Obituary:Albert Gore Snr

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
AMERICAN POLITICS revels in its dynasties, and history may yet rank Albert Gore Senior as the founder of no small one of his own.

He was a Democratic Congressman and Senator from Tennessee of considerable distinction. His son Albert Junior followed in his footsteps, before being elected as Bill Clinton's Vice-President in 1992. There remains a good chance (though perhaps not as good as a couple of years ago) that the elder Gore will posthumously find himself the father of the 43rd President of the United States.

The Gores were a quintessential settler family who travelled west across the Appalachians after America's independence, clearing land for a farm. "They started chopping timber," Albert Sr once remarked: "I still chop a little now and then when my fences need mending."

His entry into politics owed a good deal to fortune. Defeated in 1931 in his first bid for public office - the post of superintendent of schools in Smith County Tennessee, Gore returned to the family farm. But a year later the man who defeated him died, and Gore was nominated to the post.

He would not let a chance slip twice. After completing a night-class law course in Nashville, he became the state's labour commissioner before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1936.

But it was as a Senator that he made his most lasting mark. Gore was elected in 1952, as Dwight Eisenhower recaptured the White House for the Republicans after a 20-year gap. Quickly Gore emerged as a rare liberal among the mostly neanderthal southern Democrats. He opposed McCarthyism, and in 1956 he was one of only three Senators from the region (the others were Lyndon Johnson and his fellow Tennesseean Estes Kefauver) to vote against the so-called "Southern Manifesto" opposing racial desegregation.

That year Gore was tipped as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate for Adlai Stevenson - as indeed he was briefly for John F. Kennedy in 1960. But his positions were often too liberal for the south, the main reason for having him on the ticket in the first place.

He came from the fringes of the Bible Belt, but was an opponent of compulsory prayers in public schools. He advocated stricter gun laws, and fought the development of anti-ballistic missiles. Most courageously of all, he opposed American involvement in what he called "the morass of Vietnam", to the fury of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

Eventually and inevitably however, the contrast between progressive candidate and conservative electorate would prove fatal. In 1970, when he was seeking a fourth term in the Senate, Gore found himself in one of the nastiest campaigns in Tennessee history against William Brock, who triumphed by mocking Gores's support of civil rights and his criticism of the Vietnam war.

So unpleasant were proceedings that Al Jr, whose ambitions were plain from his earliest years, briefly decided to pursue a different line of work.

But his father's political career was over. Calling his defeat "a marginal error on the part of the people of Tennessee", he took a job as president of a coal company owned by his old friend Armand Hammer, the head of Occidental Petroleum. Later on he ran a successful cattle-breeding farm in his home state, and proudly followed his son's climb up the greasy pole.

If Al Junior, Washington-born and Harvard-educated, retains only a faint veneer of rural Tennessee, his father exuded it from every pore. As befitted a man whose primary education was in a one-room shack school in a hamlet rejoicing in the name of Opossum Hollow, he took his hillbilly style to Capitol Hill - sometimes breaking off his speeches for a short interlude on the fiddle.

Asked during the 1992 campaign about his possible role in proceedings, Al Gore replied, "Well, if they get hard pressed and want a hillbilly speech, I might be able to deliver one or two."

Albert Gore, politician: born Granville, Tennessee 26 December 1907; married 1937 Pauline La Fon (one son, and one daughter deceased); died Carthage, Tennessee 5 December 1998.

Comments