Albert Gore’s acceptance speech here had all the grace of a trip to the moon on granite wings. It would have been unfair to expect the vice president to deliver his remarks with the unparalleled mastery that President Clinton displayed as he said sayonara to the party faithful on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. Only the Gipper at his prime could have given Bubba a run for his rhetorical money.
But there is little excuse for Gore’s surprisingly pedestrian performance. He lacked the easygoing, relaxed charm that his running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, offered Wednesday night in a warm and engaging address filled with patriotic cheer about all this country has to offer. “Only in America,” he said repeatedly, seemingly amazed at his good fortune for having been chosen as the first Jewish American to run on the national ticket of either major party.
In his 50 minutes at the podium, Gore appeared as stiff and sullen as ever. When he wants to, Gore can shift into Baptist preacher mode. While it looks a bit incongruous for a tall, white guy in a dark blue suit to ape Jesse Jackson, doing so would have given Gore a chance to show a national audience a more animated and enthusiastic side. Instead, Gore looked more like an undertaker fresh from a shopping spree at Brooks Brothers.
Time and again, Gore stomped on his applause lines as if they were cockroaches. Rather than bask in the adulation of an adoring crowd, Gore raced through his text. As soon as delegates jumped to their feet, he kept right on speaking, as though he preferred they simply sit back down and listen.
Moreover, Gore’s words lacked the eloquence and poetry that are basic ingredients of speeches of this magnitude. “The future should belong to everyone in this land,” Gore declared. “Together, let’s make sure that our prosperity enriches not just the few, but all working families,” he added. Who could disagree with that? And who will remember those words once the balloons and confetti are swept off the floor of the Staples Center? The nominee also promised to take Americans on “a new journey on which we advance not by the turning of wheels, but by the turning of our minds.” How does one turn a mind? One hopes he did not mean “turn on,” a phrase fraught with erotic undertones which Gore should be wise enough to avoid.
Tranquilizing delivery and flat language aside, Gore’s tone was bleak. He spoke of toxic waste, tap water brimming with pollution, “the silent rising tide of global warming,” and seniors choosing between medicine and macaroni and cheese. No doubt, there are Americans in dire straits, and Gore had every right to offer his solutions to their problems. But his grim approach prompts the question, What on Earth have he and Clinton been doing these last eight years? Rather than wield a glass half-full, Gore should have radiated sunshine. He managed both to curse the darkness and blow out a candle.
Policy analysts soon will have a blast taking Gore’s promises through the check-out counter. He has returned his “reinventing government” proposals to the grocer’s freezer. Instead, Gore filled his shopping cart with (what else?) a prescription-drug benefit, “high-quality, universal pre-school,” a 100 percent increase in medical-research funding, “universal health coverage, step by step, starting with the children,” etc., etc. New Democrats once offered new ideas like welfare reform and the elimination of corporate welfare. Now, like FDR himself, Albert Gore is eager to father brand-new entitlements.
The Democratic presidential nominee also promised that a campaign-finance-reform bill would be the first piece of legislation he would send to Congress if elected. Americans can be forgiven for thinking that this sounds a bit like Al Capone campaigning for Prohibition.
Gore-Lieberman spokesman Mark Fabiani appeared on CNN Thursday evening and pointed out that Albert Gore recently wrote his acceptance speech himself, tapping on his computer keys while flying across the country on Air Force Two. Perhaps the campaign has decided to blame the whole thing on Gore’s laptop.
The spirit of the entire evening was best captured by a man and woman standing just between the Indiana and Virginia delegations. In the middle of Gore’s speech — shortly after he denounced the “big drug companies” for making “huge profits” — the gentleman turned to the lady. “I say, let’s go out for a beer and a cigarette,” he suggested. Her reply: “Sounds good to me.”