Is there something familiar about Gore?

July 18, 2000|By Nathan Miller

WASHINGTON -- Albert Gore and Richard Nixon have a lot in common. Mr. Gore is a vice president; Nixon was one. Mr. Gore wants to be president; Nixon became one. But Mr. Gore's repeated efforts to find a personality that is attractive to the voters recalls Nixon's attempts to reshape his image.

The polls show that the voters favor the programs and policies supported by Mr. Gore, but he trails George W. Bush in most of the same polls. Most people believe Mr. Gore is intelligent and competent, but he turns off the electorate because of his stiffness and know-it-all-smugness.

In this, Mr. Gore is one with Nixon. Not even Nixon's bitterest foes said that he lacked intelligence and seriousness of purpose. But he could not overcome the popular view that he was "Tricky Dick," the man from whom you would not buy a used car.

Throughout his long political career, Mr. Nixon labored to overcome an introverted personality. Even though he was a perpetual campaigner, he shrank from the accustomed rituals of American politics. Nixon disliked shaking hands, had no small talk and instructed traveling companions to speak to him only when spoken to.

But unlike most politicians who try to convince the voters that they are more clever or better qualified than they really are, Nixon pretended to be less intellectual, less introverted, less cerebral. He tried to portray himself as an average middle-class American, sentimentally patriotic, conventionally religious and openly gregarious. Nixon was none of these.

Not only was it psychologically draining but it showed a basic contempt for ordinary Americans. He thought them incapable of understanding the subtleties of his policies and unlikely to vote for him because he was intelligent and hardworking.

Nixon was convinced that he could win the votes of ordinary Americans only if he lowered himself to their level rather than try to raise them up to his in the mold of Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956 who ran against Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nixon, of course, was Eisenhower's vice president.

Nixon was unable to change the way Americans viewed him because his problem was not one of image but of character. The voters sensed something was amiss with a man so uncomfortable in his own skin.

And as Watergate proved, they were right. Nixon's presidency foundered not so much on the burglary and cover-up but because of his character flaws. His insecurities, his inner rage, his aloofness, his resentments -- these were the things that brought him down. As the sixth century B.C. Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, "A man's character is his fate."

Al Gore might well profit from Nixon's experience as he tries on his latest image.

Nathan Miller is the author of "FDR: An Intimate History" and "Theodore Roosevelt: A Life."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.