The house in Nashville is gleaming white, with symmetrical wings and four twenty-foot-high Victorian columns. Under the soaring portico stands Al Gore, dressed in his casual uniform—a button-down blue dress shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots.
This is Gore’s White House, a 10,000-square-foot mansion he and Tipper renovated in 2007. It’s currently uninhabited but for his dog, Bo (by strange coincidence, the name of the dog in the real White House, too), a chow mix, who is barking wildly. “I’ve got the house to myself most of the time,” Gore says.
By mansion standards, the house is modest. The most famous feature of the Gore living room, Tipper’s drum kit, has been moved out since they separated in 2010. Off the living room is Gore’s writing room, with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, where he spent the better part of two years—nights and weekends included—writing his latest book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, 533 pages, 154 of which are endnotes and bibliography. Shortly after finishing his manuscript, he sold his cable channel, Current TV, in a deal worth $784 million—Al Gore is now richer than Mitt Romney, according to Forbes magazine. Add that to his books, his investment company, his Oscar-winning movie, and his Nobel Prize, and you have a flawless American success story—except, of course, for one little detail.
We pass through the kitchen, where Gore delivers a brief disquisition on the dangers of aspartame in diet drinks, which may cause you to crave sweet things, and thus help make you fat—one of Gore’s concerns, along with saving the planet.
In the backyard, the poplars have just started to bloom, white as teacups. Gore settles us onto cushiony patio furniture not far from a rectangular pool. Bo, finally quiet, has taken up a spot on the well-tended lawn.
It’s perfectly pleasant here in the yard—but wherever Al Gore is, it’s hard not to get the sense that there are dark clouds lurking. This is partly because of his core identity—the man who should have been president. And it’s also because his writings are apocalyptic—like nature hikes through the Book of Revelation, a phrase he sometimes uses in a different context. His environmental writings are replete with biblical images of the destruction that awaits unless we change our ways. His best seller The Assault on Reason laments the fading power of evidence and logic and the disdain with which intellectuals are treated. Even The Future proposes that America has lost its way and that its current course leads to “the possibility that civilization as we know it would come to an end.”
“Your books all seem to be built around a sense of loss and hopelessness,” I begin.
Gore quickly rebuts my premise.
“Oh, gee, it doesn’t come from that place,” he says. “Look, there are some dangers here and some opportunities. And we have to make conscious choices.
“I’m trying to push back against the idea that my writing comes from a place of sadness or lament.”
“You’re optimistic, then?”
“Yeah, I’m very optimistic. We’ve faced stormy days in the past. Good things can happen quickly. They can, and they do.”
The image of Albert Gore Jr. as a man for whom the sky is always falling was created in the five weeks after November 7, 2000, a day when he believed he’d won the presidency (and many still believe that he did). The Supreme Court, by one vote (and Sandra Day O’Connor, a retired justice, has just suggested that the court perhaps should not have taken the case), put an end to that dream. “For two and a half decades, he was on a trajectory that was supposed to end in the presidency,” says one of his closest advisers, Carter Eskew. Then it was ripped out of his hands, and that changed everything.
Part of Gore’s gift is that he’s always managed to make light of the situation. He’s developed a big banging laugh and a talent for self-deprecation—“I used to be the next president of the United States,” he likes to say. Or he play-acts.
“How hard was it to be so close?” Charlie Rose pressed one recent evening at the 92nd Street Y. How, in other words, could you bear it?
Onstage, Gore, in a suit that looked too small for him, mock-blubbered: “Oh, Charlie, you have no idea.”
In the absence of direct testimony, those close to him have filled it in. “He endured a long night of the soul,” says one aide, echoing the standard view of Gore after 2000.
Gore shifts us inside—it’s gotten a bit cold, and the host is hungry. There are relatively few signs of the wealth he’s lately accumulated. There’s a sideboard with dishes on display, a compact living room facing a flat-screen TV, and a dining area where the table is set for three—we’re joined by a young aide, Betsy McManus, who addresses her boss as “Sir.”