The Mind of Al Gore 8

Gore is more sophisticated about the media than his public style suggests. He wrote his senior thesis at Harvard on the impact of television on the presidency, concluding that because television loves one face over many faces its effect has been to increase the president’s political power at the expense of Congress’s. In his con¬versation with me, he described (using what he referred to, with ob¬vious satisfaction, as an “arcane metaphor” involving the religions of India) the difficulty of conducting the business of government in a televisual culture. But understanding the problem has not helped him solve it. He continues to look programmed in a medium in which everyone is programmed not to look programmed. Still, there is one fundamental rule in electoral politics: somebody has to beat you. It will be hard for a candidate to get noticeably to Gore’s right without looking like an extremist. And, to the extent that the elec¬torate is fed up with Clinton, Gore will profit by the stylistic con¬trast. After Elvis came the Beatles. (Also, it’s true, the Monkees.)
But can Gore campaign on a platform of nonhierarchical man¬agement structures and access to the information flow? The old Democratic Party was defined by its interest groups. The new Dem¬ocratic Party of Clinton and Gore is supposed to be defined by its transcendence of interest group politics. Cooperative government is the ideal. Can you win elections by appealing to a constituency of the whole? Gore has been careful to preserve his connections with traditional Democratic constituencies. He is, for example, a fervent supporter of affirmative action. “Don’t tell me that our persistent vulnerability to racism has suddenly disappeared, and that we now live in a color-blind society,” he said in a sermonesque address to the NAACP last July. “We’ve left Egypt, but don’t tell me we’ve arrived in Canaan.” When he gets down to policy, though, he sticks to the Government Lite formula. In the same speech, he proposed using “voluntary tools, such as charter schools, magnet schools, and pub¬lic school choice to seek more diversity,” and spoke proudly of the administration’s “E-rate” initiative—a special rate, offered to poor school districts, for connection to the Internet. This is not the lan¬guage of Roosevelt.
But it is a mistake to assume that it is not interest group politics. Policies like those are aimed directly at a specific constituency: the so-called wired workers, people who use computers on the job, work in nonhierarchical organizations, and practice on-the-job problem solving—Gore’s cyber-Madisonians. According to an analysis by Elaine Kamarck (who directed Gore’s REGO program until last year) and William Galston in a new magazine called Blueprint, which is being published as a kind of policy forum to accompany the Gore presidential campaign, 37 percent of Californians are now classified as “wired workers.” They are socially liberal, fiscally con¬servative, and market-friendly. If holism means that what is good for you must be good for everybody, then they are probably holists, too. Gore speaks their tongue.
Whether he can rouse them to leave their screen-savers on for a few hours and actually go out and vote is another question. For Gore is a peculiar politician. He thinks long (holding Descartes re¬sponsible for the destruction of the rain forest, for example), but he plays a short game (jockeying to deny Gephardt field position in the race in 2000). He is a man whose philosophy is fuzzy but whose af¬fect is rectilinear. And he maintains an abstract faith in process and flow, even though his administration is now facing disaster in part because of the intersection of an unfettered legal inquiry with an unguided information economy. Clinton and Gore don’t need more process. Process is precisely what is killing these guys.
Gore’s faith in process (in “the smooth operations of the organi¬zation”) belongs, like his holism, to the mild, ecumenist side of his personality; but this is not, one comes to feel, what drives him. Pro¬fessing a belief in processes is a way of masking the brute reality of politics, which is will. When we approve of a political or a judicial outcome, we tend to say that “the system worked.” But it wasn’t the system that drove Nixon from office or that denied Robert Bork a seat on the Supreme Court. Those things happened because people committed themselves, against the normal flow of political traffic, to making them happen. Politics is a battle against process, just as life is. It is a war against the tendency of things to take their natural course. That’s why we care (when we do care) about politicians: be¬cause they offer to turn the tide of events in directions we favor. And we don’t mind if they make a few enemies while they’re at it. We want our team in charge. I’m pretty sure Al Gore knows the feeling.

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