Albert Gore (1907-1998)

Chatterbox’s wish for Vice President Al Gore, whom Chatterbox admires and will probably vote for in the next presidential election, even though he can sometimes be incredibly annoying, is that Gore become more like his father, Albert Gore Sr., who died Saturday. Chatterbox isn’t the first dime-store psychologist to observe that Al Jr.’s absurdly safe blather about “practical idealism,” his love of abstract issues that lend themselves more to disquisitions than to government action, and his tendency to preen about what an intellectual he is and to do things like host dinner lectures on the decline of the Metaphor in public life–that all these aspects of Gore’s character represent some sort of reaction against his father.

Al Gore Sr. was an Impractical Idealist: He refused to sign the segregationist Southern Manifesto, he opposed the Vietnam war loudly, he mocked Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen’s “pompous verbosity,” he came to be seen as a loose cannon even by some northern Democrats, and he got booted out of office in 1970. Erich Segal, the author of Love Story, has said that he borrowed elements of the Gore Sr.-Gore Jr. relationship for Oliver Barrett. But what people tend to forget about Gore Sr. is that, though he was related to socially prominent people, his background had a touch of the hillbilly. (As my wife, Marjorie Williams, pointed out in a Gore profile in Vanity Fair, even after he became a senator he was always a little short on cash.) Chatterbox has always thought it was the hillbilly business, as much as the son-of-a-senator business, that spooked Al Jr. when he promised himself, as a recently-minted Harvard graduate, never to go into politics.

When Chatterbox was researching a profile of the vice president a couple of years ago, he came across an intriguing passage in one of Albert Gore Sr.’s books that shows that Al Sr. thought of himself as having only barely escaped a hardscrabble existence. Chatterbox was intrigued by the contrast with Al Jr., quoted the passage in his piece, and will quote it here. The background is that when Al Sr. was a kid he wanted to be a country fiddler and befriended an itinerant mandolin picker named “Old Peg”:

“His harness was tied together with baling wire and binder twine; the buggy was without a top, and one wondered how long the wheels would stay on. …When he was out of hearing range, wheels wobbling down the road, my father–his hand on my shoulder–said in words that I will never forget: ‘Son, there goes your future.’ “

–Timothy Noah