Reporters, it’s true, hope this GOP primary goes on for a while. Not for any partisan reason, but because we loved that 19th presidential debate as much as the first -- or would, if we could remember back that far.
So I’m going to guess that we in the media are not going to spend too much time in this current campaign giving Romney the dreaded Al Gore treatment, as my colleague Dana Milbank recently suggested. Gore never deserved it, either, of course, and I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why that is.
But that’s just the point; no one wants that ‘been there’ feeling of covering the last war, or a race that was over way back when you could show up at the last minute and still make your airplane. Maybe we in the press learned something from our day in, day out, ‘hammer, meet nail’ pigeonholing of Gore in the 2000 campaign — or at least are open to making some new and different mistakes this time around.
And then there’s this: The two men are not that much alike.
Gore is the only son of a Tennessee Democrat who did not have a lot of money when Al was growing up, or at any time until he was turned out of the U.S. Senate. Al Gore was raised in a not-so-swank residential hotel, where his parents got a break on the rent through some cousin. He was raised for public service, and maybe even for the presidency.
Willard Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was named for the hotel magnate J. Willard Marriott, his Republican dad’s best friend. George Romney, the CEO of American Motors, who also ran for president and was governor of Michigan, seems to have steered the youngest of his four children first toward the business world – the ‘real world,’ as Mitt Romney puts it.
Though neither Gore nor Romney is the world’s most natural politician, there isn’t the sense that the public Mitt Romney is much different than the private one; put another way, you don’t ever hear that Mitt Romney cracks everyone up when the cameras are off, do you?
Politically, their situations are nothing alike, either; fortunately for him, Romney isn’t running as a sitting vice president, in the shadow of the most talented and least disciplined politician of his generation. We’ve forgotten our ‘Clinton fatigue’ now, but it certainly colored the Gore coverage, and fueled enthusiasm for George W. Bush, whose bons mots – yes, they have those in Texas – and nicknames for reporters made him a big hit.
Even the ways in which Gore and Romney are seen as inauthentic are unalike; Gore was pegged as a know-it-all – and at times came across very much like the Harvard credentialist he actually is, though he is also more than that.
Whereas Mitt’s perceived inability to connect comes not from any professorial tendencies, but because he so often seems to be doing his best imitation of what he imagines the hoi polloi would do in any given situation. Which, as I first wrote in October, he could probably counter by talking more about his obviously very real attachment to his Mormon faith. But so far, he seems to be held back by the attendant risks, since so many Americans still have questions about and in some cases a bias against the Church of Latter Day Saints.
That’s not a crazy calculation by any means, but it’s one he may have to get over to win.
(Actually, his hesitation in that regard may be the way in which I most see the parallel; after pollsters told Gore the environment did not rank high among voter concerns, he never showed the passion for that issue that we later saw in ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ — passion that might have made the talk of his ‘woodenness’ go away.)
Romney comes out of a managerial culture, and his big-picture pitch is that he’d like to use what he’s learned in the business world to create jobs. And Gore? A wonk’s wonk who got excited about fractals and yes, was one of the first elected officials who really understood the implications of what was then known as the information super-highway.
He was stiff sometimes, but he was also something of a seeker, with a confessional side, too, responding to his son’s serious car crash with a ‘dark night of the soul’ journey that led him to question almost everything in his life.
In both his book, ‘Earth and the Balance’ and in person, he’d be thigh-deep in science one minute and spouting “Drama of the Gifted Child” psycho-dynamics the next. Which gave us an awful lot of ammunition.
In the end, we won’t ‘Al Gore’ Mitt Romney because Romney won’t let us get close enough to have as much to use against him. But uh-oh, I just heard Newt Gingrich say he’d prevail in the end because of ‘people power versus money power.’ Is that anything like ‘the people versus the powerful’? I doubt the former vice president wants his 2000 slogan back, though; maybe he’d just as soon Gingrich hung on to it.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post politics writer and anchor of ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.