Few politicians have shrunken as fast, while rising in power, as Vice-President, Al Gore. In terms of standing up for what he believes, Gore is a shadow of his former self as Representative and Senator from Tennessee, though he never came close to the political courage of his father, also a Senator. Gore, senior, for example spoke out for civil rights in the Sixties when southern legislators were not supposed to do so.
Granted, the status of being vice-president does turn many vice-presidents into sycophants for presidents who seem to need, as does Bill Clinton, daily plaudits from his next in command. But Clinton chose Gore as his running mate in 1992 knowing that Gore had written a popular book on the environment filled with specific stands on one issue after another. Gore’s clear expectation was that he was not going to be muzzled.
What Gore has done is to go one step lower — he muzzles himself, and does it with a forceful contradiction of his past political positions. For example, a few months ago, he journeyed to Detroit to prostrate himself before an audience of auto executives and assure them that the need not worry about Al Gore. Indeed, he and Bill Clinton have largely abandoned law enforcement regarding safer vehicles, more fuel efficient engines or lowering truck pollution.
Reagan did not do much worse, nor did Bush. The auto companies are making more profits than they did when those Republicans were in the White House and the engineeringimprovements are longer overdue for application to new vehicles.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post headlined a story — “Gore Woos Wall St. With the Help of Investment Insiders.” He is wooing Wall Street, the article noted, because it is a “source of not only potential campaign contributions but also credibility in the corporate world. . . .Wall Street executives and a Gore aide said the vice president in turn has reached out to Wall Street officials to solicit advice on economic issues and vet his speeches on business matters. Executives have encouraged him to tone down the environment rhetoric. . . “
In a world of global warming, destroyed tropical forests, polluted air, water and soil, enormous land erosion, the big business boys can’t stand rhetoric, much less action. In the midst of making himself fully acceptable to the financiers and industrialists, Gore is even losing his rhetoric fast.
In six years, Gore has made no speeches or statements criticizing the nuclear power boondoggle. He has not pressed formidable programs in his speeches for solar energy or other renewable or efficient forms of power that are benign to the environment. Instead he has condoned huge taxpayer subsidies to the atomic power industry, including charging ratepayers for the “stranded costs” of bad and wasteful nuclear power plants owned by the electric utilities.
One would think that dramatic and long overdue policies for energy conservation applied to vehicles, appliances, lighting, heating and air conditioning systems would not be too bold moves for a vice-president observing huge oil import percentages andtens of billions of naval and airforce taxdollars being spent over Middle East oil.
But then Gore cannot get himself to criticize corporations at all. Contrary to his former beliefs that international trade agreements should not jeopardize environmental health, Gore played the automatic role of defending NAFTA and GATT which allow polluters to downgrade and erode environmental conditions and policies.
Gore may be called a Pavlovian politician. By displaying obeisance to corporate power, he and Clinton have been rewarded. They win special interest-money saturated elections and avoid having the varieties of corporate power arrayed against them as would occur if they were progressive political figures having, what Professor James MacGregor Burns called “transforming leadership” qualities.
The plutocracy and the oligarchy condition Gore’s responses and he acquires ever more political power. This explains why Gore loves to spend his time with business executives from Silicon Valley to Wall Street and, unlike Jimmy Carer, why he has declined for six years to address an audience of citizen groups, representing millions of citizen-members, in a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the White House.