Al Gore Came to Town

by Bill Chameides | April 9th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 2 comments

Al Gore spoke at Duke yesterday.

The Al Gore who showed up at Duke yesterday is a far cry from the man depicted in the media.

Much has been written about Al Gore. He’s got passionate followers and supporters and equally passionate critics. Because of these strong, conflicting emotions, he’s one of those people some call “divisive.”

Whatever you might think about him or his politics, you’ve got to admit that his life’s story is pretty remarkable, the stuff of novels not just biography. Being a U.S. senator and then two-term vice president of the United States — that’s remarkable enough. But then he came within a hair’s breath of being elected U.S. president — some argue he was in fact elected. Regardless, he is the only presidential candidate to have been denied the presidency by a Supreme Court decision. That, in and of itself, would make a riveting book. But his story doesn’t end there.

After what had to have been a crushing loss in one of the closest U.S. presidential elections (and one in just a handful in which the popular vote didn’t match the electoral vote), Gore reinvented himself. He taught journalism at Columbia University, somehow sparking a small controversy; then he hit his stride. He wrote an acclaimed book, became involved in an Academy Award-wining movie based on the book, and won a Nobel Prize. I’m quite sure there are more chapters to come.

Yesterday, as his Duke University host, I got to spend a few hours with the former vice president. I heard him give two speeches: one about race relations in America at the Duke Law School’s symposium dedicated to the memory of John Hope Franklin, and the other on climate at the Duke Environment and Society Lecture sponsored by the Nicholas School of the Environment. Both were passionate, well-reasoned, and eloquent.

(l-r) Former Vice President Al Gore reviewed photos of the FACE site with Nicholas School of the Environment students Eric Ward, Kim Novick, and Angie Lee. The group gathered in Page Auditorium’s green room just prior to Gore’s presentation. (Chris Hildreth/Duke Photography)

This was the third or fourth time I had talked with Gore but the first time I was with him for an extended period of time. The overwhelming impression I’m left with is that of a man totally at odds with much of what’s been portrayed in the media. He has a great sense of humor. A true son of the South, he is a wonderful storyteller equipped with a treasure trove of jokes. He is humble and self-deprecating.

Some memorable light moments:

  • His familiar opener — “Hello, I’m your former next president” — now followed by: “I am going to keep using that opening until it is fully depreciated.”
  • On the 2000 election: “Oh well, you win some and you lose some … and then there’s the third category.”
  • And of course his great story about driving home after leaving the White House and continuously looking in the rear-view mirror until he realized that he no longer would have the Secret Service watching his back.

His stories and one-liners were not all new, but he told them with such expert timing and in such a self-deprecating way that he had us in stitches. A frequent retort to compliments yesterday was “I exceed low expectations.” And actually that could be true, given the impression of him that many people get from the media.

I was also tickled when Mr. Gore, in a discussion with some Nicholas students, said, “You know, I am not a leftist” — a line that prompted some guffaws, perhaps because of the way he’s portrayed by his opponents. The fact is that in the 1980s and 1990s when American politics were not quite so polarized, Gore was considered to be in the Democratic Party’s conservative wing. He was a fiscal conservative, a strong supporter of the military, and, along with his wife Tipper, an outspoken advocate of restricting children’s access to music with profanity.

The other thing that came across from his talks yesterday is that he cares deeply about the issues he works on. He does what he does for his family, for the children, and for the less fortunate, and not for his own fame and fortune. Of that I am convinced. You might not agree with his politics, you might not even like him, but we all should respect him for his commitment and service to America and the globe.

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  1. MattN
    Apr 29, 2010
  2. MattN
    Apr 12, 2010

    Did anyone care to ask if the World’s #1 Environmentalist still recieving royalties on the mineral rights from a strip mine on his property in Tennessee? Just wondering….

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