Return of the stiff man

The vice president turns in an uninspired performance in an electronic town hall meeting.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 17, 1999 12:00PM (EST)

Al Gore reverted to his old form at an electronic town hall meeting hosted Tuesday evening
by iVillage; i.e., he was boring. His inflection was so flat that it was often difficult to tell when he had finished his responses; all of his answers were packaged and bland.

The e-mailed queries from the online audience, read by iVillage editor in chief Nancy Evans, stayed largely within the realm of traditional women's issues -- health care,
education and day care. Gore responded with precision if not
flair, sticking to the same third-way, New Democrat dogma that got his boss elected. He was for middle-class tax cuts, so long as they were targeted and reasonable; for increased teacher salaries, as long as they were tagged to greater accountability; and he thought that
training opportunities for welfare mothers were "a great idea."

Nowhere in sight was the risk-taking underdog of late, the Gore of Monday, who tussled with a crowd of techies at the Microsoft campus, daring to
tell them that all monopolies were bad. Tuesday's event -- which was webcast
from Washington's National Press Club -- saw the return of pre-Naomi-Wolf Gore, the well-rehearsed policy wonk.

Maybe that's what this audience wanted, since Gore is the top choice in the iVillage presidential poll. One e-mailer Tuesday ("Laura of California") advised Gore to turn off his alpha-dog antics. "Be yourself!" she wrote. "It's easier than trying to invent
the 'new you.'"

Though the vice president left early, after taking only eight questions, Evans thanked him generously for his 25 minutes, calling the snore-fest "a historic moment."

Luckily, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman was there to take over the mike, where she more than earned a place in a potential Gore administration. Herman's exchanges with Evans were lively, but on message. She hyped the vice president's support for abortion rights, expressed his unwavering stand in favor of a minimum-wage hike, and talked up
nitty-gritty programs in the administration's welfare-to-work initiative. In other words, Herman touched on many issues dear to the hearts of the traditional Democratic base, those that Gore may be reluctant to emphasize for fear of appearing too liberal.

At points, Herman made it sound as if Gore were responsible for every family-friendly idea fronted by the current administration, not once mentioning her boss -- whatshisface from Arkansas -- by name. She even managed a couple of oblique digs at Republican George W. Bush and his team of tutors, reminding the audience that Gore is "a smart
man. We don't have to educate him on these issues."

Next up on iVillage's political calendar is a Dec. 7 town hall meeting
with a man's man, Arizona's Sen. John McCain. Though McCain clobbers Gore among New Hampshire voters by 19 percentage points, according to a recent survey, the senator is
currently only in fifth place in the iVillage opinion poll.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Al Gore