'Ageing cheerleader' brings PG values to an X-rated society: Mrs Al Gore's war on sex, drugs and rock'n'roll

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IF HILLARY CLINTON, wife of Governor Bill, is the model of a modern and independent professional woman, Tipper Gore, wife of Senator Al, often resembles a 'Honey-I'm-Home' sitcom wife from the 1950s. Another Congressional wife remembers an occasion when she was at the Gore home and the senator called to say he was on his way: 'She immmediately combed her hair and put on lipstick.' Another Washington socialite describes Mrs Gore as 'looking and acting like an ageing cheer-leader'.

This is not exactly the Mrs Gore of media myth. In the 1980s Mrs Gore, 43, campaigned to place warning labels on rock records with overtly sexual, racist or violent lyrics. She was demonised as a driven, humourless, prudish harridan. The rock star, Frank Zappa, accused her of being a bored, sex-starved housewife and 'cultural terrorist'. For a while, Tipper - she is Mary Elizabeth but is known by her childhood nickname - became better known than her husband.

Tipper's clean up rock music campaign, conducted jointly with Susan Baker, wife of James Baker, the Secretary of State, is long over (with modest success, most US record companies agreeing to label records with strongly violent or sexual words). Until last week when her husband was chosen as Mr Clinton's presidential running-mate, Mrs Gore had passed from the public eye. For the past three years both Gores have been pre-occupied with the recovery of the youngest of their four children, Albert, aged 9, seriously injured in a car accident in 1989.

Now, with the Republicans desperately searching for a 'family values' foothold in the campaign, some Democratic strategists believe Mrs Gore's concern for the tender ears of America's children and teenagers can be revived to their advantage. An unspoken further Democratic consideration is to balance the image of Mrs Clinton as an outspoken supporter of liberal and feminist causes.

Others are not so sure Mrs Gore will be much of a factor in the campaign. It is arguable how much vice-presidential candidates matter; debating the political value of running-mates' wives is stretching a point.

Friends describe her as a shy woman, a devout Baptist, but hardly a religious maniac. Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson, daughter of a wealthy Virginia family, and Albert Gore, son of a senator, met at his high school graduation party in 1965. He phoned her the next day for a date; she went to college in Boston to be close to Al at Harvard; they smoked marijuana together (and inhaled); they were married in 1970.

In 1987 Mrs Gore wrote a book about her brief crusade, Raising PG Kids in an X-rated Society. She wrote: 'We should be deeply concerned about the obvious cumulative effect of this cult of violence that has captured the public's imagination and pervaded our society.' Five years later, with teenagers shooting each other on American city streets every day, and 10-year-olds bringing guns to school, her concerns no longer appear so far-fetched.

(Photograph omitted)