The Magazine

The Secret of Gore's Success

Whether it's with Oprah, the voters, or the media, flattery works wonders

Sep 25, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 02 • By TUCKER CARLSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Gore has gone even further this year. At a crime policy speech in Atlanta in May, he assailed "the old Democratic approach, which was tough on the causes of crime, but not tough enough on crime itself." According to Gore, people who commit violent crimes against children should go to prison. But so should those who commit crimes "in front of" children. They should get "more time in jail," Gore said.

Al Gore has become a fanatic for law and order. This is not surprising. Gore instinctively moves to the fringes of whatever issue he takes an interest in: the environment, abortion, and now crime and children's entertainment. Republicans often accuse Gore of being a raving lefty. That is not quite right. Gore adopts many roles, not all of them consistent with doctrinaire liberalism. He overplays every one. Gore is not an ideologue. He is a zealot.

Why doesn't anyone seem to notice when Gore says extreme things? (Gang-related clothing?) The Bush campaign sometimes cites liberal media bias. This is true, but only partly. Reporters generally are liberal, but few have great affection for Al Gore. Gore is difficult to cover. He rarely makes himself available to the press, and when he does, his quotes are stilted and predictable.

On the other hand, he has a capable staff. Gore aides are quick with background information they think will help their candidate. (The night before the "RATS" story appeared on page one of the New York Times, the campaign held a midnight briefing so the traveling press could see the Bush ad with the supposedly subliminal message.) And they try not to senselessly antagonize reporters.

The Bush campaign could learn something from this. Bush's press handlers, for instance, have alienated some photographers by instructing them not to take pictures of Bush in a variety of scenarios: smoking cigars, carrying his own bags (too reminiscent of Jimmy Carter), wearing a necktie that has been loosened in an unpresidential manner, or holding a beverage of any kind, lest it be mistaken for an alcoholic beverage. Restrictions like these can cause resentment. (Bush's manners haven't helped, either; he has addressed at least two adult photographers as "boy," and been pointlessly rude to others.)

Gore's campaign has been less rigid and friendlier with photographers, and it has paid off. During the river-boat trip Gore took immediately after the Democratic convention, an inexperienced member of his advance staff hung a sign at one event that read "FAMILIES" in large print. From one angle, Gore's face obscured the first four letters of the word. It made for an embarrassing image (and a natural New York Post cover). The picture never ran -- proof, says one of the photographers who shot it, that it's worth being nice to people with cameras.

Ultimately, details like this don't mean much, as Bob Shrum, Gore's chief media consultant, is quick to point out. Neither, Shrum says, do many of the nuances of campaign strategy. What really matters, he says, is what the man running for president says to win over voters. "It's like the old Bobby Kennedy quote. After the 1960 election, someone described him as a 'genius.' He said, 'Change 60,000 votes and I'm a bum.' Two months ago, they were the geniuses and we were the bums. Staff doesn't have anything to do with it. It's the candidate."

In Al Gore's case this is true. Gore has recovered in part because he understood early what many Republicans didn't: Even an awkward man with high negatives can become president if he's willing to be flexible enough.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.