ALBERT ARNOLD GORE, JR.
It was January 6, 2001. Vice President Al Gore presided over a joint session of Congress in the House chamber, officially tallying the electoral votes that made George W. Bush the next president and himself a private citizen. In a ceremony rooted in history and the Constitution, the highly scripted last act in the presidential election of 2000 was finally taking place. But in keeping with the unprecedented 36-day post-election battle in Florida, it contained moments of drama, unresolved rancor, and irony.
Finally, almost two hours after the ceremony began, Gore announced the outcome in a flat voice, underscoring the extraordinary closeness of his contest with Bush. There are a total of 538 electoral votes, and 270 are necessary to be elected, he intoned, and the tally showed that George W. Bush of Texas had received 271 votes for president and Al Gore of Tennessee 266 votes. Richard B. Cheney of Wyoming had received 271 votes for vice president, Gore continued, and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut 266 votes. Gore dismissed challenges from Democrats in the House because none were joined in by a senator, as the law demanded. Quite a contrast to the January 6, 2021, ballot count scenario.
Gore was the first sitting vice president who was also his party’s defeated presidential nominee to preside over the election of his recent opponent since Richard M. Nixon presided at the electoral vote tally that certified John F. Kennedy as the winner of the 1960 presidential election.
The 2000 election was settled when the US Supreme Court ruled, on December 12, 2000, 5-4, in Bush v. Gore, that the Florida vote recount must cease, giving the election to George W. Bush by a margin of just 537 votes out of over 5.8 million cast. The previous five weeks of uncertainty had witnessed activists on both sides frantically marshalling resources in Florida, as depicted in the 2008 film Recount. One cause of the closeness of the election was the serious damage arising from his relationship with and defense of “his friend” Bill Clinton, who had been impeached in December 1998 over his dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Born in Washington, DC, in 1948, Al Gore was the son of Tennessee Representative Albert Gore Sr., who served in the Senate from 1953 to 1971. Al Gore was educated at Harvard and Vanderbilt universities and served in the US Army as a journalist in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. Before serving as vice president, Gore was a representative from Tennessee from 1977 to 1985, and then a US senator from 1985 to 1993. Beyond the Clinton Administration, and the famous brouhaha after the 2000 election, Gore is widely known for his preeminence in the field of climate change.
As a senator, Gore crafted the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. The bill was passed in December 1991, and led to the National Information Infrastructure, which Gore referred to as the “information superhighway.”
In 1988, Gore campaigned for the Democratic nomination for president, against Joe Biden, Gary Hart, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, and Michael Dukakis (who eventually won the nomination). Gore carried seven states in the primaries, finishing third overall.
In the House of Representatives, Gore held the first congressional hearings on climate change, and cosponsored hearings on toxic waste and global warming. He continued to speak on the topic throughout the 1980s. In 1990, Senator Gore presided over a three-day conference with legislators from over 42 countries, which sought to create a Global Marshall Plan, “under which industrial nations would help less developed countries grow economically while still protecting the environment.”
Al Gore was a vice president who was a nearly full partner with his president, Bill Clinton, even more so than Vice President Walter Mondale had been to President Jimmy Carter from 1977-1981. The Carter-Mondale partnership was the beginning of a new relationship between presidents and vice presidents. Clinton committed himself to weekly meetings with Gore, as had Carter and Mondale, and recognized him as a principal adviser on nominations. He involved Gore in decision-making to an unprecedented degree for a vice president. Gore became the president’s “indisputable chief adviser,” although he had to compete with First Lady Hillary Clinton for influence, especially when she was appointed to the healthcare task force. Gore’s successor as vice president, Dick Cheney, famously wielded vast power over White House decisions. The 2021 partnership between President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris seems to be carrying on the tradition of a true alliance.
Gore’s work on climate change won him the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and the following year, the Dan David Prize (and $1 million) for social responsibility, an annual Israeli award for outstanding achievement. In recent years, Gore has continued to travel the world, speaking and participating in events aimed toward global warming awareness and prevention. His keynote presentation on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, which he has presented at least 1,000 times, became a sensation when first presented in 2006. It was published as a book in 2007. Gore is the founder and current chair of The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 and involved in education and advocacy related to climate change.
While never attaining the top office in the United States, Al Gore is seen by many as having become the world’s foremost authority on and advocate for climate change . . . perhaps an even higher achievement.