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The Comeback Kid

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Gore’s performances outside and inside the theater get me thinking about Bill Clinton; about what a cruel fate it was for Gore to be constantly compared with him. Though Clinton wasn’t as wonky or earnest about technology as Gore, he too always had an eye turned toward the future. But Clinton was always a man of the moment, and his performance skills were freakish. Where Clinton is a classic extrovert, Gore is “not a classic introvert, but I’m on the line,” as he puts it. “Most people in politics draw energy from backslapping and shaking hands and all that. I draw energy from discussing ideas.”

After the Lewinsky scandal and the 2000 campaign, the Clinton-Gore relationship plummeted into a downward spiral. On Gore’s side, there was a bedrock belief that, as one of his friends puts it, “if Clinton hadn’t been impeached, Al Gore would be president and the world would be a different place.” And on Clinton’s side, there was certainty that had Gore been even a modestly competent campaigner, the impeachment wouldn’t have mattered—a view the Clinton people (and Clinton himself) liberally spread around. By the time Clinton and Gore left the White House, each was nurturing such grave resentments that they were no longer speaking.

Back at the hotel, Gore informs me that the breach has been repaired. We’re sitting in his room—“The presidential suite! That hurts!” he cries—and Gore has just cracked his second Heineken.

“I’d just arrived in Vienna on September 11,” he says, “and when the planes hit the towers, I knew right away it was bin Laden.” Gore’s first thought was to call Tipper; his next was to call Clinton. “When we were in office, there was nothing significant that happened where we didn’t talk very quickly,” he says. “This was such a horrible event, one that affected the whole country, it was just a natural.”

“He felt as if he were that character in Being John Malkovich,” says a friend about the 2000 campaign. “There were all of these voices in his head, telling him what to do.”

But Clinton was in Australia, unreachable. Gore turned his attention to getting home. A private citizen now, he was stuck for two days, until he got a flight to Toronto. Traveling with an aide, he rented a car and headed for Washington, where Bush had scheduled a prayer service the next morning at the National Cathedral. They were planning to drive all night to get there, but at eleven o’clock, Gore says, “my cell phone rang, and it was Clinton. He said, ‘Why don’t you stop off in Chappaqua and spend the night with me?’ I said, ‘That would be great.’ He said, ‘They’re sending a plane for me tomorrow, so you can fly down with me.’ ”

Gore arrived in Chappaqua around three in the morning. “He and I stayed up all night long, talking and reminiscing,” Gore recalls. “It’s hard to say we were having a good time in the midst of that terrible tragedy—we were not—but it was great to be with him again; we have both always enjoyed the long conversations that we had.”

So that constituted the rapprochement? All of the resentments fell away?

“Yeah, I guess, but I don’t want to say that in a way that completely buys into the premise,” Gore replies. “There is truth to the premise, but it’s not true that whatever tensions there were matched the friendship and camaraderie and common purposes. We’ve just been through too much together. We have a bond that’ll never be shaken—and it was very clear that moment. We’ll never be eclipsed by any disagreement, we just won’t be. It’s not a brother-to-brother relationship, but it’s in that family.”

There is something ineffably comforting about knowing that Gore and Clinton are no longer stewing in the juices of mutual recrimination. But what makes Gore’s sepia-toned response even more notable is the contrast with how he addresses another question: What does he think of the politician Hillary Clinton is becoming?

“Well, I think that she’s doing a very effective job for her state,” he says slowly, ponderously. “I think she’s going to be reelected overwhelmingly. I think she has impressed her colleagues in the Senate and demonstrated an ability to work in a bipartisan way with Republican senators you might have not believed she could form alliances with.”

Oy vey.

Undaunted, I ask about Senator Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war.

“Look, she and President Clinton and Tipper and I have been through so much together,” he says, now almost plaintively. “I will say that all the Democrats who supported the war made a mistake, in my opinion. But I’m not going to single her out.”

Gore’s relationship with Hillary has long been the subject of close study by those in their respective orbits. But few of the extant theories involve the concept of bonhomie. “He intensely dislikes her,” says one former Gore adjutant. “It all goes back to 1993 and 1994, when there were two vice-presidents: Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. They fought for turf, for resources, for projects. It was almost like a sibling rivalry over who was the second-most-important person in the White House. Second, they’re highly similar people. They’re very intellectual, very moralistic, very black-and-white—whereas President Clinton’s view was ‘You’re my enemy today, you’re my friend tomorrow. You fuck up today, you’re going to save the day tomorrow. I want to get along with everybody.’ And third, when Gore-istas say, ‘We think Clinton was a negative for Gore in 2000,’ high on that list is Mrs. Clinton’s running for Senate in 2000—so instead of her and the president being seen as a fading force and letting Gore emerge, it was the Clinton dynasty being seen as an ever-present force in American politics.”


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