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
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From Oprah, Gore traveled to an elementary school in Belleville, Ill., a small town 25 miles from St. Louis, where he gave a speech to parents and teachers. Within about five minutes it became clear why George W. Bush has had trouble engaging Gore effectively on ideological grounds (apart from Bush's own natural reluctance to do so): Gore doesn't sound like much of a liberal these days, at least not in front of certain audiences. While campaigning in the Midwest, Gore rarely mentions abortion. He virtually never brings up affirmative action. When he talks about gun control, he is careful to include "homeowners" (along with "sportsmen and hunters") among the groups that would remain unaffected by his proposals.

On some issues, Gore even comes across as an unapologetic right-winger. Gore spent much of his speech in Belleville slamming "the popular culture," which he said "competes with parents in raising our children." Companies that market violent movies, music, and video games to underage consumers are particularly heinous offenders, the vice president thundered. And they had better knock it off. Now.

Gore told the crowd that, once elected, he and Joe Lieberman plan to give the entertainment industry six months to shape up. "If at the end of that six-month period there is not yet an acceptable industry response," Gore said, "then we're prepared to go to Step Three." The way Gore said it, "Step Three" sounded a lot like DEFCON Three -- the crank-up-the-sirens, head-for-the-lead-lined-basement, there-could-be-casualties final warning. Step Three, Gore explained, is the step where he and Lieberman haul Hollywood executives before the Federal Trade Commission on charges of "deceptive advertising."

There are a couple of problems with this. For starters, it's not clear that the entertainment industry has ever formally pledged not to advertise violent material to teenagers. So the charge of "deceptive advertising" is weak, if not ludicrous. In any case, it is a wild overreach by government. And it is probably in conflict with current understandings of the First Amendment.

There is also the problem of Gore's obvious hypocrisy. As the Bush campaign frantically tried to point out to news organizations, Gore has accepted huge amounts of money from Hollywood over the years. The same merchants of moral ruin he savaged in Belleville continue to be among Gore's biggest supporters and contributors. Three days after his Illinois speech, Gore attended a fund-raiser in Manhattan hosted by Harvey Weinstein, the head of Miramax. The party was packed with actors and entertainment types, including Matt Damon, David Crosby, Lenny Kravitz, and Jon Bon Jovi. When Gore spoke at the end of the evening, he thanked "the creative community" profusely. "I'm very, very grateful," he said. He didn't mention Step Three or the FTC.

It's easy to attack Gore's attack on Hollywood. But just because it was hypocritical and mildly authoritarian doesn't mean it wasn't significant. As I listened to the speech, my first thought was, Does Bill Bennett agree with this? Bennett has beaten up on the entertainment industry quite a lot over the years, often with Joe Lieberman at his side. Does he think the Federal Trade Commission ought to go after studio heads? The answer to both questions, it turns out, is "no." In other words, phony or not, Al Gore has officially taken a stand on the entertainment industry that is to the right of Bill Bennett.

Has Gore become a social conservative? That's unlikely, given his stands on gay rights and abortion (he is enthusiastically for both). But Gore has shown that he is willing, perhaps even more willing than Clinton has been, to borrow from the other side when it suits him politically. And when Gore borrows, he tends to amplify. Consider his rhetoric on crime.

Gore still talks about gun control, domestic violence, and the need for hate-crime legislation, but these are no longer the central planks in his crime platform. These days Gore is just as apt to cite the "broken windows" philosophy that inspired New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's successful war on crime. Or to call for a victims' rights amendment to the Constitution. Or to go on about why the death penalty should be imposed more often. At a speech in Boston last year, Gore said that as president he would make it a federal crime to "stalk our children on the Internet." He also promised to outlaw "gang-related clothing." (Neither Gore nor his campaign has defined either of these offenses more specifically.)