CEO Wet Dreams

Gore and Bush primers reveal who really won Tuesday's election

Photos by Jack Gould (left) and
AP/Wide World PhotosOf all the accusations thrown at al Gore during the election, the most unfair and easily disproved is that he doesn't know how to work with Republicans. In 1980, he supported Bob Dornan's effort to maintain tax-exempt status for private schools that bar black students. As a member of the U.S. Senate, Gore backed three anti-homosexual measures put up by his colleague and, on this issue, comrade-in-arms Jesse Helms. His half-assed attempt in the '80s to present himself as an expert on nuclear weapons (remember the "Midgetman" missile? Of course not, and Gore would rather you didn't) did nothing but provide a fig leaf for the more bellicose aspects of Reagan's nuclear policy. In 1984, he was one of only 74 Democrats in the entire Congress to vote for the Siljander amendment, the most far-reaching of all the measures dreamed up by the conservative right to undercut Roe vs. Wade.

If you missed any of these facts while following the media coverage of the election, it's not the fault of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, editors of the muckraking newsletter Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org). In their newsletter and in their book, Al Gore: A User's Manual, they have carefully tracked "one unlovely hoof print after another . . . across Gore's legislative voting record."

The hoof prints suggest a strikingly single-minded march toward the White House, almost as far back as Gore's first steps. Born to Tennessee Senator Albert Gore and his intensely political wife, Pauline, Al Jr. never really stood a chance.

The most unlikable traits of Gore's personality—the exaggerations, the priggishness, his overly cautious reliance on polls, etc.—seem to stem from his having been raised to be president. But all the training in the world is of no use unless the man and the hour meet. Entering politics by running for the House of Representatives in 1976, Gore's timing was impeccable. The days when political courage was needed were almost over; the Vietnam War had been abandoned; the civil-rights struggle no longer gripped the country; Nixon had been driven from office; and most important, the conservative wing of the Democratic Party had regrouped and was beginning to shift the party toward the Right.

From the beginning, Gore was at home on the Right. In his 1976 race, the authors write, he campaigned "against handgun registration; for the fetus's 'right to life'; against homosexuality ('abnormal sexual behavior'); for mandatory minimum sentencing for criminals; for arms-spending hikes; for a sunset law to phase out federal agencies; and, it goes without saying, full-bore for tobacco." Some of these positions he has changed (e.g., he is now pro-choice), some he has not (e.g., he promises to fulfill the military-industrial complex's greediest dreams). Although he likes to call himself a "centrist realist," Gore has always been a reliably Right-wing Democrat. And a good thing, too, for someone of his ambition —because that has been where the money is.

In a witty and bare-knuckled way, Al Gore: A User's Manual makes the case that Gore "has spent his adult life using the rhetoric" of the New Deal, which he learned at his father's knee, "to destroy [its] substance. . . . Like a street mountebank fluttering a handkerchief to distract attention from his sleights of hand, Gore has used his proficiency with the language of liberalism to mask an agenda utterly in concert with the Money Power." If you voted for Gore as "the lesser evil," you may be surprised how small that distinction actually was.

The last time George W. Bush stood firmly on his own two feet was his first year of junior high school. After that came elite private schools that welcomed him because of his family and a happy stint in the Texas Air National Guard, which allowed him to enlist for the same reason. His absolutely incompetent career in the oil business was financed by other people's money—people who didn't mind losing their cash as long as the money pit was managed by George Bush's son. That same qualification earned him the position of managing partner of the Texas Rangers, when wealthy men needed an important local name to front their purchase of the baseball team. This deal made Bush a multimillionaire—not because of his work or the lackluster team's ability, but through a clever exploitation of Texas taxpayers. When another group of wealthy men needed an important local name to run for governor to make sure that needy citizens never get easy access to tax dollars, Bush was again selected.

Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush—written by Molly Ivins, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's well-known syndicated columnist, and Lou Dubose, editor of the excellent Texas Observer—traces George W.'s resistible rise from callow but likable college student to callow but likable presidential candidate and gives a fairly comprehensive review of his dismal accomplishments as governor of Texas.

Bush's success owes in part to his ability as an impressionist. In business, it was his father he was imitating. Like Dad, he moved to Midland, Texas, and went into the oil business. W., however, made money trading off his father's name, not finding oil.

But when he decided to run for governor in 1994, after suddenly discovering he was dedicated to public service, it would no longer do to promote himself as Daddy's little boy. He switched to an impression of the tough-as-leather Texan familiar to us from Westerns. This stage gimmick isn't always convincing, as Ivins notes: "For an upper-class white boy, Bush comes on way too hard-ass—at a guess, to make up for being an upper-class white boy." In politics, Bush has always striven to keep people from noticing that he is an Ivy League-educated son of wealth and privilege, whose uncles are powers on Wall Street and whose 13th cousin, once removed, is Queen Elizabeth.

In going from state to national politics, he has kept the twang but moved on to an impression of a man who has been directing the government of a large state for six years. As a guide to Texas politics and its peculiar "weak-governor system," Shrub is invaluable. "The single most common misconception about George W. is that he has been running a large state for the past six years," Ivins writes. "Although the governor does have the power to call out the militia in the case of an Indian uprising, by constitutional arrangement the governor of Texas is actually the fifth-most-powerful statewide office: behind lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner." Most of the powers normally associated with a governor belong to Texas' lieutenant governor.

So how has such a person been able to attract record-shattering amounts of money to run for president? It's because he knows he owes his political life to big corporate money and acts accordingly. As Ivins rather indelicately sums it up, "he's a CEO's wet dream. He carries their water, he's stumpbroke —however you want to put it, George W. Bush is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America."

Al Gore: A User's Manual by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair; Verso. 284 pages, hardcover, $23; Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose; Random House. 179 pages, hardcover, $19.95.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
 
Anaheim Concert Tickets
Loading...