The Washington Post

In Al Gore’s third act, the second banana finishes first

I do not begrudge Al Gore his $70 million payday for selling a business he co-founded only eight years ago. And he’s rightfully paying a post-fiscal cliff tax rate on his staggering capital gains.  With estimates of his profit from the Jan. 2 sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera ranging as high as $100 million, Gore’s and his partners’ tax bite will be substantially higher than had the deal closed few days earlier. Given the left-leaning momentum for the increase, it seems fitting that a couple of exceedingly rich liberals will be among the first to get hit.

Tipper Gore, left, and Al Gore at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in Dec. 2007. (Sandy Young)

Moreover, though it’s hard to say anyone deserves that much green (not even a guy who personally changed the meaning of the word), I do think he earned it. 

Gore spent the majority of his life playing second fiddle.  He wasn’t even the first Senator Al Gore. Born into a political dynasty, young Al grew up in Washington, D.C., attending the prestigious St. Albans School and meeting dignitaries in the halls of Congress, where his father, Al Gore Sr., served the people of Tennessee from 1953 to 1971. 

In 1985, when Junior was finally elected to his father’s old job in the U.S. Senate, his wife, Tipper Gore, stole the spotlight with a campaign to censor rock & roll lyrics.  From 1992 to 2000,  he was vice president to the Clinton co-presidency.

Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Tipper Gore in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 3, 1992. (Susan Ragan / Associated Press)

Being No. 2 served Gore well, and he needn’t complain, but I always found his post-politics act to be more authentic. After narrowly losing the presidency in 2000,  he grew a sense of humor, ditched the earth tones, created a slideshow, and went into business for himself.

After a lifetime spent as a public servant in the legislative and executive branches, Gore came late to the game as a business mogul, but learned quickly. “The business world rewards a long-term perspective more than the political world does,” the former chairman of the Senate Science and Technology Committee told Fast Company in 2007.

His excellent connections may have gotten Gore the Current TV deal, but once he was in, he used his relationships and reputation to network his network onto significant satellite and cable menus and inflight entertainment lineups. “When it came to distribution issues, he was always available to make that final call,” a Current TV colleague told the New York Times, “He was always the closer.”

The veteran of countless campaigns, Gore’s salesmanship was the perfect complement to business partner Joel Hyatt’s head for business and nose for opportunity.  Hyatt also knows something about dynasties. Hyatt’s father-in-law, former Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum, retired in 1994 to create a vacancy so his son-in-law, a lawyer who’d founded a successful low-cost legal service, could run for his seat. Hyatt calamitously lost his father-in-law’s long held Democratic slot to GOP candidate Mike DeWine, and never ran for elected office again.

When their 2004 investment in cable programing for “a target audience of 18-34 year-olds,” was due to pay off last year, the former “next president of the United States” re-purposed his lawmaker arm-bending skills to keep all but Time Warner under contract for the transition to its new owners. 

Gore’s years out of office have been particularly award-winning. As author, lecturer and documentary star, his achievement of “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change,” has been at least as significant as his congressional legislation on the “information superhighway” in the early 1990s, or his youthful inspiration for Oliver Barrett IV, the romantic hero of Erich Segal’s 1970 bestseller, “Love Story.”  His efforts to save our planet from a bonfire of fossil fuels is even more impressive than the $500-million Al Jazeera deal, financed by the Qatar state media company.

It is oddly ironic that Qatar’s deep pockets are the direct result of deeply drilled wells in the Mideast “gas sector.” But personally, I’m glad to see that Al Jazeera English may get a U.S. audience (beyond the few blue state outposts that would previously have them). I don’t know if access to Current TV’s distributors, or the cable channel’s meager audience, will significantly raise the revenues of the Taliban’s go-to video outlet, but another medium to reach Arab American citizens (and people interested in what affects our Arab neighbors) seems like a good example of freedom of speech.  Gore will sit on an advisory board for the reconfigured cable company.

He’s had a spectacular second act, but I’m hopeful that at 64 years old, his third act will be his best. Gore has done well politically and proven his mettle in business. Now is the time to pursue his passions. A man with his experience and wealth could possibly, with enough luck and dedication, go a long way to repair damage to our earth.

Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel



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