Sunday, February 26, 2006

My Obsession with Al Gore (Part 1)

I really got interested in Al Gore when I saw a photo of him, sometime during 2001 and after he had gained quite a lot of weight. He was at a party on, I think, a beach, holding an umbrella drink, wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and floppy sandals. Can this memory be true, or is it some wonderful delusion? I have searched every image of Al Gore that Google has to offer and have not been able to find this photo again.

I always liked Al Gore. I supported him in his presidential run, and only didn't vote for him because I didn't realize that I was eligible to vote (but that's a story for another day). After Bush became president, I felt one of those history-splitting enormous events, like in Keith Roberts' sci-fi classic Pavane, which posits that Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated early in her reign and so the Catholic Church now runs England.

My fascination with Al may have been rooted in his potential to create a vastly different, vastly better world than the one we live in now, and it may have been driven by the shocking events that split our history off into this world of torture, death and government surveillance, but it took the form of a frustrated need to understand how he was defeated and how he has coped.

I'm not completely naive about politics. A candidate I recently supported was described by his opponents as an evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet. (I have the t-shirt to prove it.) I remember the tale about Lyndon Johnson running in a Texas election and telling his campaign manager to spread the story that his opponent had sex with chickens. ("Nobody will believe that,"was the response. "Of course not," Johnson is supposed to have said, "but I want to hear the son of a bitch deny it.")

But how did the Republicans convince Americans that Al Gore, who had a sterling reputation as a conscientious, hard-working, all-around straight arrow, was in fact a self-aggrandizing delusional liar? Sometimes it seems like the easiest lie is the one that is most opposite from the truth. Or maybe people tend to take their greatest fault and project it on their opponent.

Then there's his coping. This guy was so buttoned up that there were jokes that he made FBI agents look like hippies. After his defeat he went through a brief phase in which he gained weight, always seemed to appear with a drink in his hand, and affected a devil-may-care attitude. My collection of Al photos from 2001 includes one of him shirtless and barefoot, sitting in a back yard in what appears to be a trailer park, leaning way back in a lawn chair and brandishing a bottle of beer.

What went on? What lessons does this teach us about how to overcome being crushed, humiliated, and cheated? Did his transformation help him get past it, or is he a broken man?

My Obsession With Al Gore (Part 2)
Beatles and Beards


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