- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Amid all the horrors of war and terror, the comforting figure of Al Gore has returned to the scene. Good old Al brings back memories of earlier, more innocent days, when we actually cared whether a politician was wearing earth tones or basic blue. Awkward Al is still on his uncompleted journey of self-discovery. He is rather like the British navigator in the 18th century who managed to circumnavigate Australia without finding it. If George W. is nature's frat boy, Al is the sort of chap who the frats would never let in unless his dad owned a liquor store. Which is how Al got into politics the one profession for which he is singularly unsuited. His dad had the political equivalent of a liquor store a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Poor Al still hasn't even figured out how to dress in public. Part way through his thrilling speech, he casually took off his suit jacket presumably in an effort to remind us of a dashing Jack Kennedy or an ultra-cool Frank Sinatra. But here's some advice, Al, from a well-proportioned conservative columnist to a well-proportioned former vice president: Fat guys tend to sweat. Frank and Jack never sweated not even when they were fornicating multiple show girls simultaneously. But there was Ardent Al shining, glowing, dripping with the excesses of his sebaceous gland. His now two-tone blue shirt was saturated with the free flow of his precious bodily fluids (but not the same precious bodily fluids with which Jack and Frank were so generous). Al, your former boss should have kept his trousers on; you should keep your jacket on. Enough said.

His speech itself was very well-received by an audience composed of Democratic Party operatives, ballot-box stuffers, mistaken Pat Buchanan voters, aspiring Democratic candidates for irrigation district commissions, and assorted other out-of-work Democratic hopefuls. These folks were so low on their luck that Al Gore counted as a returning conquering hero. The red meat he served them was as greedily consumed as table scraps by starving family pooches. It didn't really matter what Al said, as long as he said something rude about the Bush family in his patented goofy, patronizing, ersatz down-home prep school tone that, inexplicably, low-rent Democratic activists find so endearing.

But, being a self-identified patriot, he let the president have it with only one barrel. He graciously (or cautiously?) plugged up his foreign policy barrel and only spoke about various domestic matters with passionate intensity. His most courageous moment came near the end of his speech, when he recklessly admonished his audience that : "It sometimes seems as if, in the words of the poet, the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity." As Mr. Gore has in the past changed his convictions on abortion, gun control, tobacco use, and many other issues, it was not clear whether he meant the former quote to refer to him in whole or in part.

Nonetheless, it went off very well for him. After the speech, CNN's cameras followed the former vice president in the audience as he chatted with hordes of surprisingly well-dressed well-wishers. Someone asked him why he seemed so comfortable with himself, compared with prior times. Mr. Gore's revealing answer, as recorded by CNN: "Well, as Janis Joplin said, 'Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.' " The song, sung by Janis Joplin, was "Me and Bobby McGee" (words and music by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster). Now, being a contemporary of Mr. Gore's, I can well remember liking that line from the druggy 1960s. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down on my Alfa Romeo and feeling no pain, the phrase "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" gave me and other over-indulged boomer brats the illusion of being down and out in a dusty Salinas, or a romantic Paris. It felt good, so we thought it. But what did the former vice president mean? Was he flashing back to the good old days when he had a full head of hair, a young sexy Tipper by his side ("Wearing a dirty red bandanna, the windshield wipers slapping time, good enough for me and my Bobby McGee"), or did he really mean that he could only be himself when he had nothing left to lose? If it's the former, I understand, Al those were the days. If it's the latter, I don't think we want a president who can only feel comfortable with himself if he thinks we have nothing left to lose.

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