Meet the nation's favorite also-ran

Pop Culture

July 07, 2002|By Kevin Canfield | By Kevin Canfield,Special to the Sun

Al Gore, it seems clear now, has finally won something: He has bested an impressive roster of challengers in the campaign for the most unwanted post in the land. He is, at least for now, the nation's favorite loser, the chump in chief, the butt of more jokes over a sustained period than perhaps any American leader since Richard Nixon.

Gore has long been a favorite of late-night comics, schlocky drive-time DJs and the right-wing cranks who dominate AM radio. But when it comes to providing job security for joke writers, he has recently displayed staying power of a sort not seen since the likes of his former boss, Bill Clinton.

"He sort of has been cast in the role of Charlie Brown, and [Florida Secretary of State] Katherine Harris was Lucy pulling away the football," says humorist Andy Borowitz. "I think that's the image we've been left with. 'Loser' has obliterated everything else. ... The ultimate loser thing is to win the popular vote and not become president."

Think Gore hasn't been tagged a loser? Well, then have a look at the latest edition of the online humor magazine The Onion. With an apparent nod to the old Saturday Night Live skit that let John Belushi run wild as "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave," the satirical magazine cast Gore as a punch-drunk fighter who just can't call it quits.

"Determined to rebound from his 2000 election defeat," read the article at www.theonion.com, "Al Gore has sequestered himself in a remote mountain cabin to train for his 2004 rematch with George W. Bush. 'Gotta get in shape,' said Gore, running up a hill with a log strapped to his back. 'Gonna beat him this time.' Gore, who is almost back down to his campaigning weight of 245, then worked on his debate reflexes by chasing chickens around a pen."

A few months before The Onion's piece, it was Borowitz who suggested that Gore could find a way to lose any election.

"Just days after it was revealed that there is a 'shadow government' in place underground somewhere outside of Washington, D.C., former Vice President Al Gore was trounced in his bid to become president of it," Borowitz wrote on his Web site, www.borowitzreport.com.

These are just two examples, and there are hundreds more. Which raises one question: How, exactly, has this all happened?

"Gore's clumsiness, his awkwardness and calculation make him a juicy target for jokes," says Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review. "But his image as a loser is a little unfair. He's a talented guy who won the popular vote in a national election, after all. Would that all losers were so accomplished."

Satirist and author Christopher Buckley says the former vice president has been a class act since losing to Bush, and he feels the characterizations of Gore have been unfair.

"I may be a Republican, but Al Gore has been nothing but gracious since November 2000. And, by gum, he's been funny, introducing himself to audiences by saying, 'I used to be the next president of the United States.' Last fall he called Bush 'my commander in chief.' So I think he's been a class act all the way."

Despite all the jokes at his expense, Russ Smith, publisher of the New York Press and author of a weekly politics and culture column called Mugger, says Gore could still be a formidable challenger to Bush in 2004.

"Gore may be an inside-the-Beltway joke, as well as in Hollywood, especially with the fickle media, but I think he's by far, at this premature date, the strongest challenger to Bush in 2004.

When Nixon lost the California gubernatorial race in 1962, he said, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

But for the foreseeable future, we will have Al Gore to kick around.

Kevin Canfield writes for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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