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Jewish World Review August 23, 2000 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5760

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports


Charming AlBore? Yeah, right


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HANNIBAL, Mo. | It was only a few days ago that Al Gore's campaign chairman was telling me that Gore was never going to be a warm and fuzzy guy.

"Is he ever going to be the guy that you want to go out and sit in a bar with? No," said Bill Daley. "It's just never going to be him. He's a serious guy, and what we've got to do, I think, is convey that this is serious business."

Gore confronted the problem head-on at the Democratic Convention, when he concluded his speech by saying: "If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day, and I will never let you down."

Personally, I thought this was a mistake. Sure, Americans want their presidents to be hardworking and competent (and reverent, brave, clean and true, though this doesn't always happen), but I also think they want their presidents to be friendly.

When we get in that polling booth on Election Day, we want to have a good feeling about the person to whom we are entrusting the country, and it is hard to have good feelings about someone who is cold and aloof.

Which may be why Gore's lingering kiss with his wife on the stage of the convention has gotten so much attention. I don't think it was calculated. I think people were surprised because it was so personal and romantic, and people have never seen that side of Gore before.

"They're like that in private," his daughter Karenna told me later with a laugh. "I turn around, and there they go! Now, it's in public."

Asked if he was trying to send a message about himself to the public with the kiss, Gore joked, "I was trying to send a message to Tipper!"

And soon after Gore began his 400-mile Mississippi River cruise, he walked down from his quarters atop the riverboat Mark Twain to the press area on the lowest deck of the boat and began joking around with reporters.

"I'm just being me."

This is very rare for Gore. Unlike Bush, who has been trying to charm reporters from the first day of his campaign -- he even has little nicknames for them -- Gore has never spent very much time with reporters, and even less time just schmoozing with them.

Is this important? Well, just go back and read the press coverage of the two candidates. You get the impression from the reporting on Bush that he is a warm and charming fellow. You get the impression from the reporting on Gore that he is not.

This could reflect reality. Or it could reflect the fact that Bush has been carefully building a friendly impression with his press corps while Gore has not.

Campaigns often complain that reporters "filter" the news, but smart campaigns don't complain about this, they manipulate it. If you believe reporters often inject their personal feelings into stories, then why not try to shape those personal feelings?

So a few minutes after a group of reporters on the riverboat began playing a dice game and had a pile of dollar bills on the table, Gore burst into the room.

"What is this outrage!" he said in mock horror. "Gambling! I've never seen such corruption. We need campaign journalism reform!"

The reporters all laughed and later that night something even more amazing happened: Gore invited the press to the top deck for a birthday party for Tipper, and he drank beer with reporters and danced and joked around with them for hours.

Small groups of people had gathered on the riverbanks to wave to Gore as a he passed, and a couple of times Gore picked up a bullhorn and shouted to them.

"Nice shirt!" he said to one man.

"The boat is sinking!" he shouted later.

This may not strike you as terribly hilarious, but for Al Gore it was funny and unexpected and, in its own way, charming.

At one lock on the river in the small town of Lansing, Gore shouted greetings to a to a group of people who had brought a band out to greet him.

"Hello, Lansing!" Gore yelled.

Then seeing the band, Gore said, "Do you know 'On Wisconsin'?"

There was a silence on the shore. And then a man yelled out, "You're in Iowa!"

Oh, well. Charm does take a little practice.



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