The Magazine

The Red and the Black and the Veep

Why is Stendhal's The Red and the Black Al Gore's favorite novel?

Sep 25, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 02 • By DAVID FRUM
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You can see why this book would appeal to John F. Kennedy, not one overmuch impressed by middle-class morality. But what does it mean that it speaks to Al Gore? Can it be that this conscientious man -- a veteran, a devoted husband, a good father -- really sees himself as a Romantic antihero, forced to seduce, manipulate, dissemble, and lie, contemptuous of the blockheadedness of the people he deceives? ("The great misfortune of small towns in France," the narrator notes, "and of governments by election, like that of New York, is that you are never allowed to forget that fellows like M. de Renal" -- Julien's first employer -- "exist in the world. In the midst of a city of twenty thousand inhabitants such individuals mold public opinion, and public opinion is a terrible thing in a country that has a constitution.") And if Gore does harbor such secret thoughts, can it be that he was using Dowd and Oprah to give us all some kind of fair warning that he is inwardly even weirder than outwardly he seems?

David Frum, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of a history of the 1970s, How We Got Here.