Al Gore makes misleading statements because he “can’t admit to being human,” says the author of a new biography of the vice president.
“For some reason I don’t quite understand, [Mr. Gore] doesn’t feel his impressive record is enough and he feels the need to exaggerate,” says Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle, whose column is nationally syndicated. “But then there’s also a side of him that deliberately sets up to mislead people.”
The vice president has long been criticized for embroidering his accomplishments, exaggerating his role in the development of the Internet and claiming to have been the inspiration for the novel “Love Story.”
That reputation has become a campaign issue since the Oct. 3 presidential debate, when Mr. Gore’s claims about overcrowding in a Florida school and his own role in disaster relief for Texas were revealed to be less than accurate.
But it is on the issue of abortion, where Mr. Gore once claimed to be pro-life but now boasts that he has “always supported a woman’s right to choose,” that Miss Saunders says the vice president has been most deceptive.
“He set up a paper trail to make it look as if he never changed his mind,” she says, pointing out a carefully worded 1983 letter to pro-life voters in Tennessee in which he wrote that abortion was “arguably the taking of a human life.”
“A true opponent of abortion would not use ‘arguably,’ ” Miss Saunders writes in her new book, “The World According to Gore.” She writes that the vice president a former divinity student at Vanderbilt University “created arguments that were almost theological in their subtlety,” allowing him to gain pro-life support among his Tennessee constituencies while later claiming to have been pro-choice.
“There is something in Al Gore that can’t admit to being human,” Miss Saunders said in an interview. “He can’t admit to changing his mind or being wrong.”
However, she has no taste for armchair psychoanalysis.
“I think he’s been over-analyzed,” she says. “I have enough humility to know that I don’t have the training to know what makes him tick. Being phony worked for him for decades. People tend to do what works for them.”
Mr. Gore’s most famous fibs are personal anecdotes, like his claim about his mother-in-law and his dog paying different prices for the same arthritis medication. But Miss Saunders says there also is reason to doubt the vice president’s claims about public policy, such as his campaign boast that he is “for the people,” while his opponent is “for the powerful.”
“He’s for the people one minute and he’s for the powerful the next,” she says. “At any given moment, there’s a 50 percent chance he’s telling the truth.”
Miss Saunders says she had a more favorable opinion of the vice president before she started researching her book.
“I had thought of Gore as a Boy Scout in a bordello, corrupted by Bill Clinton,” she says. “When I took a look at Gore’s record on abortion, I realized that 20 years ago, he was parsing his sentences.”
The book was the brainchild of Peter Collier, chief of Encounter Books, a new publisher associated with the conservative Bradley Foundation. When he and Miss Saunders first talked, she had wanted to write about Mr. Gore’s role in promoting the Clinton administration’s “211” plan, which was later abandoned.
“The administration came out with this plan, and Al Gore was the front man for it, to have a national number called 211… . Wherever you are, you can call this number to find out about traffic and transit information,” says Miss Saunders, who called the plan “cell-phone welfare.”
The plan would have “let yuppies with cell phones be privy to this information on traffic,” she says. “Here was this man who was head of reinventing government, who was now proposing this whole new federal program to deliver something that radio and television deliver for free.”
When she presented Mr. Collier with a proposal about the 211 plan, he suggested instead that she write a book about the vice president’s ideas. She was a logical choice. Before becoming a journalist and author, she was active in Republican politics in her native Massachusetts, a “lonely experience” in that Democratic stronghold.
After moving to California in 1985, Miss Saunders began writing for the Los Angeles Daily News before she was hired by the Chronicle.
“They needed a conservative I’m not a blind partisan,” says Miss Saunders, adding that “San Francisco is a target-rich environment” for a conservative writer.
As is Mr. Gore.
“The big revelation for me in the book is that Al Gore doesn’t really believe in global warming,” she says. She describes Mr. Gore’s 1992 book, “Earth in the Balance,” as “a type of global communism,” saying his record and positions have been at odds with his environmentalist claims.
Mr. Gore “makes a number of apocryphal predictions [in ‘Earth in the Balance’] about what will happen if global warming is not addressed,” she says. “He talks about floods, disasters that could lead to countless deaths. He writes in his book that if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half, that still won’t stop global warming.
“Then look at his record: [In September], he comes out in favor of cheap fuel,” she says. “He has not lifted a finger to improve fuel efficiency in American cars. In fact, fuel efficiency was better under Ronald Reagan, with older technology, than it is under this administration after Bill Clinton put Al Gore in charge of his environmental policies.”
Even Mr. Gore’s staunchest supporters should distrust him, she says, citing how the vice president turned against his former allies in the tobacco industry. For instance, Mr. Gore’s criticism of Hollywood is perceived as “a wink and a nod, and that Gore is never going to regulate the entertainment industry,” she said.
“I’ll bet the tobacco industry thought that, too. I think Hollywood will be the next tobacco industry. They all think that he’s their buddy,” she says, quoting a famous Gore campaign claim about tobacco, “because he chopped it and he hoed it.”
She faults the press for allowing Mr. Gore to get away with hypocrisy and policy flip-flops.
“It just astonishes me that he’s gotten a free ride on this from many members of the press,” she says. “He calls [Texas Gov. George W.] Bush an oil man in the power of Big Oil, same with [Republican vice-presidential candidate Richard B.] Cheney and [Mr. Gore] lives on a farm that his daddy bought at a discount rate from [Occidental Petroleum magnate] Armand Hammer.”
She views the vice president as a divisive figure.
“For people who are looking for a bipartisan atmosphere in Washington, [Mr. Gore is] the wrong man, because he makes everything personal. If you are the other side, you’re the enemy.”