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The old Al is better than the new Al

Dear Mr. Vice President: I'm expecting any day now that you'll be standing up and yelling at the top of your voice, "I won't take it any more." I'm talking about all this advice you're getting on how you should change your image if you're going to win the presidency.

At a Monitor breakfast with journalists a few days ago a newsman asked our guests - Democratic Party leaders Roy Romer and Joe Andrew - this question: "Al Gore has sat around this table many times over the years, since he was a young congressman, and he's always done a splendid job. He's always been relaxed, personable, and most persuasive. And he did this by just being himself. What's wrong with Gore forgetting about trying to change himself and just being himself?" Mr. Romer and Mr. Andrew agreed that "being yourself" would, indeed, be the best advice you could take these days.

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I know, all your friendly pollsters and so many of your advisers are telling you that you must repackage yourself. They want you to appear looser; they want your face to be more expressive; they want to create a "new Al Gore." Well, I contend that any efforts you have made in that direction show through. They're contrivances. And the public is quick to discern what you're doing and not like it.

Don't forget: You've been a longtime winner by being yourself. You didn't have to reshape yourself in order to be elected to the House and the Senate. The voters back in Tennessee knew you as a particularly bright, witty, and capable fellow. And they liked both you and the work you were doing. And so they kept voting for you.

I recall what a great speech you made at the Gridiron dinner the year you filled in for President Clinton when he injured his knee. You were loose and you were funny; indeed, it was one of the funniest and most enjoyable speeches we journalists had heard over the years. But you did one thing wrong. You brought in that cardboard figure of yourself and got a laugh by standing beside it when you first walked in. It showed you could laugh at yourself. But you were also making the mistake of underscoring your alleged stiffness. Please don't do that again.

And please turn your back on the "image makers" who would make you into something else. You're great when you aren't thinking about trying to invent yourself or, in a heavyhanded way, trying to make a special point of how you are just one of the guys.

I'm thinking back on others who have won. Do you think anyone was telling Eisenhower to reshape himself? Yet Ike's sentences didn't easily parse and he read his speeches in a rather wooden way. And Harry Truman: What a bad reader of speeches he was, too. I don't think anyone was constantly badgering Harry about his speaking. They'd better not! No, the public just accepted these men for what they were - and are: both outstanding presidents.

So my (unasked-for, I know!) advice is to take no advice that would try to create a "new Al Gore." The public is very smart, very discerning. The voters in the end are able to see through the artifices, if there are any. They like to believe they are looking at - and have the opportunity to assess - the genuine article. They are quick to reject a candidate who is reshaping himself to pander to their tastes.

Anyway, that's what I think. And so do two of your wisest men in the Democratic Party. So just be yourself, Mr. Vice President. And win or lose, you're going to feel good about yourself when it's all over. And, finally, it occurs to me that if I had a lot of people continually telling me I must loosen up, I'd tighten up with anxiety.

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So abandon those fear purveyors, Mr. Veep, and come over for breakfast. We serve bacon and eggs and a large portion of civility. And you can - as you have in the past - just be yourself.

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