Will the Real Al Gore Please Sit Down

Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art. E-mail: mindstorm

“If I had it to do over again, I’d just let it rip,” Gore told a private gathering of many of his most significant donors and fund-raisers, according to an aide who relayed the remarks to reporters. “To hell with the polls, tactics and all the rest. I would have poured out my heart and my vision for America’s future.”

--Washington Post,

June 30, 2002


Pity Al Gore. Like the comic-book character Howard the Duck, he’s “trapped in a world that he never made.”

Gore’s conduct in the 2000 presidential campaign--despite the fact that he won the popular vote--has been widely criticized.


And, indeed, he seemed most of the time to be a kind of media Frankenstein, an artificial product whose every position and passion, every word and gesture, emerged from focus groups and opinion surveys.

The campaign amounted to a kind of reductio ad absurdum of American politics. He tried to so fully embody what we want from a politician, tried so thoroughly to erase himself with polling data, that he ceased to exist at all.

Occasionally he tried to simulate passion--if the focus groups responded to passion--but he was, and remains, absolutely incapable of arousing any.

Gore hence came to embody postmodern politics and postmodern media, in which image and reality are impossible to distinguish from one another, or in which there is no difference between them.

It got so severe by the end that the question of “who Al Gore really is” seemed impossible to ask: He “really” was a sheer media image, a computer animation.

It reached the point at which asking who Al Gore really is, deep inside, was like asking who Shrek really is: He really is whatever he’s programmed to be, whatever sells tickets.


Now Gore regrets his lost authenticity, pines nostalgically for the time when he actually existed. But it is too late. His authenticity is conceptually unrecoverable.

There is nothing left for the authentic Al Gore to be or to do or to say.

Look at it like this: The idea that Gore wasn’t authentic enough in the last campaign is itself a media criticism of that campaign. It’s precisely the commentators and the focus groups and the polls that have told Gore he wasn’t real enough.

And so Gore has resolved to get real: “I would spend more time speaking from the heart on a few occasions each week, addressing the major challenges of the country in-depth, and spend a lot less time going to media events and making tactical moves.”

But, of course, that is itself a tactical move and a media event.

Gore has abandoned his truth fatally, fully, permanently. His condition is chronic, and there is no treatment. Every attempt to regain his authenticity only casts a new, infinitely repeated image through the hall of mirrors that is his political life and our media experience of that life.

Once you succumb fully to the postmodern condition, once you allow yourself to be eviscerated entirely by the media machine, there is nothing--literally, nothing--left.

You have ceased merely to represent your self falsely; you have become a lie. You have lost your self entirely; have released your self fully into the realm of fiction. For Gore to try to get rid of his media image is to re-create his media image, and we won’t believe in him any more afterward than we did before.