The Choice 2000
Produced and Directed by
Michael Kirk & Peter J. Boyer
Peter J. Boyer
ANNOUNCER: In a country where the story goes "Anyone can grow up to be president," there were once two little boys who really were born to the role.
Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH (TX), GOP Presidential Nominee: I'm proud to stand before you as the Republican nominee for president of the United States.
Vice Pres. AL GORE, Democratic Presidential Nominee: I ask you to entrust me with the presidency.
ANNOUNCER: Two first sons of ambitious political families.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING, Family Friend: Al was the chosen son, the heir apparent.
ANNOUNCER: Two Baby Boomers with very different lives.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on Frontline, correspondent Peter Boyer examines the lives of two men destined to inherit the family business. One arrived at the threshold of the presidency by perseverance.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Al Gore trusted his mind over his heart, and I think that that is so today.
ANNOUNCER: The other by personality.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Your ability to get things done is tied to your ability to bring people together. It's just who he is. He's just a people person.
ANNOUNCER: Two very different men.
ANNOUNCER: One ambition.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: If we make the right choices, just imagine the country that we could create.
ANNOUNCER: Our choice.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: America speaks at the polling booths from coast to coast as 55 million from all walks of life cast their vote for the 33rd man to become president of the United States. From the farms and-
PETER BOYER, FRONTLINE Correspondent: In 1952, America had just made a choice.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: An aroused America cuts across all party and factional lines to record its verdict.
PETER BOYER: The nation turned from the earnest politics that had defeated depression and won a war and chose as president the amiable war hero who seemed to have no politics at all.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: All Americans hail their president-elect, their next commander-in-chief, Dwight D. Eisenhower!
PETER BOYER: The American mood was determined and optimistic as the nation built a landscape of dreamy prosperity, where it settled in and proceeded to produce the Baby Boom.
Prosperity was certainly on the mind of one would-be entrepreneur. A scion of the Eastern establishment, the beneficiary of a genteel, patrician upbringing, chucked it all, loaded up his '47 Studebaker and headed for the dusty oil fields of west Texas.
George Herbert Walker Bush found himself in the middle of a boom town, Midland, Texas.
CLIFF JOHNSON, Bush Friend: It's a wildcatter town. It's a wide-open town. It's a wide-open atmosphere. If you've got the guts, you want to try something, you know, you get after it. They don't look at your pedigree. You know, if you've got a good idea, if you feel like you can drill a better well than anybody else, or you know where that oil field is, you know, "Come on. Let's go."
PETER BOYER: Go-go Midland was just right for George and his wife, Barbara. They planted themselves in a two-bedroom home on a dusty street and started to raise a family. Their firstborn was a son. But instead of naming him George Herbert Walker Bush, Junior, they dropped the Herbert. And as they would quickly discover, George W. Bush was most definitely not a "Junior."
RANDALL RODEN, Childhood Friend: I called George "Georgie." We were childhood playmates from about age 4. He had this sort of pranksterish or impish side to him that was always there.
PETER BOYER: "Georgie" was born, as they say in West Texas, with a little bit of Jalapeno in his personality.
JOHN ELLIS, Cousin: I think he was the- you know, the rebel in the family, and he was the one willing to, you know, talk back to his parents and make fun of them and, you know, very high-spirited and a lot of fun.
PETER BOYER: But it was good, clean fun in a place where that was just about the only kind there was.
Dr. CHARLES YOUNGER, Childhood Friend: The neighborhood raised the kids. If you got out of line, well, somebody knew it, and it wasn't long before your parents knew it and corrective measures were taken. We had to create our own fun, and that usually revolved - with the boys, at least - around playing sports.
DOUG HANNAH, Teenage Friend: We had spent our youth growing up, collecting baseball cards, and George had the most impressive baseball card collection you ever saw. And he knew every player in the collection, and he knew most of the stats in the collection.
PETER BOYER: And what made Georgie's collection better than anyone else's is that the cards were autographed.
DOUG HANNAH: He'd send off a little note - he writes notes like his father writes notes - send the card off, and the card would come back signed. The mind boggles at what Sotheby's could do with that collection today. It was enormous.
PETER BOYER: On the other side of the country there was another returning veteran whose postwar dreams resided not in the open spaces of suburbia but in the hushed halls of power. Albert Gore's native political talent had lifted him up from Possum Hollow, Tennessee, to the United States Senate.
JERRY FUTRELL, Family Friend: He was one of the greatest politicians and political minds I've ever seen. He was truly a grass-roots politician. He was a great story-teller and would just almost mesmerize people, you know, telling the stories. He just was such a great campaigner.
PETER BOYER: In Washington, Albert Gore moved his family into an elite hotel on Embassy Row. They had arrived. Now this family of achievers could begin to nourish even loftier ambitions. His wife, Pauline, one of the first women to graduate from Vanderbilt Law School, was a formidable political partner.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING, Family Friend: She was the brains, if you will. She was always the person behind Senator Gore, telling him, if you will, what to do.
PETER BOYER: "Miz Pauline," as she's known, worked hard to dignify her husband. He'd always wear a coat and tie, always act senatorial. Their daughter was a star, the brilliant and beautiful Nancy.
JAMES SASSER, Family Friend: Nancy was very vivacious, very warm, very intelligent. And Nancy was more sophisticated than the rest of us because she had traveled the world more, had seen the world of Washington, and none of us had seen that.
PETER BOYER: Al, Junior, was the baby of the family, adored and precocious.
Judge GILBERT MERRITT, Family Friend: Al is more like his mother, in the sense that he is more studied. He thinks first and acts later, kind of like his mother, and a little less inclined to act on the basis of instinct and impulse, as his father.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING: The first memories that I have of Al Gore was he got in the way of us young adults having a good time. And the thing that he did that aggravated us so much was that he memorized the television commercials. And then he would come up and recite them all for us, interrupt whatever we were doing, and stand up there and recite commercials perfectly.
PETER BOYER: In 1956, halfway into a decade remembered for its conformity and outward contentment, America again faced a choice. The out-of-power Democrats turned for a second time to the worthy intellectual, Adlai Stevenson.
ADLAI STEVENSON, Democratic Presidential Nominee: I have decided that the selection of the vice presidential nominee should be made through the free processes of this convention.
PETER BOYER: Throwing the vice president's spot open to the convention caused a scramble among fresh-faced Democrats with fresh ideas, including young Democrats John Kennedy from Massachusetts, Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota and Tennessee's junior Senator, Albert Gore.
NOMINATOR: -I have the honor, ladies and gentlemen, a nominee for vice president of the United States, the honorable Albert Gore of Tennessee!
PETER BOYER: Eight-year-old Albert, Jr., watched on television as his father reached for his big chance. But backstage intrigues were about to take Senior Gore down in favor of Tennessee's more veteran senator, Estes Kefauver.
JAMES SASSER: Al Gore rose and fell very fast because the powers that be here in Tennessee were solidly behind Estes Kefauver. And I think they let Senator Gore know pretty quickly and very bluntly that if he didn't cease and desist from this effort to become the vice presidential nominee, he was going to have serious political troubles back home in Tennessee.
Sen. ALBERT GORE, Sr. (D-TN): Mr. Chairman, I request that my name be withdrawn in favor of my colleague, Senator Estes Kefauver.
PETER BOYER: Albert Gore would never again seriously contend for national office, but the family ambition did not die with that 1956 defeat. Increasingly, that ambition would be invested in another Gore, little Al.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING: Al was, at some level, idolized by his parents. This was the chosen son, the heir apparent. It was the path then that was chosen for this gifted son. And then, if properly trained, he would truly be somebody. Nancy Gore - I'm sure heard this from her parents - told me on many occasions, "Al's going to be President of the United States, Jimmy, and you just wait and see. "
PETER BOYER: On the face of it, no one would have dreamed that presidential aspirations would have ever been put on little George W. Bush.
RANDALL RODEN, Childhood Friend: I don't think this was a stage-manager kind of thing, where people were guiding his development in the way they wanted it to go. And I think he was slightly, you know, rebellious. I think he was slightly sort of a rambunctious kid who wouldn't have- you know, who wouldn't have done well with a tight leash.
PETER BOYER: But in fact, he could never be just another kid kicking around the ballfields of Midland, Texas. There would always be the competing pull of the very blue bloodlines of East Coast political aristocracy. Georgie's grandfather happened to be United States Senator Prescott Walker Bush, golf partner of the president.
The Connecticut Bushes were, like the Kennedys of Massachusetts and the Roosevelts of New York, a moneyed family infused with a sense of public service. But the Bushes were not public strivers. They would not overtly push their children. The ritual - performed quietly with good form - was to succeed financially and then go to Washington and do something for your country.
In Washington, at the Fairfax Hotel, young Al Gore witnessed a whirlwind of social and political events as his parents hosted a kind of salon at their suite. The boy's political preparation was embedded in his everyday life.
But if you were going to be in politics, you had to be from someplace real. Young Al was sent off to learn the folkways and rhythms of the family seat back in Tennessee.
JERRY FUTRELL, Family Friend: I think that was so important to the Senator, that Al come back to Carthage in the summertime, because he wanted him to feel the dirt between his toes and under his fingernails, to know what hard work was, to know that life didn't come easy, it wasn't handed to you on a silver platter.
PETER BOYER: In Tennessee, little Al was sent to live with the Thompsons, tenant farmers who worked the Gore land. Their boy, Gordon - everyone called him "Goat" - was given the job of watching out for young Al.
GORDON THOMPSON, Childhood Friend: When I first met him, he hadn't spent any time on the farm, and I think it took some adjusting for him to kind of get adjusted to the farm life. He couldn't hold up. You know, the heat would get to him. And you know, it's very humid here in the summertime. And you know, he would just give out.
STEVE ARMISTEAD, Childhood Friend: His father was pretty strict about lining us up stuff to do and would check in invariably way before time for us to finish to see if we'd finished. He always wanted it done before time. He was pretty emphatic about keeping us busy.
PETER BOYER: By the end of every summer, fully gripped by his glimpse of Southern boyhood, young Al couldn't hide his ambivalence about returning to his real life in a Washington hotel.
GORDON THOMPSON: Yeah, I think you could tell by his demeanor. At times, I think he hated to go back. He got kind of quiet. Now, I never did see him cry or anything like that.
STEVE ARMISTEAD: His life in the Fairfax Hotel was- it was no life for a kid, as far as I'm concerned. I would not take anything in this world from my childhood and the way I grew up. I saw the negatives of the Fairfax Hotel. There were no kids. There was United States Senators walking around. Two or three of them lived there. And it was a definitely a different type world.
PETER BOYER: Back in Texas, George W. had the perfect boy's life growing up in Midland. But that sunny time had its portion of tragedy. Little George's closest sibling, his sister, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia. One day she went away with her parents. They were hoping for a medical miracle in New York. Little George, left behind in Texas, wasn't told how serious it was.
RANDALL RODEN: We didn't know that she was going to die. But he was at school, and there was a message from the principal's office or something that George's parents were coming to get him. They were going to pick him up.
PETER BOYER: Georgie ran to the car to see his sister. She wasn't there. His mother sank into a deep despair. In the coming weeks and months, little George tried hard to rally her.
JOHN ELLIS, Cousin: He was a companion to his mother in the early- I mean, as Bar describes it, as a companion to his mother after Robin died. It was a terrible blow, Bar's hair turned gray overnight, but it bound them together, in a way that- you know, that I think they have a very close relationship to this day.
PETER BOYER: His mother, Barbara, would always say that this was the birth of Georgie the joker, who made it his job to lift the family's mood. He became the boy with the ready wisecrack delivered with a crooked smile.
In 1960, America was once again facing a choice. The Democratic Party had been seized by the charismatic young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, dismissed by some in the party as a lightweight charmer. He was running against Richard Nixon, Ike's experienced, serious-minded and charmless vice president. After eight years of Eisenhower-Nixon, America was eager for change and voted - though just barely - for the New Frontier.
For 15-year-old Georgie Bush, the reach of family ties would remove him from Texas to the quadrangle of America's most elite private school. It was the Bush way to attend Phillips Academy at Andover in austere New England.
RANDALL RODEN: I was not well prepared, and I know that George had the same problem. You know, George essentially had a public school education up until that point. He had to work hard. We all did. You know, it was hard work academically.
CLAY JOHNSON, Andover Classmate: He was telling me the story about his mother giving him a thesaurus as a going-away present and explaining to him what a thesaurus is used for, and be sure not to use the same word all the time in an essay.
And so he- his first English assignment at Andover was to write about some highly emotional time in his life, and he was writing about the time when his sister had died. And he was talking about it had made him cry, and he had used the word "tears" several times already in his essay. And he decided- remembering what his mother told him, he decided he needed to find another word for t-e-a-r-s.
So he got out his thesaurus and looked up t-e-a-r-s, and his next sentence was, "And the lacerates ran down my cheek." He turned in his paper, got it back two days later with this big, bold pen circled around, "See me immediately." And George said that the first thought that entered his mind was, "My God. I've been here one week. I may not make it to week two."
PETER BOYER: George W. made his way at Andover, but not in the fashion that Senator Prescott Bush or George Herbert Walker Bush might have imagined. He did not become senior class president or a star baseball player like his father, but he did discover his own persona: a cheerleader with an antic streak.
This Bush's idea of a campus legacy was to promote a spoof of prep school sport with a "Mad" magazine sensibility, a stickball league with George W. Bush as a thoroughly corruptible commissioner.
RANDALL RODEN: It's an example of George doing something slightly rebellious, slightly disruptive, slightly anti-authoritarian. The names of the teams were disgusting, you know, anatomical references, and they were designed to irritate the authority figures. George was the ringmaster, the sort of orchestrator of a lot of that stuff.
PETER BOYER: But a smart-alecky wiseguy from Texas appealed more to some than others.
RANDALL RODEN: You had the sort of social cynics who were just being cool. And it was not cool to be really enthusiastic. Not everyone would think that was charming or appealing, and not everyone would want to participate. There were people who would say, you know, "Hey, that's stupid."
PETER BOYER: Down in Washington, Al Gore was also attending an elite prep school, St. Albans School for Boys. Even among the children of Washington's ruling class, young Al stood apart.
JOHN DAVIS, Assistant Headmaster: I called him a "wooden Apollo" because here he was, like a Greek statue, which show a very straight wooden figure with the left foot forward, looking straight ahead, like that. And that was caught by the cartoon. Every boy in the senior class had a cartoon in the yearbook. And his cartoon put Al Gore on a pedestal, and he's looking like this- very, very stiff, as though he's gazing into the future.
PETER BOYER: Mindful of that future, and already carefully nurtured in the ways of Washington, Al was a cautious student.
JOHN DAVIS: The political sons, almost without exception, take the position of their parents. When you have a senator with certain policies as a father, you cannot escape the problem of talking out of turn, so he never took a position that would be- that could come back and haunt him later on.
PETER BOYER: In high school Al was captain of the football team, remembered by his coach less for his skill than for having turned in his teammates for breaking training. Even when it came to girls, Al was the good son, trying to please his parents.
His mother, perhaps seeing visions of Tennessee royalty, was pleased when Al dated the daughter of the senior senator from Tennessee, Diane Kefauver. That union didn't take. But Al hoped his family would approve of the girl who did win his heart.
TIPPER GORE: He seemed to be a lot more mature than a lot of the young men that I had known up until that point. And he was extremely good-looking. He was terrific. He was a gentleman, he was funny, he was serious, he was very interested- made me feel as if he was very interested in me.
PETER BOYER: Her parents named her Mary Elizabeth, but everyone called her Tipper. She was from a broken home torn by depression and divorce.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING, Family Friend: Tipper initially was tentative and timid. Anybody that Al brings home is not going to be accepted right away by Nancy and Pauline. There's no way! [laughs] But she can sense the coldness, initially, OK?
STEVE ARMISTEAD: I'm sure that there were some tense moments around that situation. You know, I know his personality and how he would handle that, and he did tiptoe around. He wanted their approval, and it was the way that he had been raised by them. He wanted them to sign off on Tipper.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: -after an assassin's bullet catapulted him into the presidency, Mr. Johnson may become the first Southern president elected since Zachary Taylor in 1849.
PETER BOYER: Unlike the youthful idealism posed by the Kennedy campaign of four years earlier, the choice of 1964 played out in much harsher tones.
Sen. BARRY GOLDWATER (AZ), GOP Presidential Nominee: -our cause we don't expect to enter our ranks, in any case.
PETER BOYER: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's supporters had forced a hard right turn within the Republican Party.
PETER BOYER: And President Lyndon Johnson worked to scare voters away from Goldwater.
ANNOUNCER: [Johnson campaign commercial] Three, two, one, zero. Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
PETER BOYER: One of the people buried by the LBJ landslide was George W.'s father. He'd made some money in oil and had decided to run for the Senate. But with native son LBJ at the top of the Democratic ticket, in Texas a Republican never had a chance.
Camelot was definitely over. There was change in the air. America was about to take a dark turn toward upheaval, war and disorder. The coming storm was only faintly stirring on the campus of Yale University when young George Bush arrived in 1964.
Yale was still an all-male preserve of the established order. As at Andover, George had come to a place where his father had been a legend on the playing fields and in the classroom, and once again young George promoted his own legend.
TERRY JOHNSON, Yale Roommate: In those days, fraternities were much more important for the social life than they certainly are now. And so we all pledged DKE.
CLAY JOHNSON, Yale Roommate: And they were telling us that we were the sorriest bunch of pledges they had ever heard of, that normally most pledge classes are very tight and very supportive of one another, and we were 50 individuals and were not interested in each other and there was no unity in our class. And they said it was really quite deplorable. And to make this point to us, they started calling on people to get up and name their fellow pledge members.
TERRY JOHNSON: Of course you'd stand up, and you'd maybe know 10 people. And they'd sit down, and they'd say, "You know, you're completely worthless." You know, "I doubt you're ever going to make a DKE," and all this kind of stuff.
CLAY JOHNSON: The third or fourth person they called on was George. He got up and named all 50. There was this hush that fell over the room. It was really remarkable.
PETER BOYER: George Bush was a frat boy, and almost everyone knows what that meant.
ACTOR: [clip from "Animal House"] Excuse me, sir. Is this the Delta house?
JOHN BELUSHI: Sure! Come on in!
CLAY JOHNSON: That was about our- you know, that was about us. Oh, yeah, wee were convinced that somebody, some former member of DKE at Yale had written that movie. And we were convinced that that level of raunchiness was a reflection on what DKE was all about.
PETER BOYER: Some have said the John Belushi role of Bluto reminded them of the George Bush they knew at DKE.
TERRY JOHNSON: I think there's some reality to it, but it suggests a less serious person than really was because, as I say, George makes a lot of things look easy. He can glide.
PETER BOYER: George Bush passed his Yale years unremarkably. His political involvement was a successful run for frat house president. The politics of the outside world, even the growing discord over Vietnam, didn't seem to capture his interest.
CLAY JOHNSON: He was not a politically active person at Yale. The political intensity became very great in our senior year. We were the last all-male class. We- you know, a lot of interest in football games and doing well and taking interesting courses and having a good time. The Yale song, "Bright College Years," there's a line in there about college as the shortest, gladdest years of your life. It was for us, perhaps as it should have been. I mean, that's what college is supposed to be, and it was for us. [www.pbs.org: More first-hand stories about Bush]
PETER BOYER: When it came time for young Al Gore to select a college, his first and only choice was the very top rung, Harvard.
JOHN TYSON, Harvard Classmate: I heard a knock on the door. This was the first day there. And I opened the door, and here's this big grin, and a hand coming out. "How are you doing? I'm Al Gore." Wow. You just felt, "Nice grin. Nice handshake. Nice looking guy. Okay, Al Gore, what's up?" He says, you know, "I'm running for area of the yard for freshman council, and I want your vote." I said, "Well, Al Gore, you're the first one to ask me. You've got my vote."
PETER BOYER: At Harvard, as at St. Albans, Al was best at impressing the adults that mattered.
MARTIN PERETZ, Harvard Professor: A young man called Al Gore, was trying to get into my seminar. Remember, these are the agitated 60's. And this young, man dressed in a pair of slacks and shirt and a tie, knocked on my door. And I said, "Come in," and he said, "Sir." And nobody was saying "Sir" in those days.
PETER BOYER: During Al's time there, the loosening mores of the counterculture were beginning to appear. For young people on every college campus, this was a time for making choices that would follow them for a lifetime, especially if they chose a life in politics. Whether or not to try drugs was one of those choices.
JOHN TYSON: We experimented, meaning that we smoked it. You know, there's no denial about that, you know? We definitely smoked it. But not to say that we smoked it and didn't enjoy it.
PETER BOYER: If ever there was a defining year for the Baby Boom generation it was 1968. The choice America faced in 1968 was all about the war in Vietnam. LBJ was run out of the race by a challenge from within his own party by a peace candidate. The eventual Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was crippled by his loyalty to Johnson's war policy.
And the Republicans once again forwarded Richard Nixon, who promised to take back control of the streets and declared that he had a secret plan to end the war.
Facing graduation, George W. Bush had to decide about the Vietnam war.
DOUG HANNAH, Friend: He thought we did not belong in Vietnam, the way we were fighting the war. I do not recall having very strong opinions about being drafted, but I do recall having strong opinions about going to Vietnam and our being in Vietnam.
PETER BOYER: The choice facing George, facing every young man, was to face the draft or find another option. No Bush could run to Canada. But George could become a fighter pilot, like his father, and do it in the relative safety of the Texas National Guard. By now, George's father was a congressman from Texas.
DOUG HANNAH: I don't personally know that strings were pulled. If they were not, I would be surprised. If I were he and had the connections that he had, I would have expected strings to be pulled.
PETER BOYER: Young Second Lieutenant Bush spent a year on full-time active duty. Then he was assigned to the 147th fighter wing at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Joining 2nd Lt. Bush on what was known as the "Champagne" unit's flight line were two other sons of prominent Texas political families, Governor John Connally's son and the son of the future senator and vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen.
Their mission, as the joke had it, was to protect the borders of Texas in the event of an air invasion from Mexico or Oklahoma.
The Vietnam war protests consumed the Harvard campus in Al Gore's senior year. He opposed the war, but as he weighed the question of the draft, family obligations complicated things. Senator Gore's reelection campaign was in deep trouble, targeted by the Nixon White House as part of its emerging "Southern strategy." Nixon and his men sensed a growing ideological gap between the increasingly liberal national Democratic Party and conservative Southerners. Democratic officeholders from the South were caught in between and could be picked off.
A case study was Senator Al Gore, who had taken a stand against the Vietnam war, even though that war was widely supported in patriotic Tennessee, a place that called itself "the Volunteer State."
Sen. AL GORE, Sr.: It must be stopped and stopped right here in Tennessee. It's an insult to the intelligence of the people.
PETER BOYER: The dutiful son, Al, Junior, had to factor the burden of his father's reelection into his decision.
Sen. AL GORE, Sr.: We're going to lick it. We're going to turn it back right now.
TIPPER GORE: Al knew that, ironically, to strengthen his father's hand, he should go, that that would strengthen his hand.
PETER BOYER: Al volunteered. Private first class Al Gore, Jr., was assigned to an Army base in Alabama as a reporter-trainee. He spent his leave time with his father on the campaign trail in his uniform.
ANNOUNCER: [Sen. Al Gore, Sr., 1970 campaign commercial] A sense of duty and responsibility begins at home. The values that one generation preserves and passes on to the next are the best legacy we can leave to the future.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING: There you go. Little Al's going to appear in a uniform for his father, who has become very liberal and has strayed far away from the values and mores of Tennessee. So this was a political thing, of course.
PETER BOYER: In the end, nothing could save Senator Gore. For the family it was a galling defeat, but there was one consolation: the prospects for young Al, in whom the family now fully invested its political ambition.
JAMES SASSER, Campaign Manager, Gore, Sr.: After the election, after Senator Gore had lost, Mrs. Gore - Pauline - said on one or two occasions, "Well, there's another Gore coming along, and he's going to be better than any of us."
PETER BOYER: Eight weeks later, the day after Christmas, on senior Gore's birthday, Richard Nixon's Pentagon sent young Al to Vietnam.
JAMES SASSER: That's right. It was after he lost the election they sent him to Vietnam.
PETER BOYER: [on-camera] Christmastime.
JAMES SASSER: Yeah! [laughs] Those are hardball players.
PETER BOYER: [voice-over] As part of his Southern strategy, that year President Nixon had urged George W. Bush's daddy to make a second run for the Senate in Texas.
Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: I'm very proud to be standing here with this team of champions, George Bush and-
PETER BOYER: Bush gave up his safe seat in Congress in order to run. Part-time flyboy George W. shed his uniform and hopped aboard his father's campaign.
DOUG HANNAH, Friend: George was very active in the campaign, very active. The beginnings of being his father's sounding board started in 1970. I could see that. When George had a thought, he could give it to his father. When his father had a thought, he'd bounce it off of George.
Rep. GEORGE H. W. BUSH (R-TX), Senate Candidate: We need to have sound fiscal policy, but I think we need to try the innovative decentralized approach in terms of our- our fiscal stuff.
PETER BOYER: But it wasn't to be.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: It appears that we've lost this race, and the only thing- needless to say, I congratulate Lloyd Bentsen and I wish him the very best of luck.
PETER BOYER: George W. watched his father lose a second time. This, though, seemed like the end of the Bush political line.
PETER BOYER: For the family, the anguish of this loss was second only to Robin's death. Then George's father was rescued from the political wilderness. President Richard Nixon named him America's U.N. ambassador.
TELEVISION REPORTER: The president has just formally introduced Republican Congressman George Bush of Texas.
GEORGE W. BUSH: It's a whole new realm of life for my dad and our family. Having been in elected politics, you kind of deal in one area, and now international politics. It's just- I think it's just- it's going to add so much more breadth to this man's life. It's fantastically exciting.
PETER BOYER: Young George, living in this swinging singles apartment complex in Houston, was trying to figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up. Aimless, untethered, he'd call this time of his life the "nomad years."
CLAY JOHNSON, Friend: He was trying a lot of different things. He got- he took some conventional job - I think it was with an oil company in Houston - and didn't like it. And then he applied to University of Texas Law School, did not get in.
PETER BOYER: What he did do, and with enthusiasm, was party.
JOHN ELLIS, Cousin: Well, I think by George's own admission, he drank too much. I think he probably partied too hard. I think he feels now that he was young and irresponsible.
PETER BOYER: He would one day have explain a consequence of that irresponsibility - a 1976 arrest for driving drunk. He would also have to confront rumors - never confirmed - that during this period he used cocaine.
[on-camera] Drugs. Did he do them?
JOHN ELLIS: I have no idea. I certainly never saw him use any drugs.
DOUG HANNAH: To my knowledge, George never used drugs. I can respect his wanting to say "I'm not going to address it" because if we start addressing it, then we start delving into it. And it would have been very simple to say no, if he could indeed say no. He did not say no, but he did not say yes.
PETER BOYER: [voice-over] Al Gore returned to Tennessee after having spent five months in Vietnam as a military reporter attached to an engineering unit. Now he pondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He said he wasn't interested in politics.
He took a job at the Nashville Tennessean newspaper, first as a reporter, then writing editorials. His views, such as advocating gun control, reflected the paper's more liberal orientation.
But eventually he entered Vanderbilt Law School, just as his parents had wanted.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING, Family Friend: You know, when he finally decided to go to law school and then- as a preliminary to launching his political career, we really got excited. We said, "Hey," you know, "it's finally going to happen!"
PETER BOYER: Al was only halfway through law school when he heard that a veteran Tennessee congressman was not going to seek reelection. Whatever ambivalence he'd felt about a career in politics vanished in the space of one weekend.
TIPPER GORE: When an opportunity presented itself, it was very unexpected to him and to me. And I was surprised, but he decided initially that yes, he was going to go for it.
STEVE ARMISTEAD, Carthage Friend: My advice to him in 1976 was to "Get a haircut and buy you some clothes." And I said, "Other than that, I don't know what you're going to do."
PETER BOYER: He got the haircut. He bought what would become his daily uniform for the next 24 years. It was his mother's idea, really, something dignified: a blue suit, white shirt and a conservative tie.
He made his announcement from the steps of the Smith County courthouse in his parents' home town of Carthage.
KEN JOST, Press Secretary: Immediately before going out to the courthouse to announce his candidacy, he threw up. And he was- you know, he was that nervous about it.
PETER BOYER: From that first public appearance as a political man, it was plain that Al Gore was lacking the one thing that his father and all great southern pols had in abundance. He had no stardust. And so from the very beginning, Al Gore, Jr., found ways to compensate. He would work relentlessly. He would know more than the other guy.
STANLEY ROGERS, Democratic Opponent: And I think there is where Al developed some of his mannerisms and some of his stoic attitudes, was kind of the reverse of what his father had been. You know, his father had that long, flowing white hair and was an eloquent speaker and was rather exuberant about his speaking style and his actions.
PETER BOYER: In that first campaign, Al Gore, Jr., made the calculation that his repudiated father could be a political liability, so he banished him from the campaign.
STANLEY ROGERS: I never saw the senior senator.
PETER BOYER: [on-camera] Did you ever find yourself wishing old senior Gore would show up?
STANLEY ROGERS: Well we tried to get him out, but we just couldn't get him out! [laughs]
PETER BOYER: [voice-over] Al believed he could calculate a way to defeat the pitfalls for Southern Democrats that inspired Nixon's Southern strategy. He would deliberately stake out conservative positions on hot-button issues. Now he took stands against gun control, against abortion.
Soon he was making progress. But then one of the youthful choices he'd made caught up with him. One of his friends from The Tennessean was covering the campaign.
KEN JOST: A Tennessean reporter, Alan Carmichael, was going to travel with Gore for a couple of days, I guess. Al and Tipper were in the front seat. Al, I think, was driving. I was in the back seat with Alan. Alan was asking perfectly good questions, and then got to the question "Have you ever used marijuana?" And Al didn't answer.
PETER BOYER: Al needed a moment to calculate. The truth could be damaging.
JOHN WARNECKE, Friend: We smoked a lot of dope, a lot of different kinds of dope, some very, very strong dope. Al liked it. I shared it with him, and we continued to smoke on a constant basis. And when I say constant, I don't mean every day, but we smoked several times a week.
KEN JOST: And he said, "Can we go off the record?" and, as I remember it, said, "You know the answer to that question, but it's an unfair question because you're asking it of me because you're a personal friend of mine. And you're not going to ask it of the other candidates because you're not a personal friend of theirs. And so it's an unfair question, and I hope you'll withdraw it." And Alan did. So there was no reference in print to the issue during the '76 campaign.
PETER BOYER: Al's new conservative profile and campaign discipline paid off. He won by 3,500 votes. And everyone remembers Miz Pauline's reaction.
JERRY FUTRELL, Family Friend: She said, "Well I can tell you this. Between his father and himself," she said, "I raised them both, and I did a better job on my son than I did on my husband."
PETER BOYER: As it made its choice in 1976, a nation revolted by scandal and the resignation of a disgraced president turned as far from Washington's political class as it could. The new president was a peanut farmer whose highest political achievement was a single term as Georgia's governor. Jimmy Carter promised to clean up Washington, to restore dignity to the White House.
Young George Bush was still trying to find his way. He'd kicked around Houston, then he went to Harvard Business School and got an MBA. Now he was heading back to Midland, following his father's footsteps to try his luck in the big casino: the oil business.
Dr. CHARLES YOUNGER, Friend: Yeah, he arrives on the scene wearing his rumpled-up khakis or something he slept in the night before. We cleaned him up a little bit. Some of the wives started doing his laundry for him and making sure he combed his hair. And he took off and set out on his own to learn the oil business.
PETER BOYER: George became what's known as a "land man." The job description is simple: Be friendly enough to gossip about potential oil finds, then scoot to the courthouse to find out which rancher has title to the land, and then, before anyone else can get there, turn on the charm with the rancher to secure the right to drill.
RALPH WAY, Oil Engineer: Everything moves pretty fast when there's a play going on. And that was one reason that George did well early in it, is I would call him a high-energy person.
PETER BOYER: As it turned out, being a land man played to the strengths that people had first seen in George when he became stickball commissioner back at Andover. George made some money in the early going, though not a lot. But then, he didn't need a lot.
DOUG HANNAH: Never picked up a check, never spent his dollar when he could spend somebody else's dollar. If somebody else was treating, he was there. Cheaper to go to somebody else's house for dinner than to go out to dinner. Cheaper to go to a deb party than to go out to dinner. Tight. Frugal. Cautious. I think tight's probably closest to the description.
PETER BOYER: George talked about wanting to create the next Exxon, and then something else caught his eye.
GEORGE W. BUSH, Texas Congressional Candidate: I'll say one thing about campaigning for office in west Texas-
PETER BOYER: Almost as if on impulse, in 1977 he decided to run for Congress.
GEORGE W. BUSH: [G.W. Bush campaign commercial] Somebody asked me the other day how many miles I thought I'd driven since i announced I was running for Congress over a year ago. "You know," I said, "I couldn't even begin to guess."
JOHN ELLIS, Cousin: I think it was opportunity. There was sort of- it was all part of the right turns, left turns, U-turns and detours that he was taking at the time, and that presented itself.
GEORGE W. BUSH: That's the thing we need, less government.
PETER BOYER: And then, in the middle of the campaign, he made a life-altering decision that again seemed almost an impulse. He met a librarian named Laura Welch. A little over three months later he married her.
LAURA BUSH: It was in a lot of ways like we'd known each other our whole lives because we'd grown up in the same town. And we lived in Houston at the same time, when we were just out of college and first in the working world. So I think it was really, in a lot of ways, like we'd known each other forever.
PETER BOYER: Now working in the Bush family business, Laura received some advice from her very experienced mother-in-law.
LAURA BUSH: She told me one time, she said, "Don't criticize George's speeches." She said that she criticized her George's speech, and he had come home for weeks later with letters saying it was the best speech he'd ever given. So I took her advice, of course. I mean, I was very careful never to criticize a speech of George's. There were plenty of other people around to criticize him.
But one night we'd driven home from Lubbock to Midland and we were just turning into the driveway. And he said, "Tell me the truth. How was my speech?" And I said, "Well, it wasn't that good." And with that, he drove into the garage wall. [laughs]
PETER BOYER: George won the Republican primary. But then, running in a heavily Democratic district, he came up against an old pro.
KENT HANCE, Democratic Opponent: Our strategy early on was that I would be the guy next door. And as he became our opponent, we started watching him, and he was kind of becoming the guy next door. So we adjusted our plan that I would be the guy in the house, that I would be the relative, that I'd be a little closer than the guy next door.
PETER BOYER: As the campaign wore on, it became obvious that George was good at the political game, maybe even a natural.
KENT HANCE: I was glad the race was over. If that race had gone another two weeks, it would have been a lot closer. And if it had gone another month, we could have lost it.
PETER BOYER: George W. lost to Kent Hance by 6,500 votes.
As Al entered Congress, in a way it was like coming home.
Sen. JAMES SASSER (D), Tennessee, '76-'94: Well, it was a lot of fun to watch Al as a new congressman. He was frenetic.
PETER BOYER: Political Washington sensed that this was a young man with a timetable. He didn't play the usual congressional waiting game, slowly working his way up the seniority ladder. He mastered high-visibility issues and massaged them for headlines. They started calling him "prime-time Al."
Sen. JAMES SASSER: I think Al Gore, from the time he set his foot in the House of Representatives, was looking for a run for the Senate. And I'm just lucky that we were good friends because he might have run against me six years later.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: The extremely cold weather this winter has dangerously depleted our supplies of natural gas and fuel oil.
PETER BOYER: There was a national malaise as America faced its choice at the end of the 1970s, and the pessimistic man in the White House got the blame. There were long gas lines and double-digit interest rates, and America was held hostage at its embassy in Teheran.
The national mood seemed to suit the optimistic former actor and governor from California who promised an American renewal. And Ronald Reagan had a surprise.
In Midland, the new vice president's son was still trying to create an oil company. George hired a young staff and put some money together. All he needed - all anybody needs in the big casino in Midland - was a little luck.
MICHAEL CONAWAY, Business Associate: You have to be lucky. It's helpful to be bright, but you know, the folks who have really done the best have been the luckiest. Deep, you know, down inside, you got to be an optimist or an optimistic person to be in this business, and certainly George is.
PETER BOYER: George called the company Arbusto, Spanish for "bush." Around town they took to calling it "Ar-bust-o."
MICHAEL CONAWAY: It got pretty thin. We had to take, you know, salary cuts, compensation cuts, you know, do all kinds of things to reduce overhead to survive.
PETER BOYER: By now Laura, had given birth to twin girls, and George decided it might be time grow up. He'd had an alcohol problem, and in another of his life-changing snap decisions, on his 40th birthday he quit drinking.
JOHN ELLIS: You know, I think he got to the point where it wasn't working in any part of his life. And he sort of- you know, it's the old thing. If you pound your head against the door- you know, if you walk through a door and somebody hits you and you keep walking through the same door and you keep getting hit, eventually, you know, you either are a complete alcoholic or incredibly stupid.
And George was sort of walking through that door and getting hit over and over again, and finally said to himself, "I don't want to get hit anymore." You know, "I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to lose what I'm losing here to this." And so he quit.
PETER BOYER: But the tongue waggers around Midland said it was because Laura offered George a Texas choice: "Leave the bottle or I'm leavin' you."
LAURA BUSH: I think he realized that he needed to quit drinking, and he just quit. And I'd love to take credit for it. I'll be glad to take credit for it, but I didn't do it. He did it.
PETER BOYER: George had found his identity as a land man/promoter in Midland. He just hadn't found much oil. Time and again, his ventures had been bailed out by family and his father's friends. But when the bottom fell out of the oil market, it was time to cut bait.
The oilmen who ran a Dallas company called Harkin Energy reckoned it wouldn't hurt to have the son of the vice president on their board. They promised George W. that they'd hire all his employees and George wouldn't lose his shirt. He took the seat on the board of directors and a half million dollars worth of stock. After 10 years, he was through with trying to making it on his own in the oil business.
Al Gore kept to his timetable, which once again brought him to those courthouse steps to make an announcement. It was 1984, and he was making a run for the Senate. But there was also family anguish that day. Al's sister, Nancy, was dying of lung cancer.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING, Family Friend: It was very sad because Nancy was a smoker and probably smoked maybe two packs a day. A brave soul, but gosh, you know, it's cancer.
PETER BOYER: Shaken, Al reacted characteristically.
Dr. JAMES FLEMING: Al called me from Washington. And what was remarkable is that Al knew all about cancer of the lung. As we talked, he knew all the cell types. He knew the prognosis for each one of the 10 major cancers that can be found in the lung. He knew generally what the treatment was. So you know, Al was- I didn't expect anything less.
PETER BOYER: And then, one night during Al's campaign, Nancy passed away.
Sen. JAMES SASSER: It hit the family, I think, very hard. When they lost Nancy, I mean, it was, I think, the saddest time of their lives.
PETER BOYER: Al was elected and was sworn into office by the presiding officer of the Senate, Vice President Bush.
MARTIN PERETZ, Gore Adviser: His father leaned over to me and said, "Marty, this is the beginning." So he sensed it. He sensed it. And he reveled in it.
PETER BOYER: In 1988, America was ready to make another choice: whether it wanted to effectively extend the Reagan presidency for four more years by electing the inevitable Republican nominee, Reagan's loyal vice president.
REPORTER: Mr. Bush, what has this evening meant to you and to your family?
GEORGE W. BUSH: You got to understand. We love our dad, and it means so much for us because it's important to him. Doesn't mean anything to me. It means something to him, and that's what's important.
PETER BOYER: As it happened, Al Gore, Senior, had been doing some thinking about his boy's future. On Christmas day, 1986, he called his son over to the house for a chat.
Judge GILBERT MERRITT, Family Friend: His father told him that he ought to run for president and that now's the time and- on the theory that, you know, kind of- I think he would have said half-seriously, "I want you to run before I die."
PETER BOYER: The family put together a war chest, and they dropped the "Junior" from Al's name.
Sen. AL GORE: I am announcing today my intention to establish a presidential committee in preparation for my formal entry into the race for president later this spring.
PETER BOYER: Al was only 39, but the family had waited long enough.
Sen. AL GORE, Sr.: -campaign for a son for president makes me want to say hallelujah.
PETER BOYER: This time a team of Tennessee mules couldn't have kept old Senator Gore away.
Sen. AL GORE, Senior: When I started, one had to run on his wits.
PETER BOYER: He was finally in the middle of the national campaign he had always wanted.
Sen. AL GORE, Senior: I would love to try it all over again with the facilities we have now, but since I can't do it, my son is coming along. And he's doing all right.
PETER BOYER: Al had carefully positioned himself as a new kind of Democrat- more conservative than the national party. And the Southern states had joined to bundle their primaries into one day, "Super Tuesday," to give just such a Democrat an advantage.
But as the political moment began to pass from the "greatest generation" to the Baby Boomers, there arrived an unwelcome new component in American politics: explosive campaign "gotcha" questions.
ARLIE SCHARDT, Press Secretary: Where it began for us was in the Atlanta airport. A T.V. crew came running up to Al and just threw, you know, a camera in front of him and said, "Have you ever smoked pot?" was basically what they did.
PETER BOYER: They dodged that question, but only for the moment.
ARLIE SCHARDT: It was incredible. There was a huge amount of panic. People were thinking, "My God, this is going to be the end of the campaign," and you know, "The sky is falling," and all this stuff.
PETER BOYER: Al, his father and the Gore team convened to strategize.
MIKE KOPP, Gore Deputy Press Secretary: I'll never forget walking in the room with Al. He and his father were arguing about this marijuana question, not shouting but, you know, making these sort of comments, flying and forth across the room. Both were pacing. I remember Gore, Sr., being very upset at his son for smoking marijuana. So you sort of had this father-son "What have you done?" At that point, Al just didn't want to deal with it. But his father, like a- you know, like an old prize fighter, he kept coming back in the ring, you know, "And another thing-" And Al was just, you know, "Stop it."
PETER BOYER: He knew he needed a story, and he crafted one.
MIKE KOPP: Al said, "Here's the story." It wasn't a "Here's truth. Here's what you're going to say." It was, "Here it is," which always led me to believe in my heart of hearts that there was probably more than that there.
PETER BOYER: The public statement, hand-written by his aide, said "Like many others of my generation, my life reflects the time." He had smoked marijuana very infrequently, very rarely. Now it was time for some preemptive damage control. The Gore team hit the phones.
MIKE KOPP: He gave us a list of people to call. And we had the statement and the message, "And this is what you say if you're asked, if you so choose to be asked, and if you want to use the statement." It was sort of a- we were calling people and suggesting what they might say, without telling them they had to say it.
PETER BOYER: But one of the friends wouldn't play along, Al's old pal, John Warnecke, who says he smoked marijuana hundreds of times with Al.
JOHN WARNECKE: I got a call, and they were very nervous and agitated with me because I didn't agree to say exactly what they wanted me to say.
PETER BOYER: In a damage-control situation, Warnecke was the definition of a wild card. He'd suffered bouts of depression, been through Alcoholics Anonymous and was trying to stay clean. The campaign was worried about what he might say.
JOHN WARNECKE: Then I got one more call an hour later. This was getting ridiculous. This time it was Al. When you talk with Al, if he wants to make a point and- he will say the same thing that he wants you to say or believe over and over and over again in different ways, in different styles. And it got to be very frustrating, these conversations, because I wasn't going to agree with him. [www.pbs.org: Examine more of Warnecke's story]
PETER BOYER: In the end, Warnecke decided he didn't want to hurt his friend. He told the press that Al had smoked pot only a couple of times and never liked it. On three hours sleep, candidate Al Gore faced the press and made his confession.
Sen. AL GORE: As a student and a few times in the Army, I tried marijuana.
PETER BOYER: He had smoked marijuana, but he'd never bought it, hadn't smoked on active duty and had never done anything stronger.
ARLIE SCHARDT, Press Secretary: And they asked a few more questions about it, and after about 6 or 7 minutes, at the most, you could see that it was over.
PETER BOYER: It was almost too good to be true. Al's response had worked, inoculating him on this politically toxic issue.
MARTIN PERETZ: I remember very clearly I said, "This issue will never dog him again."
PETER BOYER: But the dope issue wasn't the campaign's only problem. It was Gore himself. He worked as hard as any candidate - harder - but the crowds weren't being mesmerized by Al Gore. And desperate to make that vital connection with voters, he developed a quirk.
MIKE KOPP: During the campaign, I wrote a memo to him saying, you know, "You tend to stretch the truth, and it's making our lives difficult." I mean, he was not satisfied telling a reporter that he was a reporter once. He wanted that reporter to know that he was an investigative reporter for seven years, which, if you do the math, didn't make any sense. He tended to push the envelope to make a point about his achievements. And he did it to- I think, honestly, to try to connect with the person he was dealing with.
PETER BOYER: One crucial Southern constituency, tobacco farmers, witnessed a vivid demonstration of Al's eagerness to connect.
Sen. AL GORE: I want you to know that with my own hands, all my life, I've put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it, I've suckered it, I've sprayed, I've topped it, I've cut it and spiked it and put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it. I know what tobacco is about.
MIKE KOPP: But he always felt like he had to make that connection. If he were sitting here with you, he'd want to say, you know, "I once produced a"- you know, "a major television broadcast, too," you know, because he's wanting to make a connection with you.
PETER BOYER: As he'd hoped, Albert Gore won six Southern states on Super Tuesday. But the campaign bogged down as it moved north. Gore suffered a string of debilitating defeats.
MANHATTAN SUBWAY COMMUTER: Look what you're doing to the commuters! Move away! You just lost anybody who was going to vote for you!
PETER BOYER: Finally, in New York, the campaign was out of gas and out of money.
Sen. AL GORE: I lost this race, and that is a disappointment.
PETER BOYER: He was almost $2 million in debt.
Sen. JAMES SASSER: He paid off that debt in just an extraordinarily short period of time. I was astonished. But he never stopped. I mean, he's so tenacious. I remember, we were going somewhere on a bus, and he had a cell phone, and he was dialing up and calling people as far away as Puerto Rico, soliciting funds to help pay off his debt.
PETER BOYER: Al told friends he was embarrassed and humiliated by the defeat. He would reevaluate his political future.
George W. Bush, 40 years old and basically unemployed, volunteered to go to Washington and work on his father's campaign. His job: loyalty enforcer.
LAURA BUSH: Well, I think, of course, what made him the best loyalty enforcer was his love for his dad. He wanted to make sure that the people who were working on that campaign were also working for the best interest of George Bush.
PETER BOYER: It turns out that G.W. had a side that was neither soft nor gentle. It showed itself when campaign manager Lee Atwater appeared in a magazine in a pose that George W. believed reflected poorly on his father.
DOUG WEAD, Bush Campaign Adviser '88: His voice would boom out. You could hear it across the whole floor, in every office. You know, "I hope you enjoyed that, Lee. I hope you got your day in the sun. I hope you're satisfied. I hope you like what you did." He'd just shout it. And it was humiliating for Lee to go through this period, where he had to pay for his sins.
And G.W. was sending the message, "You try that again, pal, it'll be your last one." And he loved Lee Atwater, but he was sending that message. And he was sending the message to everybody else on the floor, you know, "The kid got away with it. Don't think you're going to get away with it. It isn't going to happen again."
ANNOUNCER: [GOP campaign commercial] As Governor Michael Dukakis vetoed mandatory sentences for drug dealers-
PETER BOYER: The Democrats eventually chose Michael Dukakis to take on Vice President Bush.
ANNOUNCER: [GOP campaign commercial] He gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole.
PETER BOYER: The Bush Campaign hammered Michael Dukakis.
ANNOUNCER: [GOP campaign commercial] -committed other crimes, like kidnapping and rape. And many are still at large. Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America can't afford that risk.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Michael Dukakis is a Massachusetts liberal, and I think he's proud of that fact.
PETER BOYER: George W. got some mileage complaining about the governor's lack of national experience.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We tried an untested governor before from the Democrat side and by the name of Jimmy Carter. And Jimmy Carter was a total failure. And there's a lot of folks around this country who believe Mike Dukakis is another Jimmy Carter.
PETER BOYER: On election night, 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush became the first vice president in 150 years to win the presidency. Poppy Bush had a job for at least four years. As for George W., he'd already mastered young and irresponsible.
DOUG WEAD: He said, "What do I do now, as the son of a president?" And I said, "You want our gang to do a memo on presidential kids and what happens to them?" He said sure. It was just shocking, depressing. High rate of suicide, higher than average rate of divorce, higher than average rate of alcoholism, huge scandals. Almost everything they did was discredited. Their whole world is wrapped up in their father.
And F.D.R., Jr., went back to New York, the home state, and ran for governor and lost. And George W. Bush was thinking about going back to Texas and running for governor. So I remember looking at that story and him kind of groaning. And a little footnote. No presidential son has ever been elected governor in American history.
PETER BOYER: As it happened, George W. was about to find work of his own that actually suited his nature. He heard that an old family friend, Dallas oilman Eddy Chiles, was thinking of selling his dreadful Texas Rangers. The promoter rose to the task.
ROLAND BETTS, Rangers Partner: Eddy Chiles had been a long-time friend of the Bush family. My understanding is that Eddy Chiles flew Robin to the hospital at a key moment. Eddy had no heirs.
EDDY CHILES, Texas Rangers Owner: [press conference] Of course, he was not as big as he is now. I used to look down on you. But nevertheless, he is our kind of people.
ROLAND BETTS: Eddy Chiles saw George as the son he never had. He was crazy about George.
PETER BOYER: Now the land man needed to pull strings to put the money together. And of course, not all of the investors jumped in because they loved baseball.
COMER COTTRELL, Rangers Partner: I often teased guys when they said, "Man, I didn't know you were interested in baseball. How did you get into baseball? I never knew you to play baseball." I said I wasn't buying baseball, I was buying the White House. "Don't you know that guy's dad is president?"
PETER BOYER: The Rangers were a mess when George took over, perennial cellar dwellers, near the bottom of all major league teams in attendance, playing in a converted minor-league ballpark. The promoter now turned his sights on making the operation run.
TOM GRIEVE, Former General Manager: I thought, "Here comes a spoiled little rich guy who wants to be a baseball owner now, and we're going to have to put up with it." And the funny thing is, right from the start, any perception like that was completely debunked. George was the front man. George was the guy that you met when you wanted to be introduced to Ranger baseball. He was the spokesperson. He dealt with the media. He dealt with the fans. And it was obvious to us right from the start that that's what he was made for. He was perfect in that role.
PETER BOYER: While they waited for the team to win, George stepped into the public role, dealing with the fans and the press.
TOM GRIEVE: He was there every day. He sat next to the dugout. He was on the field before the game. When there were tough decisions to be made, he accepted responsibility for them, and we all always appreciated that. He didn't hide behind anybody. He was there to take the heat.
PETER BOYER: If there's one axiom in the baseball business it's that the surest way to make money is to build a new ballpark with lots of charm and plenty of high-priced seats. A promoter's first rule is to spend other people's money when you can, so George W. went into the community to rally the taxpayers.
RUSTY ROSE, General Partner: George went to church meetings, and he went to whoever and whatever, and told them what the new ballpark was going to be like and why it was in their best interests to have it that way, and went and pressed the flesh in order to get the vote.
PETER BOYER: The people of Arlington, Texas, voted to tax themselves for a new stadium. George W. built it, and they came. He had found his calling, working the public to his will and making them love it. On opening day, George W. Bush, now a successful businessman in his own right, watched his father throw out the first ball.
ROLAND BETTS, Rangers Partner: Suddenly, he's George Bush, Texas Ranger owner, entrepreneur, successful businessman, as opposed to George Bush, son of the president of the United States. He's still that, but he's much more now.
PETER BOYER: At another ballpark on another side of the country, Al and Tipper took their son to another opening day. After the game, little Albert broke away from his father's grasp. He ran into the path of a car, was struck and knocked 30 feet in the air in front of his horrified parents.
MARTIN PERETZ, Gore Adviser: He was very badly hurt. He was in a body cast for some months. Al spent every night in the hospital with him. He would not leave his son abandoned while he was in pain and anxiety.
PETER BOYER: For Al Gore, still bruised by the presidential primary defeat, the injury to his son was devastating. He suffered a mid-life crisis.
TIPPER GORE: It hurt him a lot. It made him reevaluate his priorities. He recalibrated his schedule, in terms of his family priorities.
PETER BOYER: Al promised Tipper more family time, but he also decided to indulge his inner wonk. He decided to write a book that would explain the world's ecological crisis and also elucidate the nature of man. The book, Earth in the Balance, was so filled with dense prose, airy abstractions and controversial, even radical ideas, that it hardly seemed a prudent political calculation. Some even saw in it the abandonment of Gore's higher political ambitions.
And Gore himself seemed to confirm that view. As the 1992 presidential field began to take shape, he declared that he would not be among those seeking the White House.
In the summer of 1992, while he was on his farm in Tennessee, a presidential contest was unfolding without Al Gore. He was only 44, but it was possible his political moment had passed. And then a phone call suddenly put him in the thick of the presidential race, but as someone else's number two.
TIPPER GORE: I was not really expecting it to happen. As a matter of fact, all I had were jeans and T-shirts with me because I was at my farm for the summer with my kids.
PETER BOYER: The political moment that Al Gore abandoned had been eagerly seized by a man whose hunger and immense political talent Al Gore could only admire. Bill Clinton was Al Gore's natural political rival, another Southern New Democrat, a new hope for the party. He may have lacked Al Gore's breeding and pedigree, but Lord knows he had the instinct and political charisma of a winner. And now he was about to resurrect Al Gore's own political chances by inviting him along for the ride.
TIPPER GORE: It was around 11:00 o'clock at night, and I happened to answer the phone. And Bill, you know, asked to speak to Al, and that was it. He asked him to be on the ticket, and he accepted.
PETER BOYER: In accepting, Gore was investing a lifetime's harvest of caution and careful preparation in a man whose very recklessness was somehow part of his charm. Gore's character was unquestioned, a Vietnam veteran whose personal life posed no threat of bimbo eruptions.
BILL CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Nominee: [press conference] This is the next vice president of the United States of America, Senator Al Gore of Tennessee!
PETER BOYER: It was an inspired union. Gore brought probity. Clinton brought stardust.
And at the convention joining them together, Gore even tried something quite alien to him, the Clinton technique of weaving deeply personal pathos into political currency.
Sen. AL GORE, Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee: [1992 Democratic National Convention] Three years ago, my son, Albert, was struck by a car. Tipper and I watched as he was thrown 30 feet through the air and scraped another 20 feet on the pavement after he hit the ground. When you've seen your reflection in the empty stare of a boy waiting for his second breath of life, and my friends, if you look up for a moment from the rush of your daily lives, you will see that our democracy is lying there in the gutter waiting for us to give it a second breath of life.
PETER BOYER: President George Bush had every reason to believe he would be reelected. He had routed Saddam Hussein with overwhelming force in Operation Desert Storm.
Pres. GEORGE BUSH: [State of the Union address] Our armed forces fought with honor and valor. And as president, I can report to the nation aggression is defeated. The war is over.
PETER BOYER: His popularity ratings had been higher than any president in modern history. But by summer he was trailing in the polls.
The economy had slumped. There was the challenge by Ross Perot. And the president was without his most able political warriors. Lee Atwater had died. The president's son, running a baseball team in Texas, was only a part-time campaigner. In the final week of the race, the Bush team sensed a last-minute surge. But George W. sensed the coming defeat.
MARY MATALIN, Bush '92 Political Director: We got on the plane, and I was still hoorahing and cheerleadering around, and George W. Bush just said, "It's over." And he wasn't- he was dignified and poised and tough, and he said, you know, "We're going to fight to the end, and we're going to be graceful, but it's over." And he wasn't pouty or whiny, unlike some of us who ran to the bathroom and cried their mascara off. He's just tough. He's just tough.
PETER BOYER: The first of the rock-and-roll generation took the White House. When the party ended, it was time for business, time for Gore to collect on his character investment. He and Clinton had literally cut a deal. They had an actual contract.
ROY NEEL, V.P. Chief of Staff: It's a true story. You know, we just decided we wanted to get something settled and in writing. The idea was that they would keep their relationship fresh through not only a regular luncheon that they would have, a private luncheon, but the vice president's inclusion in all meetings that would- that had any bearing on policy or on the political agenda of the White House, and so on.
PETER BOYER: As the new administration moved in, the backstage power maneuverings began. This was a political marriage with three partners. Hillary Clinton's team wanted to push the president toward an overtly progressive agenda, with national health care as its showpiece. Gore pushed a New Democrat agenda, including Welfare reform. And there was a battle over turf, literally. The first lady's operation was such a distinct force it came to be called "Hillaryland." Her staff wanted the vice president's office.
ROY NEEL: One of our problems in early '93 is that the White House itself was a little bit too freewheeling. And there were a lot of folks who felt like they were empowered to make decisions or to run things or barge into the president's office or whatever. And it took a while to get that under control.
PETER BOYER: The first lady did not get the vice president's office, but she did get the policy agenda. That left Gore in the cold.
DICK MORRIS, White House Adviser: Al Gore has always had kind of a zero-sum game with Hillary. The more powerful Hillary was, the less powerful Al is. The more powerful Gore is, the less powerful Hillary is. They both basically are vying for the status of vice president. And in 1993 and '94, Hillary was in charge. She had gotten Clinton out of the Gennifer Flowers mess. She'd helped him get elected, and her price was she wanted a lot of power. And Clinton had a lot of confidence in her judgment.
PETER BOYER: But after two years, the Clinton presidency was reeling. Health care had failed, the White House was in disorder, and Republicans swept Congress for the first time since Eisenhower.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [press conference] Well, I think that I have some responsibility for it. I'm the president. I'm the leader of the efforts-
PETER BOYER: Al Gore knew that his own future depended upon Clinton. He reinvested himself fully in a Clinton comeback, which he would help to engineer.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [press conference] I must certainly bear my share of responsibility, and I accept that.
ROY NEEL: The vice president became a very, very tough warrior. It was a period of retrenchment. They had to step back and figure out what in the hell happened, and what does it mean for the next phase?
PETER BOYER: Issue by issue, the vice president would take up the administration's causes. If NAFTA needed to pass, Al became its champion.
ROY NEEL: This was a situation that was tailor-made for the vice president. And there weren't a lot of people who thought it was a good idea for Al Gore to go on Larry King and debate Ross Perot.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: [CNN "Larry King Live"] She said, "What are you doing? Why don't you wake up"-
ROSS PEROT: Does he get to answer first every time?
Vice Pres. AL GORE: "Why don't you wake up to this?"
LARRY KING, Host: Well, I think the question-
Vice Pres. AL GORE: You go ahead and answer.
ROSS PEROT: No, you go ahead. You're the-
Vice Pres. AL GORE: I'd like to answer, but you go first.
ROSS PEROT: You're the vice- no, let him go ahead.
ROY NEEL: Some of the president's advisers thought it was a terrible idea. It would demean the White House. The vice president might not do as well, that Perot's demagoguery would work better in a setting like Larry King.
ROSS PEROT: I can show you a deal-
LARRY KING: Benefits a single company?
ROSS PEROT: You bet. I can show you a deal on Tennessee whiskey that'll make you just wonder what the heck is going on.
ROY NEEL: Al studied this issue to death.
ROSS PEROT: They're not a threat!
LARRY KING: All right-
Vice Pres. AL GORE: Let me respond.
ROSS PEROT: They're not a threat.
ROY NEEL: Al Gore had enormous confidence that he could just destroy Perot's posturing on this issue.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: -companies in Detroit. They benefit because that Mexican tariff is brought down to zero.
One of the things about this treaty-
ROSS PEROT: But why just that brand name?
Vice Pres. AL GORE: -is it protects intellectual property.
ROSS PEROT: Why just that brand name?
Vice Pres. AL GORE: Well, it's not just that brand name. If you'll look at the line above it, it says "Bourbon whiskey."
ROY NEEL: It was really almost comical. The next day, you couldn't find anyone that thought it was a bad idea for the vice president to go on Larry King with Ross Perot.
ROSS PEROT: It'll only take a minute to kill this snake. Go ahead.
LARRY KING: Go ahead. Kill it.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: You're talking about the question, not me, right?
ROSS PEROT: No, this question. Absolutely. Excuse me. No, the question.
PETER BOYER: If government needed reinventing, Al mastered the details and poked fun at a wasteful government program on T.V.
DAVID LETTERMAN: ["Late Night With David Letterman"] Cool.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: Yeah. You know, we're not doing this-
DAVID LETTERMAN: Give me the-
Vice Pres. AL GORE: We're supposed to count all these and measure them with the ruler.
DICK MORRIS: He proved that he was somebody who could redesign the minutiae of reinventing government, that could go into the Customs Service and take out 10 percent of its budget without impairing seizures, or could go into the National Park Service and, you know, keep the trees polished or something, and subtract 4 percent of the workforce. And he actually enjoyed doing it. He actually loved doing it. It was ridiculous, but he did. [www.pbs.org: More first-hand stories about Gore]
PETER BOYER: George W. was anguished by his father's defeat, but he was liberated, too.
LAURA BUSH: For the first time, George and his brother Jeb were freed to run. It was the first time they had the opportunity in their whole lives to not have to think about how everything they said or any political position they took would affect their father.
GEORGE W. BUSH, Texas Gubernatorial Candidate: Let's make it official. I'm a candidate for Governor of Texas.
PETER BOYER: George W. set his sights on Ann Richards, one of the most popular Texas governors in memory. The political professionals didn't give him a chance, but George W. somehow seemed to know he was going to win, and so already he began to pull together a deal to make sure he succeeded after the election.
In the oil business and in baseball, he had always relied on alliances with men of influence and power. In politics it would be the same. George W. set about promoting himself to the most important and daunting figure in Texas politics.
CLIFF JOHNSON, Legislative Adviser: Governor Bulloch was a war horse of Texas politics. He was, to put it mildly, a spirited individual. He was a- he suffered fools poorly, took no prisoners.
PETER BOYER: The way it works in Texas, where there are suspicions about a government that's too strong, even the governor has limited power. He has to share it with Austin's political fixtures. Bob Bulloch was a fixture. For 40 years he'd been a power in Texas government, and now he was lieutenant governor. In Texas politics, governors come and go. Bulloch was here forever.
Months before the election, Bush arranged a secret meeting at Bulloch's home near Austin. He wanted to sell Bulloch - a Democrat - on the idea of Governor George W. Bush.
JAN BULLOCH: I think Bob might have been skeptical. Here's this guy that has a big name, and what are his motives? Why is he really wanting to be governor of Texas? Their first meeting was several hours long. They sat at the kitchen table. And my husband, of course, was pretty much a chain smoker, and he was drinking his coffee and chain-smoking right in the governor's face. And the governor was acting as though, you know, it was not fazing him. And Bob's reaction was very favorable. He said he was really smart, he was very personable, and he felt like he really wanted to get in there and work.
PETER BOYER: Bush closed the deal. Bulloch was on board.
GEORGE W. BUSH, Texas Governor Governor Bulloch, Mom and Dad-
PETER BOYER: In office, and with Bulloch's guidance, George W. struck a course that would earn him a national name. He triangulated. He co-opted the policy agenda of the Democratic legislature, and Bulloch's Democrats happily went along.
GARNET COLEMAN (D), Texas Legislator: I think he ran a very, very effective campaign, using issues that were laid out by the legislature in interim studies to figure out, you know, what we were going to do on issues such as juvenile justice, education, tort reform, welfare reform, and Medicaid. We were going to do those no matter who got elected governor. And what he did was take those issues and run on them, knowing that those issues would be resolved in the next session of the legislature, which is very, very, very smart politics.
PETER BOYER: Through his alliance with Bulloch, Bush was able to promote the image of a new kind of Republican, one who got along with Democrats and even used some of their ideas. It was made possible by this unlikeliest of political partnerships. For Bush, winning Bulloch's favor was a real trick. Keeping it was an achievement.
CLIFF JOHNSON: I think Bulloch thought that there had to be a little fire in government for there to be good government. And you know, he'd rather have a tussle than a love affair. And he was ready for a tussle. And so they got into it one day at breakfast, and Bulloch says, "The honeymoon's over."
KAREN HUGHES, Bush Communications Director: Bulloch was very agitated and basically told the governor in no uncertain terms that he was going to - I'll put it politely - "screw him" on this bill.
CLAY JOHNSON, Appointments Secretary: The governor, without blinking an eye and without hesitating one moment, said, "Now, Mr. Bulloch, if that's the case, at least I'm going to get a kiss first," and walked over there and kissed him on the cheek.
CLIFF JOHNSON, Legislative Adviser: And Bulloch was telling him to get off him and all this kind of stuff. And it just completely diffused the situation. Bulloch got a grin on his face, Governor Bush got a grin on his face, and they were able to work through it.
PETER BOYER: George W. Bush had charmed Democratic Texas, and the word would begin to spread among other Republican governors this was a man to watch.
By 1996, Vice President Gore's efforts to help move the Clinton administration toward the center were paying off. And when it came time to build a reelection war chest, Al earned his Beltway nickname, "the solicitor-in-chief."
DICK MORRIS, White House Adviser: I think the reason that Al Gore was so aggressive in his fund-raising, so as to get himself into the trouble that he did, is he saw it as his job to clean up after Bill Clinton. And I think he saw that Bill Clinton wasn't raising the money, he wasn't making the phone calls. And Gore said, "Hey, both of us can't slough off. I've got to do it because he's not doing it." And I think, to a certain extent, that impelled him to be much more aggressive in the fund-raising than he otherwise would be.
PETER BOYER: The money was raised to buy a television campaign designed to seize the Republican agenda. And it worked.
ANNOUNCER: [Democratic National Committee campaign commercial] These values are behind the president's balanced budget plan.
PETER BOYER: As the campaign for reelection began, the president was at the top of his game, which is just where Al Gore needed him to be. The return on his investment in Clinton was the role of heir apparent.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [1996 Democratic convention] -the best vice president in our history, Al Gore.
The 1996 Democratic convention, in a way, would be the beginning of the Gore for president campaign. And that raised the abiding question about Al Gore: Could the wooden Apollo connect? Even he worried about it.
DICK MORRIS: I met with Gore, and I said, "The president wants you to speak on the night before the vice president usually spoke. And Gore said no. And I said, "What are you upset about? Why aren't you salivating at this opportunity?" And then he mumbled, almost inaudibly, "What if I screw it up?"
PETER BOYER: He decided to give the speech, and once again, as in 1992, he reached for an emotional connection.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: [1996 Democratic national convention] My sister, Nancy, was older than me. She started smoking when she was 13 years old. Years later, the cigarettes had taken their toll.
One day I was called to come quickly because things had taken a turn for the worse. And as soon as I walked into the hospital room, someone said, "Al's here." And then I knelt by her bed and held her hand. And in a very short time her breathing became labored, and then she breathed her last breath. And that is why, until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking.
PETER BOYER: In Austin, Governor George W. Bush had established an executive style. He didn't have much patience for detailed policy briefings from staff.
KAREN HUGHES, Bush Communications Director: I've seen a lot of people come in with the big, thick briefing books, and they sit them on the table and try to open it up and flip through and read him the pages. You know, "Chart number one says- chart number two shows-" And usually, about three pages into this, the governor will say, "Can I stop you a minute? Let me let you close the book, and you tell me what you think is the most important thing I need to know to make this decision."
CLAY JOHNSON, Appointments Secretary: He insists that his staff members come in, present both sides of the argument, and then make a recommendation.
KAREN HUGHES: He doesn't agonize over decisions. He bases his decisions on a clear set of principles.
PETER BOYER: No decisions made by Governor Bush would be as closely scrutinized as those involving that most emotional policy issue, the death penalty. In Texas, the governor can only really defer an execution for 30 days, and then only if he believes there's some doubt about the person's guilt.
Regarding executions, Governor Bush's routine was to make up his mind and stand by his decision.
CLAY JOHNSON: A great example of this was the Karla Faye Tucker execution. This is a woman who had become very religious in prison and a very devout Christian, but had conducted just an awful, awful crime. And yet religious leaders, political leaders, community leaders from within Texas and all across the country and all across the world were writing the governor asking him to have mercy on this woman.
DOUG WEAD, Political Adviser: A lot of evangelical leaders were calling me and faxing me, and as an old friend of G.W.'s, saying, "Get a hold of this guy and tell the governor to give her a chance."
PETER BOYER: Bush, who considers himself a born-again Christian, was under intense pressure from religious leaders around the world: Pope John Paul II, the Reverend Pat Robertson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell.
DOUG WEAD: G. W. called back the next day, and he said, "Well, you're not going to like my decision." And he said, "I'm going to let- it's going to happen." And I said, "I hope you're getting some sleep." And he said, "Oh, I sleep. I sleep. I never have a problem sleeping." And that's true with him. He makes his decision - bam! - and then he's gone. There's no regrets with G. W. Bush.
Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH: [press conference] I have sought guidance through prayer. I have concluded judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority. Karla Faye Tucker has acknowledged she is guilty of a horrible crime. The courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have reviewed the legal issues in this case, and therefore I will not grant a 30-day stay. May God bless Karla Faye Tucker, and God bless her victims and their families.
CLAY JOHNSON: Then he went back to his office, and a few of us were there. And our general counsel's office keeps an open phone line to an attorney in the room where the execution is carried out. He reports what is taking place. "She's being brought in. She's being- the needles are being injected," and so forth.
It was him doing the right thing. It would have been so easy to disregard what the law was, disregard what his constitutional responsibility was and do the thing that would have made it easier for him to live with, or perhaps easier, more politically beneficial to him. But that was not the decision he made.
PETER BOYER: More than 130 people have been executed during Governor Bush's tenure. He says they have all been accorded due process and that he's confident no innocent person has been put to death.
REPORTER: This morning, explosive new allegations that strike at the very heart-
REPORTER -reported affair with a young female aide.
REPORTER: -serious impeachment investigation-
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I want you to listen to me. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie-
PETER BOYER: Al Gore had attached his political future to Bill Clinton. For Gore, Clinton's personal scandal clouded that future.
Amb. JAMES SASSER, Family Friend: Bill Clinton has been a help to Al Gore, and then he's also been a great weight to carry. No question about it. And I think it really hurts Al, and Tipper too, that they feel in some ways that maybe Clinton has- it's a hard word to say, but betrayed them. I mean, they trusted him. And the kind of conduct that he has admitted to is really something they- this is just foreign to them. And so I think this is- there's a tension there.
PETER BOYER: Whatever his private feelings about the president's behavior, for Al Gore, Clinton's scandal presented an exquisite political dilemma.
HOUSE MEMBER: -articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States.
PETER BOYER: His entire carefully mapped professional life came down to the calculation he now faced.
DICK MORRIS: Now, in this environment, if Al Gore had given the slightest indication of disloyalty - had he stayed home one day, had he not attacked the Republicans when he might have attacked them - he could have sent a signal to the effect that "I think that maybe this guy needs to go," and that would have been respected by Democrats like Moynihan and Kerry and Byrd, and you would have had the very real possibility of a two-thirds majority voting to get rid of Bill Clinton.
PETER BOYER: Anything less than a full show of support would further wound the president, and that would cast candidate Gore as heir to a failed presidency.
Vice Pres. AL GORE: Let me say simply, the president has acknowledged that what he did was wrong. But we must all acknowledge that invoking the solemn power of impeachment in the cause of partisan politics is wrong- wrong for our constitution, wrong for the United States of America. A man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents, I am proud to present to you my friend, America's great president, Bill Clinton.
PETER BOYER: Gore had helped Clinton to survive. There was yet no way to know at what cost to himself.
As George W. Bush ran for a second term, he had the kind of popularity ratings that old Sam Houston would have envied. His popularity didn't seem to have as much to do with what he stood for as the way he stood- friendly but sure, maybe even a bit cocky. He became the first Texas governor to win reelection. He even managed to win support from women and Hispanics. And that made him a Republican to watch.
MARY MATALIN, Republican Political Consultant: He has the charisma. He showed how to get elected, how to get reelected, how to unite the base with a very fractured party, then how to reach beyond the base into non-traditional Republican cohorts.
PETER BOYER: With his success in Texas, Bush promoted himself to the national scene. Bush's political alter ego was a strategist named Karl Rove. It was Rove who orchestrated the Bush inevitability.
MARY MATALIN: Karl had the wherewithal and the intuition to tap the right kind of opinion makers. And he would bring them to Austin a handful at a time, and they'd have lunch with the governor. And he himself wooed them, impressed them, one at a time. And the thing- you know, Karl picked the right people to create an echo chamber, and the thing- the whole became greater than the sum of the parts, and it just started taking off.
PETER BOYER: Coming by ones and twos to the governor's mansion in Austin, the Republican establishment began a pilgrimage to Texas. They had been thoroughly outmaneuvered by the president, despite his own difficulties and despite the Republican majority in Congress. In the public discourse, "Republican" had become synonymous with "harsh and partisan." Now the party was desperate for a new identity, a new, softer Republicanism.
And most important, they needed someone who could promote this new "compassionate conservatism" to the nation. In Texas they found the perfect vessel.
Within the vice president's mansion in Washington, D.C., Al Gore faced his moment at last. He presented as formidable a profile - the drive, the experience, the intellectual weight - as any presidential candidate of his time. Yet he seemed to sense that was not enough. The question about him had always been could he connect?
And so his campaign became a search for a self that America could embrace. The man formed by a lifetime in Washington moved his campaign to Tennessee. The wooden Apollo shed his formal uniform and bought a closet full of earth tones. The moderate New Democrat yielded to a full-throated economic populism.
As he stepped into the spotlight alone and declared himself his own man, Al Gore was defining the challenge that lay ahead. After a quarter century in public life, this accomplished man had to convince the nation that this Al Gore was the real thing.
George Bush arrived at his moment propelled not by a long record of public achievement - he'd only held elective office for six years - or by a lifetime of great expectations. Not even his friends and family had expected this boy to grow up to be president. He was carried more by a sense of his own destiny. He was heir to an honorable family name. He had proven instincts and a native political skill. He had twice charmed the state of Texas. This amiable late bloomer seemed to know just exactly who he was. Now he had to persuade the nation that he was serious enough to be president.
America now faces another choice, between two faces of a generation, two lives that have followed distinctly different paths toward the highest ambition. The choice will be made at a moment of high prosperity and a nagging unease. Against this conflicted national mood, one will have shown himself substantial enough, authentic enough to lead.
The Choice 2000
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