Surveying the Democratic field, I'm already starting to miss that oddball quality that disturbed so many people about Gary Hart. Not everyone will agree, of course, that a touch of madness is a desirable qualification for a presidential candidate. Sanity buffs will be increasingly attracted in the next few weeks to Sen. Albert Gore Jr., a self-described "raging moderate" who nevertheless does a good Hart-style generational-future routine. Thoughtful, sincere, responsible to a fault, handsome in a reassuringly unglamorous way, Gore is not the type who would ever change his name, alter his signature or sail away on the good ship Monkey Business.
Gore's presidential qualities already have attracted "IMPAC '88," several dozen rich Democratic fund-raisers who hope to maximize their leverage in the party by acting in concert. The IMPAC people like Gore's freshness and his moderation. The standard poop holds that, as a 39-year-old Tennessean, Gore will also exert a special appeal for southerners and young people.
Gore, though, is not quite a southerner. What he is is the presidential candidate from Washington. He was born here, the son of Rep. -- later Sen. -- Albert Gore Sr. The elder Gore, famous as a progressive populist, sent his son to St. Albans, Washington's leading prep school, where Al was captain of the football team, and on to Harvard, where he graduated with honors. After marrying a Washington girl and serving in Vietnam, young Al settled in Nashville, where he worked on the local newspaper and attended law and divinity schools before running for Congress in 1976, age 28, and moving up to the Senate in 1984, age 36.
There is nothing wrong with this history. In fact, it's admirable. But the career path it describes would be more familiar to British politics than to American. There, distinguished left-wing politicians see no irony in breeding their kids for politics by raising them in the capital and sending them to the best schools. Gore is a dynastic candidate in a way even the Kennedys have not yet become. Kennedys are messier; none has buffed his re'sume' to quite such a high gloss.
As for his youth, Gore is an old person's idea of a young person. That also is admirable. It's easy to imagine those wealthy fund-raisers interviewing Al Gore, comparing him mentally to the sweaty pack of middle-aged rivals, and thinking, "What a nice young man!" But is a nice young man what the youth of America hungers to rally around?
Gore has got moderation down to a science. "Some observers," he says, "have concluded that government itself is the problem. . . . Others argue that government is all that keeps matters from getting still worse. Both sides are right -- to a point." He opened his campaign with a call for "international cooperation to combat AIDS and Alzheimer's disease." He recently introduced legislation to establish "International Greenhouse Effect Year" and also has been in the forefront of concern about the ozone layer. Last year he sponsored the "Supercomputer Network Study Act."
The focus on "study" is a characteristic Gore touch. Asked his opinion of the Baby M case by The New York Times, he said: "We need to accelerate the development of a consensus. But it must emerge from a broad discussion. It would be important and helpful to all if the Congressional Biomedical Ethics Board would designate these issues as topics for priority study and action." And have I mentioned Gore's proposal for an International Copyright Tribunal? His bill to create a computerized link between organ transplant donors and recipients? His hearings on the release of genetically engineered organisms?
All this is admirable, admirable, admirable. Decades from now, if we are all frying for lack of ozone or roasting in a global carbon-dioxide greenhouse, if our supercomputers are lonely and unlinked, if genetic mutants have seized control of the Congressional Biomedical Ethics Board, the concerns of today's other politicians will seem criminally petty. But the "pragmatic," "visionary," "problem-solving" approach to politics that Gore has perfected is in some ways an evasion of politics.
Politics is about disagreement, and disagreement is not usually due to a lack of foresight, planning, study. The important political disagreements involve the clash of material interests. "Instead of telling people what to do," Gore says, "we should listen and learn how to give them the tools to do what they want." But true leadership consists of telling people things they don't want to hear sometimes, making them mad, changing their minds. Gore's style of moderation is to go instead for issues that are "difficult" in the sense of being obscure or complicated, but not contentious. Even Gore's greatest genuine political contribution -- his promotion of the "Midgetman" mobile single-warhead nuclear missile -- has the flavor of high-minded nonideological cogitation.
Making friends is easy in politics. Al Gore needs to prove himself by making some serious enemies.