More than most vice presidents, Al Gore has carved out a niche for himself as a full partner in the Clinton Administration. When Clinton tapped him as his running mate in July 1992, Gore brought some impressive experience to the table, including service in the House and Senate, serious environmental credentials and expertise in science, space policy and emerging communication technologies. Gore is also close in age and ideology to his boss.
Early on, Clinton tapped Gore to conduct a comprehensive survey of the entire federal government, with an eye toward eliminating waste and cutting costs. The result was the "National Performance Review: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less" report. Clinton and Gore take credit for downsizing the federal government, but critics say much of the reduction was due to post-Cold War cuts in the military, not meaningful cuts in the bureaucracy.
One highlight of Gore's first term as vice president was his successful defense of NAFTA in a November 1993 debate with Ross Perot on "Larry King Live." Gore got the better of the feisty Texan, saying it was "a choice between pessimism and optimism... We're not a nation of quitters."
The environment is another of the vice president's particular concerns. In 1992, he led the U.S. Senate's delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He also is the author of "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit," which proposes an international plan to solve the global environmental crisis.
Gore, who ran for president in 1988, has made a ritual of poking fun at his wooden image, but it continues to bedevil him. In his debate with Republican Jack Kemp during the 1996 presidential campaign, Gore enunciated his words so carefully that he managed to come off as irritating -- both robotic and condescending -- even while scoring what most observers called a win over Kemp.
And Gore took some high heat in early 1997 over charges that he had twisted the arms of Democratic contributors in phone calls from his White House office. The controversy threatened to tarnish Gore's Boy Scout reputation and makes it a little less than completely inevitable that he will succeed Clinton. But only a little, so far.
For Gore, the stakes will gradually rise in the next four years, as people begin to look at him not as a vice president, but as a possible president. That will mean, sooner or later, putting some distance between himself and Clinton and charting his own course.
Updated March 5, 1997
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