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3 April 1999

The Howler profile (part I): Bareback Mike

Synopsis: Michael Kelly suggested Gore didn’t do all those chores. In ’87, he knew all about them.

Farmer Al
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 3/24/99

Gore: ‘His wife, his public life, it’s all been perfect’
Michael Kelly, The Baltimore Sun, 12/13/87

Internet Al, Down on the Farm
Scrapbook (feller won’t sign it), The Weekly Standard, 3/29/99

The Son Also Rises
Gail Sheehy, Vanity Fair, 3/88

We couldn’t help chuckling when we read “Farmer Al,” Michael Kelly’s clever take on the Gore farm chore problem--the dispute that’s recently broken out over whether “young Al” did his chores. Republican spinners have been deeply disturbed about very troubling signs of Gore’s character problems, and scribes like Kelly have done their part to sift through the whole complex mess.

In “Farmer Al,” Kelly quotes Gore’s recent statement about the chores his father taught him--on the working farm that everyone knew about until the recent spinning began. And then, Kelly inks an hilarious piece about young Gore’s real life in D.C. To give you a sample of Kelly’s high-jinks, we’ll reprint his opening paragraph:

KELLY (1999): It wasn’t yet dawn, a good two hours to go till first light, but young Al was already up, out of his warm little bed high up in the eaves of the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row. He could see from the frost on the windowpane and the ice in his wash basin that it was going to be another cold one. Al shrugged. He didn’t care. He had work to do, no matter the weather. That was the Gore way.
And the affable Kelly was on his way to a rollicking, full-bore burlesque.

Kelly’s piece appeared in the midst of a drive to suggest that the vice president had character problems. To put it gently, certain folks were suggesting he makes things up, including the chores he’d described. As we’ve reported, the Weekly Standard made the case mighty clear. Here’s what their “Scrapbook” page said:

SCRAPBOOK: “I’ll tell you something else [my father] taught me,” said Gore. “He taught me how to clean out hog waste with a shovel and a hose. He taught me how to clear land with a double-bladed ax. He taught me how to plow a steep hillside with a team of mules. He taught me how to take up hay all day long in the hot sun.” How preposterous. Even when he tries to slum, Gore betrays his blue-blood upbringing.
And Scrapbook explained that no one ever farms that way. Why, Gore’s account was so goofy that Scrapbook explained it: “Maybe one of [the mules] kicked young Al in the head,” they quipped. And really, folks, we just couldn’t help it. We threw back our heads and just roared.

Now that was compassionate conservatism!

As far as we know, Kelly doesn’t write Scrapbook (although whoever does so is too smart to sign it). So we can’t tell you that Kelly was saying the same thing the Scrapbook people said. But at the time that “Farmer Al” appeared, many journalists were arguing a uniform line. Gore’s remarks about those wacky chores was another sign he embellished and fibbed.

Well, we’d enjoyed Kelly’s comical work so much, we knew we were ready for more. And in his new Regnery book, Bob Zelnick cited a 1987 Kelly profile of Gore! We hurried off to the archives and dug up the film, and hungrily fell upon it.

And we have to say we were somewhat surprised by what Kelly had written back then. Why, back in 1987, he knew all about those darn chores:

KELLY (1987): As the son of the famous Gore of Tennessee, Gore grew up in two distinctly different worlds...[E]very summer, and during some congressional recesses, the Gores would head down to the family farm, in Carthage.
Didn’t hear nothin’ about that in “Farmer Al!” We decided we’d better keep readin’:
KELLY (1987): “I made a clear choice early on that home was Tennessee,” [Gore] says. “It was an easy choice for a kid. Choose between a 250-acre farm with my own dog, horse, canoe, river and wide-open spaces on the one hand and a small apartment and playing on the roof of a hotel on the other.”
And by gorry, folks, you knew it was comin’. That’s right--the kid even had chores:
KELLY (1987): Down at the farm, at the insistence of his father and over the objections of his mother, life was different. “In the summer I would have to get up before dawn and help feed the livestock,” her son says. “Then I would have to clean out the hog parlors. Then I would go back for breakfast. Then I would work on the farm all day and feed the stock again at night before dinner.” By all accounts, Mr. Gore was from early youth unusually serious and hardworking.
Whoa, Nelly! Why, Kelly had written about the very same things that “Farmer Al” seemed to say hadn’t happened!

Well, we went back and carefully studied “Farmer Al,” and we saw how slick Kelly had been. He’d seemed to suggest Gore hadn’t done all those chores--that his comment had been a big howler. Everything he wrote was about D.C., and about the comfy life young Gore had had. But because he’d written his piece like a tall tale, he never made a real statement all through it! He never said Gore didn’t work on the farm, though that’s surely the impression we had.

Whew! We thought of Huck Finn when he went to the circus and saw the ring-master fooled by his troupe. One of the hands rode around on a horse, pretending the whole time to be drunk. The whole darn time he was under control, but the ring-master had no way to know it. When the feller jumped down and folks saw who he was, that ring-master just about died from surprise. And Huck said, “I wouldn’t a been in that ring-master’s place, not for a thousand dollars.”

The truth is, we didn’t mind it that much, when we realized how bad we’d been fooled. We’ve been around show business a wee bit ourselves, and we enjoy a good laugh now and then. But we wondered if editors down at the Post knew the way Kelly’s been funnin’ their readers. A whole lot of people read that paper each morning. We’ll bet some just wouldn’t like being joked.

Clarify, clarify: We’re going to write a letter, to Kelly and his editors, letting them know the way we were snookered. Because we’re sure that Kelly had no idea people were being misled by his piece. We’re sure there couldn’t be any chance that Kelly was trying to mislead his readers. Why, if Kelly was trying to mislead his readers, that would mean it was Kelly with the character flaws!

Always read as much as you can: In her 1988 profile of Gore, Gail Sheehy quoted Kevin Phillips:

SHEEHY: The first hint of Republican nervousness over the young senator from Tennessee surfaced when G.O.P. strategist Kevin Phillips warned that his party had better begin to take Gore down by “describing him as a spoiled rich kid from St. Albans...”
See, that’s something else that we want to tell Kelly. Some people will think that he’s foolin’ his readers to serve an agenda like that.

Gail went there too: We’ll skip the quotes, but Sheehy’s lengthy Vanity Fair profile went into detail about Gore’s young life on the farm. In fact, every profile of Gore did that, until the recent spate of ham-handed spinning, obediently recited by the mainstream press corps, always eager to type what they’re told.

Visit our incomparable archives: Dang! Them Scrapbook fellers fooled us also! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/99.

Coming: More about Mike.