news buried inside the paper," said the five-term congressman. "I want it on page 1 where it belongs." The Tennessean complied with a one-column headline in its April 1 editions, wedged in the left-hand corner between civil war in Costa Rica and a Japanese train wreck. "Well, Mr. Gore, Here HE Is - On Page 1." Before he was home from the hospital, Al Gore had won a news cycle for his father. The only known postpartum complication was what Pauline called the "battle royal" over their son's name. She favored the traditional "Junior" added onto "Albert Gore," but her husband thought it would be a burden to the young man. "He was adamant about it," Pauline said. So, like congressional conferees, they cut a deal: he would be Albert (called "Little Al" as a child) but could decide for himself later whether he was comfortable with "Jr." When the time came, Gore struggled with the choice. He was Junior and then he wasn't; he adopted it as a teenager, then in 1987, as a thirty-nine- year-old presidential candidate anxious to deflect attention from his youth, jettisoned juniorhood for good. Survivors of punishing climbs from poverty, Albert and Pauline Gore endowed their son with a granite self-confidence about what was possible, and expected, in life. As full political partners decades before Bill and Hillary Clinton came to Washington, they made politics the family business. The single-minded drive that propelled Al Gore to the House of Representatives at twenty-eight and the Senate at thirty-six - and the hubris that made him a presidential candidate before he was forty - is their bequest. From Albert came a crusader's passion for public service, a globalist's view of issues, and a moralist's disdain for opposing points of view. Just as visible is Pauline's pragmatism, caution, and steely competitive edge. "I think the biggest influence you have on your child is the life you live day after day," she said. Any understanding of Al Gore begins with Albert and Pauline.Allen Gore, Albert's father, was descended from the Scots-Irish who came to Virginia in the early seventeenth century and moved to Tennessee after the Revolutionary War, where they farmed the rugged slopes of the Cumberland River Valley. Albert, the third of five children he had with Maggie Denney Gore, was born near Granville, Tennessee, the day after Christmas 1907. When his son was two, Allen packed the family in a buggy and two wagons and moved to a 186-acre farm in Possum Hollow, a Smith County community where the poverty and desolation was echoed in the names that surrounded it on the map - Difficult, Defeated, Nameless. They were poor but well fed, producing their own chickens, eggs, and milk and selling the surplus for cash. "We lived apart from the world," Albert Gore wrote in his 1970 memoir, "relatively isolated and therefore dependent entirely on one another." The unforgiving environment fostered a hard-edged independence and wariness of outsiders among those who coaxed a living from the land, and it left young Albert with firm, often inflexible, beliefs about right and wrong. His father's discipline was absolute and his authority unquestioned. He rose at 4:00 a.m. every day of the year and tasked Albert to get up with him and build a fire. Despite the heavy workload, Allen Gore kept up with the world outside Possum Hollow and encouraged his children to set their sights on it. In the evenings he read the newspaper with a kerosene lamp and talked about the politicians he admired, including William Jennings Bryan, "the Great Commoner" whose populism and anti-imperialism made a lasting impression on Albert, and Cordell Hull, a boyhood friend who served in the House and Senate and as Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of State. Later, as a young aspiring politician, Albert spent Sunday afternoons listening to Hull talk about Washington as he sat in the shade with the whittlers on the courthouse square in Carthage. He became a mentor for Gore, who adopted Hull's advocacy of free trade and progressive taxation as cornerstones of his own politics when he was elected to the House. Albert's political ambitions were sparked as a grade- schooler, when he saw the picture of a cousin, running for the state legislature, tacked to utility poles and roadside trees. "In my childish imagination I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing my own picture there someday," he wrote. As a teenager, Gore was a good enough fiddler to sit in at square dances and briefly flirted with a musical career, but he soon targeted law school as his platform into public life. It was a struggle to get there. He scraped his way through the University of Tennessee and Murfreesboro Teachers College, never able to afford more than a semester at a time. To put together funds he drove a truck, waited tables, and taught in a one- room schoolhouse in the Cumberland Mountain community of High Land, known more widely as "Booze" for its robust moonshine commerce. At eighteen, Gore was handsome in a stalwart, square-jawed way, with waves of curly brown hair and a reputation as one of the area's most enthusiastic bachelors. "Listen," said one former Smith County schoolteacher, "every girl in this county dated Albert Gore before he went to law school." Gore also discovered early that he enjoyed being the center of attention. A classmate at Murfreesboro recalled his performance as a young lieutenant in a student production of the war drama Journey's End, a play that required him to die in the final scene. "Albert died beautifully," his friend recalled. "But as the curtain started closing, he reached out from his deathbed, held back the curtain, and died a little more. Albert always did like the limelight." It took him seven years to work through college. After graduating in 1932, he moved to Carthage, the Smith County seat, where he made his first try for public office as superintendent of schools a year later. He lost both the election and his teaching job and returned to his father's farm at the age of twenty-six. Not long before, in the late 1920s, Allen Gore had grown uneasy about the soundness of the banks and spread his life savings of $8,000 among several institutions. Within a few days, the banks had failed. When Albert came home, his family was still better off than many of their neighbors - at least the mortgage was paid - but the Depression's devastation left an indelible mark on him. At market, as he saw "men with wives and children whom they could neither feed nor clothe well and whose farms were not paid for, I recognized the face of poverty: grown men who were so desperate the tears streamed down their cheeks as they stood with me at the window to receive their meager checks for a full year's work." His fortunes turned when his victorious election opponent, Edward Lee Huffines, fell gravely ill several months after taking office and before his death recommended to the county court that Gore succeed him. The unexpected tribute from a competitor was a signal event for Gore. Over the next four decades, he never made a personal attack on an opponent. Now with the means to finance a legal education, he enrolled in night law school at the Nashville YMCA, working as superintendent by day and driving one hundred miles round- trip from Carthage three evenings a week for three years. Before the long, late evening trip home, Gore would stop for coffee at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, where one of the waitresses was a twenty-one- year-old divorce named Pauline LaFon. In the 1930 Tatler, Jackson High School's yearbook, she listed her life's ambition as "to keep her husband happy." Whether that statement was playful sarcasm or an attempt to supply a socially acceptable answer, it never reflected her real aspirations. For Pauline, the future wasn't a question of staying at home or going to work; it was how far she could get in the world of work. "I didn't want to be a nurse, I didn't want to be a teacher. I didn't want to be most of the things women were," she said many years later. It seemed she would have no choice. Walter and Maude LaFon were Arkansans who opened a general store on a crossroads near Palmersville, just below the Kentucky line in northwest Tennessee. Pauline was twelve when an infection froze Walter's right elbow and left him unable to work. The family's political connections in Weakley County helped Walter land a job with the state highway department in Jackson, the Madison County seat fifty-five miles to the south. The LaFons and their six children moved into a modest house on Poplar Street that they opened to boarders for extra cash. Pauline spent much of her adolescence cooking, cleaning, and looking after her sister Thelma, who was blind from birth. As her parents struggled to piece together a living, Pauline's siblings looked to her for inspiration. "She was the heart of the family," said Whit LaFon, a younger brother and now a retired Madison County circuit court judge. "She just always had a burning desire to better herself. She probably had more guts than anyone I'd ever seen. I don't know where it came from." Her first marriage, as a teenager, was primarily an attempt to escape from poverty; it lasted less than year. Pauline took Thelma with her to Union College, a small Baptist school in Jackson, where for two years she kept her sister's notes and read assignments to her while doing her own course work. To pay the tuition, she waited tables at a tearoom on the courthouse square. Pauline said in a 1997 interview that her inspiration to study the law came from watching helplessly as her mother lost some land in a dispute with her own family in Arkansas. But Whit LaFon said Pauline's recollection was simply "an old folks' tale" and that she chose the law because it was the quickest and surest way out of Jackson. She borrowed $200 from the Rotary Club and headed for Nashville, where she took a room at the YWCA and entered Vanderbilt Law School, riding the trolley to morning classes and dashing back in time for the dinner shift at the Andrew Jackson. The lone woman in the graduating class of 1936, she is remembered by fellow students for her luminous blue eyes and no- nonsense demeanor. Henry Cohen, a classmate who competed against her in moot court, said she reminded him of a young Margaret Thatcher. "She wanted results," said Cohen. "She wasn't satisfied leaving anything halfway." Pauline found her late-night customer charming, if a bit too conscientious - even by her rigorous standards. "He was serious even then," said Pauline. "I couldn't tempt him to leave any serious work, no matter how fancy a party we were invited to. That was what bothered me the most at that age." After graduation they took the bar together and for a time went their separate ways, Pauline to a Texarkana, Arkansas, law firm, one of the few that would take a woman in 1936, and Albert to the next level of state politics. Gordon Browning, a reform-minded Democrat Gore had worked for in an unsuccessful Senate campaign, was elected governor that year and made his former aide the state's first labor commissioner. Pauline spent less than a year in Texarkana, a period she describes as "a disaster." She was hired by Bert Larey, another Vanderbilt alum, and, perhaps because of her own experience, began to take divorce cases for their new two-person firm. After seven months, however, she abruptly returned to Nashville. She said that she planned to wed Albert and help him with his political career. But there was another reason, one she did not discuss publicly for many years: Larey sexually harassed her. (He died in 1984. His son, Lance, an Oklahoma attorney, said such behavior would have been unlike his father.) Perhaps because her family couldn't afford anything more, or because she was a divorce and he a member of the governor's cabinet, her wedding to Albert Gore was modest and out of the way, conducted in a judge's chambers just across the state line in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, on May 15, 1937. The "not published" notation on their license meant that news of the marriage was kept out of the local paper. Their first child, Nancy LaFon Gore, arrived eight months later. Pauline Gore insisted that she had not abandoned personal ambition but had traded her own career for the prospect of bigger rewards by supporting her husband's climb to power. "I was not only ambitious for him but for myself too," she said. The first opportunity for advancement emerged in early 1938 when J. Ridley Mitchell, the Fourth District's incumbent congressman, decided to run for the Senate. Gore quit Browning's cabinet and assembled several thousand dollars, part of it by mortgaging a small farm he owned. He was not the clear front-runner. Five other candidates crowded the Democratic primary field, and Gore was partial to eye-glazing disquisitions on reciprocal trade. On a stifling July evening at the Fentress County courthouse, Gore was in the middle of just such a talk when he spotted a man headed down the center aisle carrying a fiddle, and two others behind him with a guitar and a banjo. "Here, Albert," said the first man, who clearly preferred Gore the teenage square dance prodigy to Gore the candidate, "play us a tune." Pauline, sitting in front, gestured an emphatic no - she regarded such theatrics as unbecoming of a congressional candidate. Gore was conflicted as well, but he recognized what was at stake. He told the audience that the race meant everything to him, that he'd even mortgaged his home. He offered them a deal: he'd play "Turkey in the Straw" if they voted for him. The crowd, eager for something more lyrical than the balance of trade, agreed. Gore kept the fiddle with him over Pauline's objections, mixing politics and music for the rest of campaign. He won the primary, and in Tennessee, where Republicans were still all but unheard of, that was as good as winning the general election. In January 1939, at the age of thirty-one, he was on his way to the House of Representatives. Still, while Gore was reconciled to the theatrical requirements of politics, he remained ambivalent, at times almost disdainful. "I have been able to fall into the mode of the southern politician," he said twenty years later. "I can tell good stories, play the fiddle, and rollick with the crowd." But that mode never reflected how Albert Gore saw himself - as a statesman and a thinker who resided on a level above coarse politics. He quickly gained a reputation in Washington as a New Dealer with a wide independent streak. As a freshman, he threw in with Republicans to scuttle Franklin Roosevelt's $800 million public housing program, and he quashed a New York congressman's attempt to secure $1 million for the New York World's Fair by demanding $5,000 for each county fair in his district. "Why shouldn't my Lebanon, Tennessee, Mule Day be entitled to a little slice?" he asked. With his eyes on a Senate seat, Gore tended carefully to popular statewide interests, championing funding for big government programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority. When Tennesseans went to war, Gore tried to go with them. A son of the same Tennessee hills that had produced Alvin York, he waived his congressional immunity to the draft in 1943 and was inducted into the army. Roosevelt prevailed on him to stay in the House, but he later served for several months in 1945 as a military prosecutor in France. Gore was ready to make his move in 1948, but the popular Estes Kefauver jumped into the race ahead of him. So he aimed for the next available target, the ancient Kenneth McKellar, who was up for reelection in 1952. The Senate's "Old Formidable" was nearing eighty and had been expected to retire that year after six terms, but later changed his mind. It would not be easy - challenging McKellar meant taking on his powerful patron, Memphis political boss Edward Crump. Although Kefauver's 1948 victory had weakened the state's dominant political machine, Crump still posed a significant threat and was capable of running up big margins in Memphis and surrounding Shelby County while challengers split the rest of the state. But Gore, tired of the House, had decided it was up or out. With one-year-old Little Al in tow, the Gores packed their Arlington, Virginia, apartment and returned to Carthage, settling back into their white clapboard house on Fisher Avenue for the duration of the campaign. McKellar's refusal to step aside made his advanced age the real issue in the race, and Gore's backers urged him to exploit it, but he was reluctant. "My present plan is to refrain from any criticism," he wrote to Bernard Baruch, "but instead to refer to him in complimentary terms, always referring to his record and service in the past tense." McKellar brandished his seniority, and the bonanza in roads, dams, offices, and power plants that he had helped bring home as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Thinking Feller Vote for McKellar," said his placard, distributed throughout the state. It was a strong selling point, and Pauline pushed for a memorable response. "Mrs. Gore and I came home one Saturday night after a hard day of campaigning, and she cleaned off the kitchen table and made a pot of coffee and said, 'Well, Albert, sit down here,'" Gore recalled. "So we wrote doggerels and rhymes and riddles and finally came to one that we thought would work." He credits her with the rejoinder, tacked alongside every McKellar poster they could find: "Think Some More and Vote for Gore." He beat McKellar by ninety thousand votes in the Democratic primary. Gore believed in government as the guarantor of economic justice, plugging tax loopholes for the privileged and spending generously to help those in need up the ladder. "Nothing cures poverty like money," he said. Tired of the poor roads that farmers had to endure to get their crops to market, and remembering his travels on the German autobahn during his army stint, he became Senate cosponsor of the 1956 legislation that created the interstate highway system. Eight years later he helped shepherd the first Medicare proposal through the Senate. The most enduring image of Albert Gore is his early and outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. But he walked a cautious, moderate line in the other great political struggle of his day, civil rights. He was a dangerous progressive by Dixie standards, a target of segregationists' scorn, but he never placed himself in the forefront of the movement. Years later, in much the same way that his son would express remorse about trimming back his commitment to the environment as a first-time presidential candidate, Albert Gore would regret his tentativeness on civil rights. "There may have been some political 'heroes' in this cause, but few, if any, were to be found among white Southern politicians. I know I cannot include myself," he wrote after his retirement. As a first-time Senate candidate in 1952, he concentrated on economic issues "and let the sleeping dogs of racism lie as best I could." Gore hadn't lacked for vivid personal encounters with segregation. On the family's car trips between Tennessee and Washington, the Gores were routinely denied accommodations because they traveled with Nancy and Al's black nanny, Ocie Bell. Gore eventually found a hotel owner near the trip's halfway point willing to put them up if they arrived after dark. And he clearly signaled his belief that the South needed to change: in 1956 he refused (along with his nationally ambitious Tennessee colleague Estes Kefauver) to sign Strom Thurmond's so-called Southern Manifesto, which encouraged southern states to defy federal court orders mandating desegregation. "Hell, no," Gore said, loud enough for reporters in the press gallery to hear, when Thurmond presented the document to him on the Senate floor. But he sent mixed messages to voters about major civil rights developments. In 1954, when the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned the doctrine of "separate but equal" in public segregation, he wrote to one constituent: "I do not mean to imply that I am in agreement with the reasoning upon which the Court based its decision. . . . I think all of us must recognize, however, that the decision of the Court is, after all, a decision by the highest Court of our land and that it cannot be completely ignored." He voted for civil rights legislation in 1957, which sought to expand the attorney general's power to pursue voting rights cases, but only after working to secure an amendment that diluted its impact. He also entered into some questionable alliances. In 1958 he endorsed old-line segregationist Buford Ellington for Tennessee governor in exchange for support in the event that he ran for president or vice president in 1960. As a reelection campaign neared, he opposed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act because he believed it vested too much enforcement power in the federal government. "Though I know gradualism is now denounced by many, it is my firm conviction that tolerance, time, patience and education are necessary ingredients to the ultimate solutions," he wrote to Lawrence Jones, Fisk University's dean of chapel. Toward the end of his career, however, he acknowledged that economic advancement and education alone were not enough. In 1965 and 1968 he supported antidiscrimination bills that guaranteed voting rights and open housing.Though Al Gore would strive to create his own political identity when he entered Congress, his father's influence remained broad and deep. Earth in the Balance, his 1992 book on the environment, clearly echoes the elder Gore's concern with the planet's ecological health. "I had the feeling that a basic problem of the world is restoration and conservation of the fertility of the soil," he wrote after a 1951 tour of the Middle East. "Over-grazing, over-cropping, soil mining for centuries have brought millions of people to the very brink of starvation." Like his son, Albert Gore was a pedagogue and a techno-geek. Where Al Gore has championed the economic and cultural promise of the Information Age, his father's imagination was captured by the ascendant technology of his day - nuclear energy. He helped handle secret appropriations for the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, laboratories that created the first atomic bomb, and several of his ideas in the 1950s about nuclear warfare sometimes took an ominously crackpot turn. In 1951 he proposed to Harry Truman that a strip of the Korean Peninsula be turned into an atomic death belt, seeded with radioactive material "that would mean certain death or slow deformity" to North Korean and Chinese troops. But Albert Gore also understood the catastrophic potential of the nuclear arms race, and as chairman of the Arms Control Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he led the fight to negotiate and ratify the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He decried the "race to the top of the nuclear volcano," warning that the new generation of multiple-warhead MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) represented "a uniquely dangerous type of escalation." In the early 1980s his son picked up that mantle by promoting development of the single-warhead Midgetman missile to supplant the MIRVs. The Gores also shared a considerable frustration with the Democratic Party's northern and urban tilt in presidential politics. The elder complained to Baruch in 1952 that under Truman the party was pandering to blacks and white ethnics, "to Harlems and Hamtramyks" [sic] [a heavily Polish American suburb of Detroit]," as he put it. As it was, he wrote, "only those who would cater to extremist elements in the East and North could get the nomination." The party's devotion to liberals like Walter Mondale in 1984 drove young Gore to become a founding member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Albert Gore also passed on to his son the reserved public style now known in journalistic shorthand as "stiffness." At home in Tennessee, the elder Gore pulled a mean bow at campaign rallies and could deliver a rousing Fourth of July speech. But in Washington, especially as he established himself in the Senate, his style tended toward the solemn and Ciceronian. William S. White, writing in 1956, could easily have been discussing the next generation's Senator Gore when he likened Albert Gore to "that small boy remembered from grammar school who was the brightest and best behaved in the room - and who invariably suffered for this among his classmates. He had a great deal of ability along with his earnestness but is rather short of that instinctively casual touch with his associates that is so helpful in his trade." In the clubby world of the Senate, the elder Gore was an aloof figure whose "divinity student blue" suits and abstemious habits (no cigarettes, little alcohol, and a daily swim in the Senate pool) created the aura "of a man just come from a powerful hell-and-brimstone sermon." "Albert Gore was a fellow who was a little bit hard to know," said George Smathers, the Florida Democrat. "A very attractive guy and a very smart guy, but he was just not friendly." Gore was shunned by the southern caucus in the 1950s after his civil rights votes, but even his natural allies found him prickly and high-maintenance, a man with a quixotic attraction to demonstrations of principle. Hubert Humphrey offered this warning to Sargent Shriver when he was trying to muster legislative support for the Peace Corps (which counted Nancy Gore among its earliest Washington staff): Albert's a loner. Albert's a maverick. So he'll need a little loving. I want all of you at the Peace Corps to love Albert. Go to his office. Sit down dutifully. Take notes on what he is saying. As soon as you get back to your office, call him and thank him for the points he made - A, B and C. . . . I don't care if his darling daughter does work at the Peace Corps. Albert's very independent and this is what you'll have to do to make sure of his vote. His independence irritated John Kennedy, one of his few friends in the Senate ("What does Albert Gore think he is up to?" he railed when Gore opposed his tax cut in 1963), and he exasperated Lyndon Johnson, the ultimate deal-maker. Long before they split on the war, the two had spent years kicking each other in the shins. As Senate majority leader, Johnson initially passed Gore over for the Finance Committee seat he wanted. Gore led an abortive attempt by Senate liberals in 1960 to trim back Johnson's powers as majority leader and loudly protested his bid to preside over the Senate Democratic caucus as vice president in early 1961. Gore longed for higher office in the 1950s but often found himself eclipsed by two more dynamic Tennessee rivals, Governor Frank Clement and his Senate colleague, Kefauver. All three were in the vanguard of a new generation of southern moderates, and each nursed national ambitions. Gore was an accomplished speaker, but not in a league with Clement, the "Boy Orator of the Cumberland." He also lacked Kefauver's knack for self-promotion as well as his rapport with voters. "The difference between the two," said former Tennessean reporter and editor Wayne Whitt, who covered both men, was that an old farmer would come up to Kefauver and ask what he thought about admitting Red China to the UN and Kefauver would say, "I don't know, what do you think?" The farmer would ask Albert Gore the same question and get a thirty-minute lecture. The farmer would go home and tell his wife, "That Estes Kefauver may be the smartest man I've ever met. Why, he asked me what I thought about letting Red China into the UN." Excerpted from Inventing Al Gore by Bill Turque All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.