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Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2002 / 20 Kislev, 5763

Roger Simon

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Uncovering the warmer, fuzzier, funnier, more likable and . . . more authentic Gore | Rumors that Al Gore would appear on the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" wearing an earth-tone feather boa and a smile proved to be untrue. Fortunately.

But it is about the only TV show he has missed.

After making the judgment two years ago that the public was sick of hearing from him, he and his campaign gurus are now betting the public can't get enough of him.

So he is engaged in a huge media blitz that will culminate, I predict, with an announcement early next year that he is going to run for President again.

During this blitz, Gore and his gurus have but one goal: to make Al Gore likable.

It is no easy job.

Al Gore is a highly disciplined and serious man, a man who loves to study things and the systems of things, who loves to see where and how they fit in with the big picture, and with his constantly evolving and maturing world view.

He is systematic and substantive and loves nothing more than to assemble experts and talk to them at breakfasts, lunches, dinner, panels, study groups and symposia.

His eldest daughter, Karenna, who worked in his vice presidential and Presidential campaigns and is the Gore most likely to follow him into public life, once said that her father was an introvert who was most comfortable living inside himself. She meant it as a compliment.

His wife, Tipper, said, "He is shy. He's always been shy. He was reserved when he was a teenager."

People who get to know Gore are always amazed that he is funnier, more charming and more relaxed in private. And they inevitably end up wishing the public could see the private Gore.

Just as inevitably, his rotating group of aides always hits upon the not very original tactic of "letting Gore be Gore."

"All we need to do is to get him to act in public like he acts in private," aide after aide will say.

It is a profoundly bad idea.

Few people can act in public as they do in private. Privacy is a time to escape from our public selves. And Gore is not an outgoing, funny, relaxed man, though he can certainly be those things when he wants to.

Joe Klein put his finger on it best in a piece he wrote for the New Yorker in 1997. After an interview in which Gore started off as sometimes giggly, sometimes rowdy, sometimes joke-cracking and monumentally insincere, Klein noted that Gore "seemed to be searching for the right . . . attitude to strike, something that wasn't defensive or rectitudinous; something casual."

The interview finally got around to nuclear strategy, a subject that Gore said he had studied for eight to 10 hours a week for 13 months. And then, Klein noted, Gore "changed, suddenly" and was "engaged and enthusiastic." Gore went to a white plastic blackboard and began drawing in Magic Marker a "metaphoric diagram of the meaning of fear" and, using plastic cups, he demonstrated how putting fewer warheads on more missiles would bollix the Russians.

"He seemed more like the world's best Ph.D. student, attacking his orals," Klein wrote. "But there was no awkwardness about it: This was, palpably, the real Al Gore."

Which is the problem for Gore: The real Al Gore, the private Al Gore, cannot be sold to the public.

At first, he simply did not or would not grasp this. (Who wants to be told his essential self is unpalatable?)

"I am who I am," he told Diane Sawyer in June 1999. "And I'm old enough now to know that there are some things that are not - not going to change. There are a lot of things I just don't want to change. And I'm just going to be who I am. And that's - that's all I can do."

He would later change his mind about that. He would later have to.

He would learn what the public really wanted. The public wanted someone who understood them, connected with them and - this was often overlooked - needed them.

"When Bill Clinton wants to relax, he'll invite 20 friends in, play some hearts, talk about books," a Gore staffer once told me. "When Al wants to relax, he'll go off alone somewhere with his laptop. I think he has the potential to be a great leader, a visionary; he sees things before other people do. But I worry that he tends to make intellectual rather than emotional connections with people."

Making an emotional connection with strangers - in essence what political campaigning had become - is no easy thing, even though Bill Clinton made it look easy.

In the last Presidential race, Al Gore was a serious and committed man who tried very hard to learn how to be more charming and casual in public.

George W. Bush was a casual and charming man who had to learn how to be more serious and committed in public.

This time around, Gore is convinced he can complete the job he started in 2000: He is going to be warmer, fuzzier, funnier, more likable and . . . more authentic.

It is like the old political joke: "The public wants sincerity. Heck, I can fake that."

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate