Tipper Gore turns down the volume

Onetime "values" crusader staying closer to the genteel Veep-wife script

Published August 21, 1996 12:15PM (EDT)

Tipper Gore, the onetime "Second Lady of Vice," appeared Tuesday night at San Francisco's Herbst Theater before a rapt audience of over 400. But if any of those in attendance expected any Judas Priest albums to be burned onstage, they were in for a disappointment.

Fresh from a Southern California taping for the Jay Leno Show, Gore, an accomplished photographer, was in town to promote her book, "Picture This: A Visual Diary," a collection spanning nearly 20 years. Interviewed onstage by Scott Shafer, onetime press secretary to former S.F. mayor Art Agnos, Gore took a few questions from the audience and showed slides from her book.

Smartly dressed in a gray pinstriped ensemble, Gore, who just turned 46 (she shared candles on Monday with President Bill) plays the part of political wife to perfection. She has ironed out every trace of a southern drawl, but without sacrificing any of that down-home country goodness. And she's slick enough to handle provocative questions: When asked if Al Gore has designs on the presidency in 2000, she craftily evaded any revelations by telling Shafer that she "can't think beyond November."

The Second Lady is most famous -- or notorious -- for her crusade against sexually explicit and violent album lyrics, a position that led to a public battle with the late Frank Zappa. Although she doesn't recant her stance, Gore now chooses her causes with more caution, like a good vice president's wife should.

Gore's photographs are a blend of gritty photojournalism (children, the homeless and the mentally ill are favorite themes), glimpses behind the scenes at the White House, and portraits of national and world leaders. Images of Rwandan orphanages mix with shots of Hillary Clinton, Winnie Mandela and Jesse Jackson in South Africa, and bullfights in Spain.

The homeless have long been a special concern of Gore's, and her portraits display an intimacy that could only come through with protacted contact and trust. A special advisor to the Interagency Council on the Homeless, Gore volunteers for the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, which will receive all of the proceeds from her book.

The best photos, though, are of her family: an early photo of her husband shaving in which he looks remarkably like Jeff Goldblum, a shot taken aboard Air Force Two of Al teaching son Albert about Egyptian history en route to Cairo, and several that capture the intense working relationship between her husband and the President.

Politically, Mrs. Gore is not as outspoken as she was in her violent-rock-lyrics-bashing days, though she still calls for consumer labelling on products sold to children. Embracing that staple of First and Second Ladies, mental illness, she expounded on the need for adequate diagnosis and treatment, particularly among the homeless, and gave a pitch about the virtues of regular exercise. And, not surprisingly, the words "family" and "values" came up regularly.

Gore generally avoided partisan rhetoric during her brief appearance. But when asked about the sleazy state of political campaigning today, she turned trenchant: "It has turned a lot of people off from voting, particularly women. Women didn't vote in 1994 -- and look at the resulting Congress we got."

As for her Republican rivals, Tipper called Liddy Dole "a formidable woman who should be taken quite seriously" and praised Jack Kemp for his debating skills.

It wasn't until Shafer asked if she is going to help her husband prepare for his debate against Kemp that the Southern belle emerged. Smiling coquettishly, Gore said "Yeah, in my own special way."

Quote of the day

Hold your tongue, go to jail?

"The real story here is, if you don't cooperate with independent counsel and do their bidding, they will crush you."

-- Bobby McDaniel, lawyer for Whitewater defendant Susan McDougal, who was sentenced yesterday to two years in prison, while other defendants have received lighter sentences (as quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).

By Lisa Crovo

Lisa Crovo is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and an editorial assistant at SALON. Her work has appeared in the Boston Phoenix and SOMA magazine. She can be reached at lisalouise@aol.com..

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