Politics & Policy

The Trouble With Al; Yes, It’s Self-Promotion Monday


Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, Thomas Marshall, once joked, “Once, there were two brothers. One ran away to sea, the other was elected vice president, and nothing was heard from either of them again.” Well, we aren’t quite that lucky.

Poor Al. He spoke at the memorial ceremony for the murdered children of Columbine yesterday. He did a fine job. But it must have rankled a bit to know that his boss could give a better eulogy with a head cold, a canker sore, and nasty flair-up of herpes.

But Gore has got more serious problems than an inability to feel our pain. In the last week it seems everyone has suddenly realized that Bill Clinton has no coattails. In fact, the only thing he’s pulling behind him is a pig-pen fog choking anyone in his wake. Gore is losing in comparison polls against almost everyone except members of the Trenchcoat Mafia. A poll taken last week reported that 77% of Independents and 64% of Democrats agree with the statement, “I am tired of all the problems associated with the Clinton administration.” Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, David Broder of the Washington Post beat up Gore over the weekend, saying that Bradley is a far more serious candidate than people think. Bradley is the only alternative to Gore, and it seems many Democrats are desperate for an alternative to Gore.

While that analysis is true, it is more important that people like Gigot and Broder said it. Right now the best thing in the world for Bill Bradley would be a reversal of the conventional wisdom that Gore’s Democratic nomination is inevitable. When people like former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volker announce their support for Bradley, you can almost hear the conventional wisdom rip like the Velcro on Monica Lewinsky’s jogging bra during an “Oval Office Tour.” That opens up huge fundraising opportunities and makes early primary voters think they have a real choice.

Gore’s staff has reportedly been studying George Bush’s campaign in 1988. It makes sense that they would, but that campaign demonstrates the challenges for Gore. Only two sitting vice presidents have ever been elected to the presidency since the birth of the two party system: Martin Van Buren and George W. Bush Jr.’s Dad (see “The Goldberg Prophecy” in the stygian depths of the Goldberg File archives). The only way a sitting VP can get elected is if the voters really want a third term of the incumbent president. It doesn’t take the poll numbers cited above to realize that most people would rather carry an American flag through downtown Belgrade than vote for a third Clinton term.

And one more historical footnote for sounding educated at the water cooler: No sitting VP who was elected straight to the presidency has ever been re-elected once in office — more evidence of the electorate’s enough-is-enough attitude to vice presidents. Teddy Roosevelt was right when he called the vice presidency a stepping stone to oblivion.

Still, it seems that Gore aides really believed they could run on the president’s popularity, the way Bush ran on Reagan’s record. It never occurred to them, it seems, that Clinton’s “popularity” was a referendum on impeaching the president, not on the man’s effectiveness in office. We may not have peace anymore, but we certainly still have prosperity. If you are a decent, honest, hard-working Democrat, why would you want a 4-year reminder of the Clinton administration with all those Clinton re-treads hanging around? Especially when you take into account that Al Gore is far more liberal, far more anti-capitalist, and far more inclined to play with the moral order like a three-year-old with Lincoln Logs. Bradley may be duller than the fine print of a Claritan ad, but compared to Gore he’s an acid trip at Disney World. (Also there are rumors around that Michael Jordan may stump for Bradley, which would put Jesse Jackson in a delicious situation, wouldn’t it?)

President Clinton has reportedly told advisors that he considers his legacy to be inextricably tied to the election of his vice president. He’d be right, if Gore got re-elected.


Notice to readers: People bug me about not writing for the snail-mail version of the magazine, formerly known as the “print” version of National Review. So just so you know the NR suits’ boycott of guys-named-Goldberg-who-talk-to-their-furniture is as successful as NATO’s quarantine of oil bound for Montenegro, in the forthcoming issue I review Bob Zelnick’s new biography of Al Gore. Keep an eye out.

And before we put Self-Promotion Monday to bed, here are some other bits of the Goldberg oeuvre for your perusal:

A review of Wendy Shalit’s new book, A Return to Modesty, at http://reason.com/9905/bk.jg.conservatism.shtml.

An analysis of Republican foreign policy at http://www.intellectualcapital.com (domain no longer active).

A column on NATO and the Republican agenda for http://www.thestreet.com/_tscs/comment/cfeatures/739478.html.

Hey, NR isn’t the only place I could stand to rack up some good web hits. Besides, my couch needs to eat.


The Latest