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Al Gore

Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. (born March 31, 1948) is an American politician affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party. He is best known for serving as the 45th Vice President of the United States from 1993 to 2001, during Bill Clinton's presidency. He also ran for President himself in 2000 following Clinton's eight-year term, and was defeated by Republican candidate George W. Bush.

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Biographical Summary

Born the son of Albert Gore, Sr.[?], a veteran Democratic Senator from Tennessee, and Pauline Gore[?], Al Gore Jr. divided his childhood between Washington, D.C. (where his father worked) and Carthage, Tennessee. During the school year, Gore Jr. lived in a hotel in Washington, where he attended the St. Albans private school; during summer vacations, he lived in Carthage, where he worked on the Gore family farm.

In 1965, Gore enrolled at Harvard, where he majored in government and met Tipper Aitcheson, whom he would later marry (see Tipper Gore[?]). He graduated from Harvard in June of 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He majored in Government.

Shortly afterwards, on August 7, 1969, Gore enrolled in the army to participate in the Vietnam War effort. After completing training as a military journalist, Gore shipped to Vietnam in early 1971. He served as an Army war correspondent until May 24 of that year, slightly less than two years after he enlisted.

After returning from Vietnam, Gore spent five years as a reporter for the Tennessean, a newspaper headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. During this time, Gore also attended Vanderbilt Divinity School[?] and Vanderbilt Law School[?], although he did not complete a degree at either.

In the spring of 1976, Gore quit law school to run for the U.S. House, in Tennessee's Fourth District. Gore defeated Stanley Rogers in the Democratic primary, then ran unopposed and was elected to his first Congressional post. He was re-elected three times, in 1978, 1980, and 1982. In 1984 Gore did not run for the House; instead he successfully ran for a seat in the Senate. Gore served as the Senator from Tennessee until 1992, when he was elected Vice President.

In 1988, Gore ran unsuccessfully for President, but failed to obtain the Democratic nomination, which went instead to Michael Dukakis. In the wake of the failed election bid, Gore wrote a book about environmental conservation called Earth in the Balance[?].

After two terms as Vice President, Gore ran for President and was narrowly defeated by George W. Bush in the 2000 election. On March 19, 2003, Gore joined the board of directors of Apple Computer. He has decided not to run for President in 2004.

Controversies about Gore's personal life

Several topics in Al Gore's biography have become subjects of debate, particularly his academic and military careers.

Academic career

On March 21, 2000, the Washington Post reported on Gore's academic performance at Harvard. The news article included the information that, during Gore's second year, he earned a D in one science course, a C-minus in introductory economics, and two C-pluses and a B-minus in other, unspecified courses. The article also stated that, during his junior year, Gore earned a B, B-plus, and an A-minus in three government courses. (See United States academic grade[?].) Gore graduated from Harvard cum laude based on his strong senior thesis, on the impact of television on the U.S. presidency.

This Washington Post article was subsequently picked up by many conservative news organizations, who repeated the story with several alterations. The Boston Globe claimed that Gore's transcript was "riddled with C's". Many conservative commentators also called attention to the fact that, at Vanderbilt Divinity School[?], Gore failed five of the eight classes he took over three semesters, and that Gore never completed his degree at Vanderbilt Law School[?]. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, conservatives pointed out that this evidence seemed to contradict the popular perception that George W. Bush was the less intelligent of the two candidates.

In rebuttal, Gore defenders noted that:

  • Prior to his attending Harvard, Gore graduated from St. Albans ranked 25th in a class of 51, and scored 1355 on his SAT test, well above average.
  • Gore graduated from Harvard with honors (cum laude). His sophomore year was his worst year, academically, and was not representative of his college career.
  • On IQ tests taken in 1961 and 1964, Gore scored 133 and 134 respectively, which placed him above the 90th percentile in the general population.
  • Gore was working at the Tennessean, and also dealing with his recently born baby daughter, during his time at Vanderbilt Divinity school. Under such conditions, it was perhaps understandable that Gore would not prioritize his studies.
  • Gore left Vanderbilt Law School because he decided to run for Congress instead. It was therefore unfair to accuse Gore of being an academic failure for not completing his law degree.
Therefore, Gore advocates claimed, it was reasonable to assume that Gore was intelligent and academically successful, although perhaps not exceptionally so.

Nevertheless, in 2002, a search of Google for "Al Gore grades" revealed many sites that criticized Gore for his weak sophomore year grades without mentioning the rest of his academic career. Some observers chalked this up to the echo chamber[?] effect.

Military service

American politicians, like political figures everywhere, are frequently questioned about their military service: faithful military service is taken as a sign of patriotism and commitment to civic duty. Some conservatives accused Al Gore of insufficient military service, even though he served for nearly two years, because he was "only" a journalist and he served five months in Vietnam. These accusations were frequently made during the 2000 presidential election, even though Gore's opponent, George W. Bush, avoided serving in Vietnam altogether by joining the Texas National Guard.

Gore served in the Army from August 1969 to May 1971. The chronology of his military service is as follows:

  • August 1969: Enlisted at the Newark, New Jersey recruiting office.
  • August to October 1969: 8 weeks of basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey
  • Late October 1969 to December 1970: Fort Rucker, Alabama, on-the-job occupational training at the Army Flier[?] newspaper.
  • January 1971 to May 1971: field reporter in Vietnam, part of the 20th Engineer Brigade, stationed primarily at Bien Hoa[?] Air Base near Saigon.
  • May 24, 1971: Discharged, after granting of early discharge request, as part of general troop reductions.

Gore stated many times that he opposed the Vietnam War, but chose to enlist anyway. Some observers have noted that Gore could have avoided Vietnam in any number of ways:

  • He could have married Tipper, to whom he was already engaged.
  • He could have gone to graduate school and received a deferment, as many of his peers at Harvard did.
  • He could have used his father's connections (as a Senator) to avoid service.
  • He could have escaped to Canada, as many men his age did.
Gore considered all these options, but claimed that his sense of civic duty compelled him to serve. On the other hand, some have suggested that Gore already foresaw that military service might be advantageous in his future career in politics.

Gore served only five months in Vietnam, which some sources have characterized as "less than half the standard two-year tour". Although this is true, Gore served in the Army only 75 fewer days than the standard two-year term. Gore was not shipped immediately to Vietnam after completing basic training, spending most of his term in Fort Rucker.

Because Gore was a journalist, he was never exposed to front-line combat, and some allege that his famous father's influence helped him to obtain this position. However, others argue that any man who enlisted with a Harvard degree had a good chance of being assigned a support specialty rather than an infantry position.

Once in Vietnam, some also allege that Gore received special treatment as a former Senator's son (Gore Sr. lost the 1970 election, and was no longer a Senator by the time Gore arrived in Vietnam). According to combat photographer H. Alan Leo[?], Gore was protected from dangerous situations at the request of Brigadier General Kenneth B. Cooper[?], the 20th Engineer Brigades Commander. Leo stated that Gore's trips into the field were safe, and that Leo "could have worn a tuxedo." These remarks seem to contradict Gore's public statements that he "walked through the elephant grass" and "was fired upon".

For his part, Gore has stated that he knew Leo but rarely traveled with him in Vietnam, and that he never felt that he was being given special protection. On the other hand, Leo's testimony is that Cooper gave the orders before Gore arrived, so Gore would not know about them. The question of whether Leo freqently traveled with Gore or not still has not been conclusively answered.

Controversies about Gore's political views and career

Influence on the Internet

On March 9, 1999, Wolf Blitzer[?] interviewed Gore on CNN. During this interview, Gore said, "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Conservative news outlets, pundits, and activists quickly took this statement and repeated many variations on it in order to discredit Gore. The statement soon metamorphosed into the meme "Al Gore said he invented the Internet!" One Republican press release noted that the ARPANET, the Internet's predecessor, existed in 1971, five years before Gore even ran for Congress.

However, observers noted that the ARPANET was a relatively small public-sector research project, whereas the Internet is a massive private-sector project that was created much later. Gore's statement referred specifically to his introduction around 1990 of a bill designed to fund the creation of an "information systems highway" for education. The bill itself, and the phrase "information superhighway" in particular, were widely seen as factors in advancing the growth of the Internet.

On September 28, 2000, an email jointly signed by Vint Cerf (often called the "father of the Internet") and Robert Kahn[?] stated the following:

As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship. Though easily forgotten, now, at the time this was an unproven and controversial concept. Our work on the Internet started in 1973 and was based on even earlier work that took place in the mid-late 1960s. But the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises.
As a Senator in the 1980s Gore urged government agencies to consolidate what at the time were several dozen different and unconnected networks into an "Interagency Network." Working in a bi-partisan manner with officials in Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush's administrations, Gore secured the passage of the High Performance Computing and Communications Act in 1991. This "Gore Act" supported the National Research and Education Network (NREN) initiative that became one of the major vehicles for the spread of the Internet beyond the field of computer science.
As Vice President Gore promoted building the Internet both up and out, as well as releasing the Internet from the control of the government agencies that spawned it. He served as the major administration proponent for continued investment in advanced computing and networking and private sector initiatives such as Net Day. He was and is a strong proponent of extending access to the network to schools and libraries. Today, approximately 95% of our nation's schools are on the Internet. Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to become a commercially-driven operation.

When presented with this evidence (which is still not widely known), many conclude that, although worded poorly, Gore's statement was essentially correct. Gore, however, was never fully understood on this point, and did not clearly rebut George W. Bush when teased about the issue during their debates[?].

Gore and the environment

Gore's book Earth in the Balance gave Gore a reputation for strongly pro-environmentalist views. This reputation was an asset with some constituencies, but because of it Gore was often accused of environmental hypocrisy, environmental radicalism, or both.

Corporate use of Gore family land

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Gore was accused of hypocrisy because of the behavior of corporations that had contracted to extract resources from land owned by his family. The corporations were the Occidental Petroleum Corporation[?] and the Pasminco[?] Zinc Mine.

Al Gore owned (indirectly through his father's estate) several thousand shares of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. Occidental Petroleum angered environmentalists by trying to open a new oil/gas drilling field in Colombia.

Additionally, the Gore family licensed mining rights on their Cumberland River Valley farm to Pasminco Zinc, which was fined in 2000 for exceeding water pollution limits. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency found that zinc levels in the Caney Fork river near the mine were 1.480 mg/L (milligrams per liter); the maximum allowed monthly average was .65 mg/L, and the daily allowed maximum was 1.30 mg/L. Therefore, Pasminco Zinc was found on one occasion to exceed the daily maximum for zinc pollution by about 14%.

However, even the conservative Wall Street Journal stated that "mining is intrinsically a messy business, and Pasminco Zinc generally has a good environmental record" (The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2000). Two independent tests sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, conducted in September 1999 and June 2000, found that the water in the river was within legal limits, although soil tests near the river revealed troublingly high levels of heavy metals.

Gore and the internal combustion engine

Ironically, even as Gore was criticized for being insufficiently environmentalist, he was simultaneously attacked for being too radical an environmentalist. Conservative commentators frequently claimed that Gore wanted to "ban the internal combustion engine". The basis for these claims was quote on p. 326 of Earth in the Balance:

[I]t ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period.
This quote clearly does not advocate the banning of the internal combustion engine. The relevant chapter advocated the replacement of the internal combustion engine with more advanced technology. Many agreed with Gore's assessment, and not only radical environmentalists---in 1998, John Smith, then C.E.O. of General Motors, said:
No car company will be able to thrive in the 21st century if it relies solely on internal combustion engines. (New York Times, January 5 1998)
In corroboration, the Wall Street Journal reported that
[Smith] predicts a "slow phase-off" of the internal combustion engine in 20 to 30 years . . . Any auto-maker that doesn't do so risks being left in the dust. (Wall Street Journal, January 5, 1998)

Or, in other words, the C.E.O. of General Motors agreed with Al Gore that the internal combustion engine should be phased out in a few decades in favor of more advanced technology.

Nevertheless, conservatives attacked Gore, attributing different positions to him. For example, Jim Nicholson[?], chairman of the Republican National Committee, stated that Gore was "a wasteful dreamer" who was trying to "do away with the internal combustion engine [and] the automobile". (New York Times, March 16, 1999) (note also that Gore never advocated the elimination of the automobile). Nicholson also said that

. . . unlike Clinton (who is liberal but pragmatic), Gore is an ideologue who believes the combustible engine (i.e., the automobile) is the earth's greatest enemy. (Washington Post, April 30, 1999).
Jack Kemp stated:
Al Gore said the other day he wants to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Now let me ask you-we've got 162 million internal combustion engines on the earth. Do we want 162 million horse-drawn carriages?
Note that Gore never called for the elimination of the engine, just the replacement of internal combustion engines with more advanced technology.

Throughout the election, the United States press did not call attention to the gulf between Gore's statements and the claims of his critics on this issue.

Gore in the 2000 presidential election

There are many opinions, frequently contradictory, on why Gore lost the 2000 election.

Some contend that, since Gore received a larger share of the popular vote, he actually won, and failed to become President only because of a technicality. Some call this fact irrelevant, as the processes of the American electoral system do not grant any explicit power to the popular vote. However, others note that, in previous elections in American history wherein the popular and electoral votes did not coincide, the elected President was assumed to lack a strong "popular mandate". These people claim the electoral college is a systemic flaw that should be corrected; and that Al Gore should not be faulted for "losing" when he received more votes than his opponent.

Although no independent evidence exists that supports their claims, some supports contend that a plurality of Florida voters did vote for Gore, and George W. Bush won by successfully preventing the votes from being counted. Since the election, recounts have been conducted by dozens of news organizations from around the world with results that are confusing at best. Some have claimed that Bush would have actually increased his lead if state wide recounts had taken place, others claim that Gore would have won the recounts.

In any case, Gore did not assume the office of President. Speculations as to the failure of Gore's political strategy include the following:

The Clinton problem

It is widely believed that Gore made insufficient efforts to link himself to the Clinton administration's policies. Many speculate that Gore was too eager to dissociate himself from Clinton's personal scandals.

Gore's Personality

Many voters felt that Gore had a stiff and contrived personality. During the three debates of the 2000 campaign, he was often accused of sounding condescending.

Much attention was paid to Gore's audible sighing while Bush was answering questions in the first of these debates. Some claim that this particular observation seems to have originated with (and been propagated by) conservative news organizations. For example, CNN instant polls immediately following this debate found that viewers felt Gore had won by a narrow margin. Twenty-two voters were interviewed by CNN, and none of them volunteered comments on Gore's behavior (CNN, October 3 2000). When given explicit, leading questions by conservative Frank Luntz of the MSNBC channel, an equal number of viewers were troubled by Gore's sighs and Bush's repeated invocations of "fuzzy math" (see George W. Bush).

Regardless of voters' original reactions, however, subsequent press coverage concentrated heavily on Gore's sighs and other perceived personality flaws.

Gore's behavior during the first debate was even the basis for a sketch on NBC's Saturday Night Live television program, which according to some sources, members of Gore's campaign asked him to watch before the next debate. Whether or not he watched the sketch, his behavior was noticeably subdued in the second debate. On Election Day, Gore himself would appear on a Saturday Night Live prime time special to make a few jokes about this behavior.

Populist rhetoric

Gore ran on a somewhat more populist platform than his predecessor Clinton. Although Gore supported trade liberalization and many other Clintonite reforms, he also used rhetoric that drew attention to growing gaps between rich and poor in American society. Some found this language divisive. However, the notion that this position hurt his popularity is contradicted by the fact that his poll numbers went up substantially shortly after his strongly populist speech on August 16, 2000 at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Perceived lies and exaggerations

Gore made a large number of statements during the campaign that were widely seen as inaccurate or misleading. The subject of whether these statements were actually inaccurate or misleading is often subject to some debate. For example, one of these statements was that he claimed to have "invented the Internet" (see above). See Gore-isms for other alleged misstatements by Gore.

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