Al Gore follows daddy's grass-grazing past
So much has been written about how poor Al Gore was all but forced to follow in his daddy the senator's footsteps, eventually succumbing to pressure to take up his line of work, and take on his unfulfilled ambitions.
Yet now that the former vice president is without any question writing his own script and can follow any path he likes, the one he's chosen with the sale of his Current TV network to Qatar-funded al-Jazeera is not just hypocritical but awfully familiar to those who remember what his father did after leaving public life.
Albert Gore Sr. lost his U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee in 1970. After his defeat, he went to work for the oil baron Armand Hammer, whose Occidental Petroleum broke into the big leagues after it started doing business in Libya in 1965 — on visas then-Sen. Gore had helped his old pal obtain.
Before any of that, however, in 1972, Gore Sr. went to work as chairman of Occidental's coal subsidiary, Island Creek, which on his watch committed a slew of environmental violations, some involving strip mining — a practice that young congressman Al campaigned against.
To his credit, Gore Sr. was at least honest about cashing in: “Since I had been turned out to pasture,” he told The Washington Post in 1980, “I decided to go graze the tall grass.”
If all of this was inconvenient for his son the environmental crusader, it wasn't as if Al Jr. bore personal responsibility for his father's decisions.
Until he repeated them, that is.
At the historically painful conclusion of his own political career, he at least was free at last — of any ambitions imposed and any scandals not of his making. Now he could follow his true passion and calling — the one that, even eight years after writing the environmental manifesto “Earth in the Balance,” he rarely mentioned while running for president.
After the Supreme Court turned him out to pasture, Gore did begin doing the kind of work that his friends had always thought suited him best; with his pointer and slide show, he traveled the country preaching about global climate change.
There's nothing wrong with getting rich or in turning a turkey like Current TV into a big payday. But now, of course, he and his partners have sold Current for $500 million to al-Jazeera, the state media company of Qatar, which has the largest per capita carbon footprint of any country in the world, and is financed by the dirty fossil-fuel business Gore so abhors.
And just how does raking in $100 million petrodollars, Gore's reported share, mesh with his life's mission? In an interview last year, Gore said the importance of “reducing our dependence on expensive, dirty oil” can really only be understood in light of the “main reason for doing this, which is to save the future of civilization.”
Although the deal's been widely criticized on the right, most of my “progressive” friends have a more tolerant, or even admiring, reaction: “After what happened to him,” in the recount of 2000, one friend told me, “I'd forgive him almost anything.” Another, a politically active environmentalist, was even more positive: “I don't think the community is too upset,” he said. “My personal sense is he got a good deal.”
There's no question about that.
But given his many financial opportunities, why do something that so undercuts his message and credibility?
He said in a statement that the common goal of Current TV and al-Jazeera is “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling.”
Translation? When put out to pasture, oh do graze in the tall grass — and don't get too fussy about who signs the checks.
Melinda Henneberger covers politics for The Washington Post.