Third in a series
He was assigned a room in Harvard Yard, on the ground floor of Mower B, and few college freshmen seemed more certain of their place among the elite of the baby boom generation than Al Gore, graduate of St. Albans and son of a U.S. senator. He had arrived in Cambridge that fall of 1965 as a three-sport letterman with high grades and top-percentile test scores, so confident of his credentials that he had applied only to Harvard.
His freshman class of 1,211 was larger than usual, its ranks swollen by the desirability of student deferments after a doubling of the military draft call over the summer. The incoming class also reflected the Ivy League institution's goal of recruiting more exceptional public school graduates from middle America. Many of these best and brightest teenagers tried to conceal inner doubts about whether they belonged at Harvard. Peter Goldberg of suburban Milwaukee arrived convinced that he was "the mistake." Roberts Bennett, the smartest kid in his Jacksonville high school, felt "awed and overwhelmed." David Friedman from Los Angeles quickly became "disoriented" amid the posturing of his peers. Even a prep school product like John Bandeian Jr. from St. Paul's in New Hampshire worried about "competing against all these other smart young men."
Did Al Gore, still six months shy of his 18th birthday, share those anxieties? Some of his peers certainly thought so. One student who sat near him that first year in a discussion section of Economics 1 vividly remembered Gore's demeanor this way: "He looked scared, and overmatched. It seemed that he didn't open his mouth in class the whole year." But Gore later asserted that he was blessedly free of any such fears. "No," he said quickly when asked in a recent interview whether he ever worried about his place at Harvard. "I didn't think that. Should I have?"
The undergraduate journey Gore and his classmates began on that New England autumn nearly 35 years ago turned out to be far different from anything they might have imagined. The Harvard experience was perilous and intimidating in its own way, but less for the academic demands than for the difficult personal and political choices they confronted during four tumultuous years. Gore, like many of his peers, struggled with the alternatives that his past and present offered, vacillating between idealism and cynicism, responsibility and freedom, conformity and rebellion, ambition and withdrawal.
Here he was the class president debating the quality of meatloaf served in the Freshman Union. There he was the Dunster Funster playing pool, watching Johnny Carson and "Star Trek" on television, downing chocolate frappes, smoking dope and crashing on a couch in the basement lounge of Dunster House. Here he was busting with pride that his father, Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee, had spoken out against the war in Vietnam. There he was confiding to friends that he had missed having a normal childhood and that his old man thought his hair was too long. Here he was enthralled by literature, a young writer evoking the quaint and lovable characters of rural Tennessee. There he was back in the world of politics, role-playing--for a government class--President Kennedy in the Oval Office dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.
It was during his Harvard years that Gore first showed the ambivalent relationship with politics that he repeated later in life, first turning away from his father's profession, then returning after concluding that public service was the one endeavor, as he put it, where he felt "the wind in my sails." It was also during his college years that Gore first showed the competing characteristics of bravery and caution, selflessness and occasional self-aggrandizement that have partially defined him, for better and worse, during his quarter-century in political life and his campaign now for the presidency.
Harvard was on the cusp of a cultural transformation during his freshman year. There were still coat-and-tie dress codes at dinner, parietal hours, Friday night mixers, even panty raids. The spring riot was not an antiwar protest but a prank of mock rebellion, hundreds of guys blocking traffic on Memorial Drive, searching on hands and knees for a fictitious contact lens.
Yet change was next door, literally and figuratively. On his second night on campus, Terrence McNally, another freshman in Gore's little Mower dorm, wearing Weejuns, madras shirt and flattop haircut, ventured nearby to the Phillips Brooks House and "walked straight into a different world, the Sixties"--a crowd of long-haired students nodding to an ode to LSD from Timothy Leary, a former Harvard faculty member.
While Richard Nixon, the former vice president, could discreetly hole up in a Cambridge hotel suite to interview Harvard law students for his New York firm, campus visits by Lady Bird Johnson and a few LBJ aides elicited protests from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which started leafleting and staging antiwar rallies. In the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, lengthy articles described an emerging radical student movement on campus "that dwarfs every other political movement in the past quarter century."
Gore's first political move at Harvard seemed anything but radical. He immediately ran for the presidency of the freshman council, campaigning door to door in the North Yard. John Tyson, who became his suitemate in later years, recalled their first encounter--when "this guy came in the room with a big smile and a handshake" asking for votes. After the senator's son left that day, Tyson's freshman roommate, Glenn Price, who was running for the same office, threw up his hands and moaned, in a lament that in retrospect might prove all things are relative, "Look what I'm up against! He's a professional already!"
Soon enough, Gore the young pol was chairing freshman council meetings. Decades later, Roberts Bennett, another council member, found a yellowed document in his files titled "Freshman Council Minutes/Nov. 4, 1965 Meeting" that evokes the lingering innocence of that transitional semester and the mundane yet vital concerns of Harvard dorm life:
"The meeting was called to order by Chairman Al Gore at 7:05. . . . Council members were urged to sign up and also show up for work at the Princeton mixer. . . . Henry Bernson complained about football tickets. . . . Ed Tabor suggested that the University Police take care of the drunks in the Yard over the weekend. . . . Al Gore will write a letter of complaint. . . . Protests were made about room cleaning, and also about the food randomly put together. Specific mention was made about the turkey salad and meat loaf. . . . A movement to adjourn was made at 8:00, but Al continued with announcements. . . ."
Gore's involvement in freshman council provoked mild ridicule from his new pals in the North Yard, who were more interested in Radcliffe and Wellesley girls, trips across the Charles River into Boston, jazz clubs, classical music, sports, poetry, art and theater. Student government was "high school," in the cutting phrase of one suitemate, the sardonic football-playing actor Tommy Lee Jones of Texas (more commonly known then as Tom Jones).
"Tommy Lee was merciless," recalled Bob Somerby, another member of Gore's circle, a philosophy student who thought college was the time to "sit around in black turtlenecks and read poetry and be depressed." Institutions such as the student council and Young Democrats seemed like "silliness," added a third friend, Michael Kapetan, a talented sculptor from Michigan.
Gore got the message. After that freshman presidency, he never again showed the slightest interest in student government, and largely receded from leadership roles for the remainder of his undergraduate years. "We had some good parties, dances, and it was almost meaningless. And I'm searching to justify the word 'almost,' " he recalled of his council presidency decades later. The peer pressure he felt to withdraw from student government, Gore added, brought to mind "what Mark Twain said in his autobiography about Silver City, Nevada. He said, 'There was gambling, drinking, cursing, gunshots. It was no place for a Presbyterian and I did not long remain one.' "
Amid the Dazzlers
He was always fiercely competitive, and at Harvard this trait found new means of expression. He did not go out for football, but when he heard his friend John Tyson, a talented running back, boast about being the school's beer-chugging champ, Gore immediately challenged him to a drinking duel. Tyson was all technique, wide openings punched on both sides, huge gulps--he could down a can in three seconds. Gore studied Tyson's method and duplicated it.
"He said, 'Let's go,' " Tyson recalled. "We were outside in the North Yard, standing there with 16-ounce cans. One, two, three, chug. We had an even start and we came down with the can at pretty much the same time and we argued for the next hour who won and settled on a tie. He was the only one who even came close to me. Throughout our undergraduate years, that was our relationship. Handball, Frisbee--there was always some sort of competition."
If Gore was not intimidated by the talent that surrounded him at Harvard, it was a time when he often bumped up against the bounds of his own abilities. At prep school he had made himself a star basketball player through sheer perseverance, staying after practice in the St. Albans gym--catch, turn, jump, release, catch, turn, jump, release--refining his shot from the corner hour after hour. At Harvard he made the freshman basketball team, but found himself sitting near the end of the bench with the other scrubs, getting playing time only when a game was out of reach.
Barth Royer, one of his Mower suitemates and a starting forward on the team, thought Gore "suffered from white man's disease; he was a little slow and didn't jump real well. But he was nothing if not tenacious"--a competitive instinct that, during those few minutes when he was on the court, invariably landed him in foul trouble. During his long stretches on the bench, Gore sat next to Robert Shetterly Jr. of Cincinnati, who had the same build and plodding playing style. "We would talk about the game, what it was like to have this different sense of ourselves as players, seeing our limitations," Shetterly recalled. "We both had been fairly big fish in small ponds."
In metaphor, at least, there was a parallel experience for Gore that year in the classroom. He made the cut and was accepted into an exclusive freshman seminar, then found himself in a subordinate role, surrounded by classmates who seemed quicker and who were making intellectual or ideological leaps while he tried to keep both feet on the ground. The seminar, titled "Problems of Post-Industrial Society," was taught by a first-year instructor named Martin Peretz, who later would become publisher of the New Republic and serve as an unofficial adviser to Gore, often urging him to take more hawkish positions on foreign policy issues.
Peretz seemed like a very different fellow back in the fall of 1965, when he strolled Harvard Yard with what his students remembered as a "satyr-like" appearance. He had long hair and a bushy red beard, set off his button-down Oxford shirts with bright paisley ties, and viewed the world through his thick glasses with a fearsome stare. Sporting an immense vocabulary, a proclivity for political and social theory, and a provocative pedagogical style, he was a particular favorite of left-leaning students drawn to his unorthodox appearance and eclectic tastes. "He was not exactly the bad boy, but not the staid professor," explained Dave Forman. "He was pushing the edges at Harvard a little bit." Another student thought of him as "the school's pet radical."
In later years, Peretz would think of himself as "the great disenchanter" of radical students, but his rightward movement in response to what he saw as the excesses of the counterculture was not immediately apparent that first year. His ambivalence was noticed by one of his faculty advisers, conservative Soviet scholar Adam Ulam, who said to him, "Marty, you are in a political trap. You are located in one place. It can be described either of two ways: You are the extreme right of the left or the extreme left of the right."
More than 100 freshmen applied for the seminar, and Peretz interviewed each one in his book-cluttered warren at Kirkland House, handpicking the dozen or so he wanted. He quizzed young Gore about the Vietnam war, his political philosophy, and what he knew about social theory, which though limited was apparently satisfactory. Others in the class thought it was not mere happenstance that the seminar included both Gore and Don Gilligan, whose father was a rising Democratic congressman from Ohio. Others in the seminar, including Alan Moonves, Barth Schwartz and Dave Forman, had progressive to radical credentials, and the only conservative was James Truesdale Kilbreth III, latest in a long line of Harvard-going Kilbreths. This same Jamie Kilbreth later became the most radical of the bunch, an SDS leader who turned with a passion against the establishment from which he came.
The seminar began with readings in Marx and his theory of alienation, then went on to C. Wright Mills and the power elite and finally to Freud, with what Gilligan called "a lot of impenetrable stuff in between"--all of it in different ways challenging the establishment and the status quo. Peretz believed that the seminar would not work "unless the people get agitated; you have to be a little bit egregious, and then sometimes you confess to the egregiousness." Part of his egregiousness was the equation with which he ended one lecture: "Marx plus Freud equals Truth." This was said "not as a devotee," Gilligan recalled, "but as someone who was trying to challenge a bunch of kids."
Gore was by no means the star of the class. Schwartz and Forman were what Peretz called "the dazzlers," with incandescent minds and an eagerness to debate any theory their instructor threw at them. Peretz suspected that his dazzlers had always been told when they were younger that they were the smartest of their peers, whereas of Gore he said: "I would guess that Al was never told that. Al was told other things--the responsibility to do important work in his life."
What struck Peretz first about Gore was his politeness. Since he was only a half-dozen years older than his students, Peretz asked them to call him "Marty," and all obliged except Gore, who persisted for months in greeting him as "Mr. Peretz." Later in the year, when the boys were invited to the Peretz house for dinner, Marty's young wife walked into the room and Gore rose and addressed her as "Ma'am," causing her to turn to see if someone was behind her.
In "a curious way," Peretz said later, he also thought of Gore as "far less political" than his seminar colleagues. The others would try to goad him into taking ideological positions, but he seemed to have what Peretz called "an allergy to unprovable assertions. He would never let a dazzling phrase end a conversation. He wanted to know what it meant." Gilligan was often Gore's lone ally in the room, the two isolated by the others because their fathers were politicians. "I have this memory of lots of discussions in which one or the other of us would be saying, 'Yeah, but that isn't really the way the world works,' " Gilligan recalled. "I would try or Al would try to bring it back into a framework that we considered reality, but that we were more comfortable with because we understood. There were sometimes hoots of derision because we were trying to make things more pedestrian as far as those other guys were concerned."
The Peretz seminar had varying degrees of influence on the freshmen. "I don't think it's unfair to say that Marty radicalized some of his students and then didn't know what to do with them," said Jamie Kilbreth. "I was politely going about my way, playing lacrosse, having a social life, doing all the things that a traditional Andover guy whose family had gone to Harvard for generations did. On the other hand, I was trying to deal with all these ideas, many of which said all this other stuff didn't make much sense."
Even as they struggled to hold the middle ground, Gilligan and Gore were changed by the seminar, from then on more conscious of the hidden structures of the society around them. "That seminar pretty thoroughly blew away my whole worldview," said Gilligan. He entered the class interested in traditional politics and came out fascinated by the interplay of economics and culture, eventually concentrating on the origins of the Puritan revolution in England. Gore, who remembered the seminar as "a time of great growth and learning," said it might have had the opposite effect on him. He had been turning away from his father's profession anyway that year, but the memories of the debates about Freud and Marx and Mills stayed with him, he recalled, keeping a pilot light of political interest burning quietly inside him until the fire would return years later.
Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones were never literally roommates at Harvard, as many accounts through the years have implied, but they were at the center of a group of friends who coalesced as freshmen at Mower and later moved on together to Dunster House. The young men in this group were not aesthetes or intellectuals or clubby types, but mostly took their cues from Jones and Gore--jocks with a creative side. One of the lingering memories of many classmates is of the charismatic Jones, who played guard on the football team, pacing along a path near the Charles, wearing a blue velvet jacket and holding a rose, reciting lines from "Coriolanus" in his hard, crackling Texas voice.
Gore also thought of himself as a nascent artist. He told Tipper Aitcheson, his girlfriend, that he intended to be an author, and his letters to her often included stanzas of poetry. For a freshman writing tutorial, he spent countless hours at his desk, gazing into the somber shroud of a Cambridge winter, typing out installments of what he hoped would be a Faulknerian novel about Carthage, the colorful hometown of his Tennessee summers (an untitled and unfinished tome that appears lost to history). Unlike many of his peers, who seemed eager to reinvent themselves into hipper Sixties figures once they reached Cambridge, Gore chose to retreat into his past and re-create it, using the idiosyncratic characters of the small town in the Upper Cumberland to populate his fiction.
His friendship with Jones encouraged Gore to accentuate his southernness, according to Bart Day, who came up to Harvard from St. Albans with Gore and lived with him at Mower B and Dunster. "There was this funny little dynamic going, as if Tommy Lee was the occasion for Al to assert his roots." At one point Gore took to wearing bib overalls as an expression of Dixie hip. But if Jones, who kept his radio tuned to the only country music station in Boston, was the superior actor, he also tended to take himself more seriously than Al. "He was always acting. He was always on, always on stage," said John Tyson. "So what we would do--Al would instigate this--he would say, 'Let's ignore Tommy Lee!' So Tommy Lee would walk in and no one would lift a head up. Then he would start acting and we would ignore him and say, 'Anybody seen Tommy Lee?' After a while he would start screaming. He just couldn't take it. Then we would bust out laughing."
Gore competed with Jones in the telling of down-home tales, and was regarded by most of their friends as the funnier of the two. Among the publications flowing into the suite, along with Sports Illustrated, Time and Playboy, was the Carthage Courier, the little Tennessee weekly whose masthead shouted an irrefutable boast: "The Only Newspaper in the World that Gives a Whoop For Smith County." Gore also gave a whoop, combing the Courier in search of material for his novel and odd stories to read to his pals.
"The Carthage Courier was always a treat," said Mike Kapetan. "Al would read it in Tennessee dialect." Gore loved his Tennessee characters, Kapetan thought, but he also loved to tell stories about his other, far different world, the high culture of St. Albans. One of those tales was about the Washington society family that decided to learn Spanish "the intense way, by not speaking English. So they all sat down to dinner and no one spoke a word."
After rooming their first year on the Yard, Harvard men were distributed among the school's traditional houses, which served as combination dormitories, fraternities and tutorial colleges. Gore and eight friends requested to be assigned to Adams House, which had a literary reputation, but were sent as a group instead to Dunster, named for Harvard's first president, the Rev. Henry Dunster, and regarded as one of the lesser houses, stocked with science grinds and assorted characters who affected a Wild Bunch image, riding motorcycles and staging all-night high-stakes poker games. Dunster was an aging Georgian structure with no elevators, no air conditioning and unreliable hot water heaters, but it had certain advantages, among them its own kitchen and wood-paneled dining room, squash courts and a grill in the basement, an elegant library, fireplaces in many suites, and the privacy that came with being all the way down by the Charles River.
Gore and his St. Albans friend, Bart Day, lived during their sophomore year in what they called the "bird's nest" apartment on the fifth floor, directly above a large suite that housed the others in their gang. They called themselves the "motley crew," and included in their set a few girlfriends, including Tipper. Al and Tipper's relationship had grown increasingly serious since the Christmas break of his freshman year, when he had invited her down to the farm in Carthage to meet his parents. She was still in high school then, and when she graduated he asked her to "please look at schools up here," and she had obliged, enrolling first at Garland, a two-year women's college, before transferring to Boston University.
While he and his friends were becoming increasingly preoccupied with the Vietnam War and the military draft, Gore's interest in politics reached a nadir during his sophomore year. He left it to others to run for house president or representative to the Harvard Policy Committee. When a former Kennedy aide spoke at Dunster and asked, "Who in this room is actually going to go into politics?" Gore kept his hand down. His one notable public act was organizing a protest against the nightly servings of fried chicken and gravy in the dining room; after ballooning to 210 pounds, he successfully lobbied for less fattening fare.
Interviews with several dozen Dunster men from his graduating class revealed a range of impressions about Gore during his college days. Some agreed with one classmate's characterization of him as a "stoic and machinelike" figure, a princeling who had to have "everything in his life orchestrated for him." Even his occasional participation in Dunster's all-night poker games, according to this view, was carefully "arranged for him so that he could experience what it was like to play poker." A few others considered him a dullard and were stunned by his later rise to national power. "There were a few geniuses in the mix and you remember them," said one. "Gore was not that kind of person. He didn't have a magnetic personality. I liked the guy, but president? What a kick!"
Most regarded Gore as neither princeling nor stiff. Dennis Horger remembered him as "a good listener, and with all the egos in a place like that, it was not a quality many people had." Robbie Gass considered him "a straight guy in the best sense of the word. Not as straight arrow, but a good guy. He talked straight. You knew where you stood. He was not a game player." Peter Goldberg thought back on Gore in the dining hall at breakfast leading a "funny and interesting" discussion of what was in that morning's New York Times. But the most common memory of Gore retained by his Dunster classmates placed him down in the basement lounge. It seemed as if he and his pals were there almost every night, playing pool, chomping on hamburgers, watching the news and then Johnny Carson.
By the spring of 1967, the second semester of their sophomore year, beer-chugging contests were a thing of the past and marijuana, as Dunster classmate Jonathan Ritvo recalled, "had almost completely replaced alcohol as the substance of choice." Dunster House had its own in-house grass supplier, and though Gore and his motley crew were not considered potheads, they were known to smoke, and also to consume "magic brownies" laced with marijuana. When the issue of past drug use by presidential candidates first arose during the 1988 campaign, Gore readily acknowledged that he had smoked dope in his college days. Said housemate David Friedman: "A number of us had a joke: It's a good thing Al Gore 'fessed up that he inhaled, because a number of us saw him passed out on the Dunster House couches."
Saved From Chaucer
Gore's academic concentration was English during his first two years at Harvard, but that field grew increasingly difficult for him. He became frustrated by what he called the "headwind" he faced in his literature courses. "The apocryphal story that I tell, which doesn't tell the whole truth, is that Chaucer was okay, but when I began to get into the antecedents of Chaucer, I began to think, 'Is this really for me?' " Gore recalled in a recent interview. "I liked part of it, but I didn't like the rest of it." In fact, he said, if he had "more of a gift for writing," he might have "stayed that course."
After discarding his unfinished novel about Carthage, a place that he loved and romanticized, Gore began looking at his past in a more clinical way, spurred on by a popular course he took called "The Human Life Cycle" taught by Erik Erikson, the legendary psychologist who had written "Childhood and Society" and coined the phrase "identity crisis." Erikson was a proponent of psychobiography, seeking to understand the evolution of human personality and ego through the psychological struggles one faces at each stage of life. He believed that identity was not immutable but could change over a lifetime, depending upon how successfully a person dealt with the tests of each stage.
Gore considered Erikson "a man of tremendous insight" who had "a big influence" on his thinking at what he once called "an awkward stage" in his life. For a course paper, he traveled to Washington and interviewed his father to write a psychobiography of him. Sen. Gore told his son about how his older brother Reginald, in whom the family had invested most of its hopes, was disabled by a gas attack while fighting in France during World War I, and how that setback had motivated Albert to succeed for the family. The themes Gore studied in Erikson's course found their way into conversations he had with his close friend Mike Kapetan, one of six children of working-class parents from Wayne, Mich. "Trying to establish his own identity is what Al was about," Kapetan concluded from their discussions.
"Al took Erikson and the development of the human being and fulfillment of the psyche, he took that very much to heart," Kapetan said. "And I can see why he would. In many ways he was deprived of childhood. The problem of being a famous man's son--he would talk about that. Around our dinner table there were six hungry mouths, around his there were senators and congressmen and ambassadors. Unfortunately, that is where he learned his behavior to be still and sober and circumspect." Kapetan came to understand that Gore envied "the way I talked about my dad and the kind of relationship we had. From the earliest days I could remember I would accompany my dad on Saturday chores. 'Daddy, what is this?' 'Daddy, what is that?' There was always something else to talk about between Al and his dad."
Kapetan and Bart Day both had a sense that their friend was struggling with his past to prepare for his future, that even as he was telling them that he did not intend to follow his father into politics, at some level he knew that it was inevitable. "I guess you might argue that he almost kept it from himself in a way," Day said. And if they were the motley crew, Al was indeed Prince Harry. "There was this pull to something, almost like he was born to it."
The pull became much stronger in his junior year, when Gore took his first class from Richard E. Neustadt, professor of government and director of Harvard's Institute of Politics. Neustadt was a leading presidential scholar whose book "Presidential Power" was already a classic, with the special blessing of the late President John F. Kennedy, Harvard's favorite son. His course on the American presidency attracted hundreds of students, even though by 1967, as Neustadt now says with a certain bemusement, "I was regarded as a sort of semi-reactionary, part of the Washington establishment."
His lectures in Emerson Hall were not a dry recitation of presidential history or theory, nor an attack on establishment politics, but a method of political empathy, in a sense, showing the students how it would feel to sit in the Oval Office and have to deal with an endless array of dilemmas and complex decisions. He used specific stories, some real, others imagined, to illustrate specific points.
Twice a week the students gathered in small sections to role-play many of the dilemmas Neustadt brought up in the lectures. Gore's section man, as teaching assistants were called, was Graham Allison, who was completing a book on the Cuban missile crisis. Allison was fascinated by the way Kennedy reached his decision not to bomb the missile sites but rather impose a blockade against Soviet ships, and how he then sold those decisions to his advisers. In the students' role-playing, Gore was the one who "naturally gravitated to the role of president," Allison recalled. "That was the role he either chose or was chosen for." Gore played JFK, Allison said, "with intensity and seriousness--you could see the political possibilities coming alive. He was very much engaged with the notion of presidential power as the power to persuade."
The experience was "an eye opener," Gore said later, reawakening in him "the same sense of excitement" that Peretz's seminar had stirred in his freshman year. He realized that when he talked about solving problems in government, he suddenly felt more at ease, a sensation overtook him that this was where he belonged, as opposed to when he tried to resolve the same societal problems through writing, when he felt that he was straining.
When he mentioned his fascination with Neustadt's class to his parents, they apparently did not tell him directly how they felt--they tried not to guide his life--but they were privately overjoyed. They had been concerned that he was struggling at Harvard, groping for motivation, showing signs of alienation, turning away from them and the values of public service that Albert and Pauline Gore had so thoroughly inculcated in him. Now, they told friends, with his renewed interest in government, the spark relit by Neustadt, he had been saved--saved from Chaucer, saved from some outer darkness. At least for the moment.
Next: The Tumultuous Summer
Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Lynn Davis contributed to this report.
About This Series
This is the latest in a series of articles about the lives of major presidential candidates. Two previous articles about Vice President Gore ran this fall.
The biography of Al Gore begins in the foothills of middle Tennessee. It was there that his father began the family's journey to national political prominence, rising from a small farm in the remote settlement of Possum Hollow to become a U.S. senator and the father of a vice president. Many of the characteristics that Gore is taking into his quest for the presidency can best be explained by the geography and culture of the Upper Cumberland. His ambition, his earnestness, his politics of moderate progressivism, his support of free trade and his campaign stiffness all trace back in political genealogy through his father to his father's hero, Cordell Hull, a former congressman and secretary of state from the same region who was known for his formal reserve.
As a child, Gore lived most of each year in his parents' apartment at the Fairfax Hotel in Washington, and spent his summers at the family farm along the Caney Fork River near Carthage. At St. Albans, the private school he attended in Washington, Gore was a model student, leader of the debate club and captain of the football team. He was a serious young man accepted by his peers yet somewhat apart from the crowd. The expectations of his parents were always evident. When he was only 6, they planted a story in a Tennessee newspaper about the skill with which he persuaded his father to buy him an expensive bow and arrow. The article began: "There may be another Gore on the way to the political pinnacle."
Stories This Week
Plunging Into the Sixties
At Harvard, discovery and experimentation
Caught Between Two Worlds
1968 and the the pull of politics
The War Comes Home
Harvard goes on strike
Doing the Right Thing
Graduation and enlistment
The Dutiful Soldier
A Senate career ends despite a son's efforts
On the Ground in Vietnam
Disillusionment and return
CAPTION: Yard Men: Harvard freshman Al Gore, second from left in front row, with fellow dorm residents, among them Tommy Lee Jones, front row center, in spring 1966.
CAPTION: Things to Come: The Harvard of 1965 was far from the passions of 1969, above, and what first-year instructor Martin Peretz, below, noticed about Gore was that he seemed less political than his fellow students.
CAPTION: On the Bench: Though he had lettered in basketball in high school, No. 4 Al Gore saw little action on Harvard's freshman team. He filled the rest of his extracurricular time that first year chairing the freshman council, bottom, but he eventually gave up student government, which friends derided as "high school."
CAPTION: Pauline and Sen. Albert Gore Sr. say goodnight to Al before leaving for a White House reception in 1957.
CAPTION: Vice President Gore comforts his mother, Pauline, at a memorial service for his father on Dec. 8, 1998, in Nashville.