Gore's good daddy gambit

Posted: Oct 25, 2000 12:00 AM
"Tipper and Al Gore rooted for their son, Albert, yesterday as his Washington high school football team, the Sidwell Friends Quakers, won its homecoming game. Mr. Gore has attended all of the games this year." -- photo caption, New York Times, Oct. 22 The story planted in last Sunday's New York Times by the Gore campaign is supposed to melt the hearts of swing-vote soccer moms. But discerning parents will find nothing endearing about Gore's unrepentant exploitation of his children and his expedient infringement of their privacy for political gain. It's creepy. It's crass. It's classic Gore. Under the headline, "Timeouts for a Son's Football Games," the article quotes various campaign aides and officials touting Gore's devotion to his namesake son, 18-year-old Albert III. They find Good Daddy Gore's willingness to sacrifice campaign time for his kids' extracurricular activities "to be one of his most endearing traits." Albert III's coach at Sidwell Friends, an elite private prep school in Washington, D.C., told the Times reporter: "We're all really impressed that he does it with all the other things he has going on." Plenty of caring parents carve time out of their hectic schedules to attend their children's football and field hockey games. The difference is that they don't arrange for a New York Times photographer to capture these intimate family moments. "Mr. Gore declined to be interviewed for this article," the Times reporter assiduously notes. But the vice president undoubtedly huddled with his closest political confidantes -- brother-in-law Frank Hunger and campaign chair William Daley -- before they went blabbing to the Times to extol Gore's paternal piety. "He's just devoted to his children, and it means a lot to him to be able to attend," said Frank W. Hunger, Mr. Gore's brother-in-law. "He enjoys the games, knows all the players and their numbers." "All"? Even in plying a story about how he's just your average doting dad, Gore's minions can't restrain themselves from promoting his all-knowingness. Poor Albert III is a troubled, resentful teen who was arrested on speeding and reckless driving charges in North Carolina earlier this summer, and was reportedly kicked out of his dad's alma mater, St. Albans High School, in 1996 for smoking an "illicit substance." Gore the Elder demanded that the press respect his rebel son's privacy. He rebuked his Democratic primary opponent, Bill Bradley, for asking why he opposed educational vouchers while sending Albert III and his siblings to exclusive private schools. "You know, you can leave them out of this," Gore retorted. But since Gore doesn't have the decency to keep his beleaguered youngster out of the headlines, why should we? It was Gore, not the nosy press hounds, who paraded the family's private grief onstage at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York before a TV audience of millions. In 1989, the script went, Gore's then-6-year-old son was struck by a car and recovered only after painful therapy. Young Al Gore III's eyes, recounted his father, "were open with the empty stare of death, and we prayed, the two of us, there in the gutter, with only my voice." A sniffle here, a trademark sigh there, and then back to the words on the TelePrompTer. "Our democracy is lying there in the gutter," Daddy Gore analogized, "waiting for us to give it a second breath of life." Could you blame a son for lashing out against such manipulative tripe? A decade later, Gore made a useful tool of his son again. In 1999, Gore embarked on a mountain-climbing expedition to "bond" with Albert III on Mount Rainier in Washington state (11 electoral votes). The "top-secret" three-day adventure was splashed all over the front page of the Seattle press. Private photos from the journey became props in a widely publicized campaign ad and convention film narrated by the trail guide, Democratic activist James Frush, who heralded Gore's "strength of character." Albert III, whose most private moments have been prostituted into soundbites and 30-second spots, might beg to differ with that assessment of his father. Now old enough to vote, young Gore can help reclaim his privacy by casting his ballot for the presidential candidate who will leave him alone.