Mr Gore is boring, worthy, wooden - and the best candidate for the job

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Al Gore would make a good British politician. He is no practitioner of sincerity television, no wobbler of the bottom lip, no feeler of your pain. As he admitted to the Democratic convention on Thursday night, he knows that he is not the most exciting politician in history. He is boring and he is wooden, faults that he tried to turn to his advantage in his 5,000-word acceptance speech in Los Angeles, in which he cut back the rhetoric in favour of policy substance.

Al Gore would make a good British politician. He is no practitioner of sincerity television, no wobbler of the bottom lip, no feeler of your pain. As he admitted to the Democratic convention on Thursday night, he knows that he is not the most exciting politician in history. He is boring and he is wooden, faults that he tried to turn to his advantage in his 5,000-word acceptance speech in Los Angeles, in which he cut back the rhetoric in favour of policy substance.

There were still a few touches of standard American oratorical overkill which would curl fastidious British toes, invoking Abraham Lincoln's "better angels of our nature" in "this city of Angels", plus the obligatory tribute to "someone I've loved with my whole heart since the night of my high school senior prom" - that was Mrs Gore, who wanted to put stickers on records with rude lyrics so that teenagers would know which ones to buy.

Most of the speech, however, was a pleasingly well-written exposition of sensible policies for the presidency and thus fell hopelessly short of the inflated expectations of his party and the media. The drum-roll before the speech demanded drama and surprise. George W Bush has the initiative, being in the happy position of exceeding low expectations. Mr Gore had to do the unexpected, he had to make 'em laugh and cry, he had to go into the convention as Clark Kent and come out as a superhero. Instead, he came out as mild-mannered and restrained as when he went in.

There is no doubt that Mr Gore is well-qualified for the presidency. His policies offer a continuation of the best of the Clinton legacy - sound finance and social compassion - but with an important new emphasis on environmental sustainability. It was significant and welcome that he has the courage to tell the gas-guzzling American electorate "we must reverse the silent, rising tide of global warming".

On education ("our number-one national priority"), on extending health insurance to all children, on a woman's right to choose, and on gun control, Mr Gore has the better policy than his opponent.

He remains dogged by the shadow of Bill Clinton, however, a fact brought home by the leaked news of another investigation into the Lewinsky affair. Anyone who had to tell the nation "I stand here tonight as my own man" is already protesting too much. His basic pitch is that he offers Mr Clinton's policies without his character flaws. His trouble is that he is unlikely to be rewarded by the voters for the absence of flaws, while he does not have Mr Clinton's famously dazzling communication skills either.

This is a serious indictment of the state of American politics in the television age. In earlier times, Mr Gore would have swept aside someone as insubstantial as his opponent - but in these times Mr Bush comes across on television as a good 'ol boy: charming, friendly, and in touch with ordinary folks.

All is not lost, however, either for the health of democracy or for Mr Gore. His flatness as a convention speaker means the live televised debates will be even more important this year than ever before, and the Vice President is an outstanding and unforgiving debater.

And we need to look no further than Mr Bush's father to know that American voters are capable of electing uncharismatic, morally upright presidents.

The presidential campaign between now and 7 November promises to be a close race, not just between the candidates but between sound-bite junk-food politics and a serious debate about the issues.

Comments