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Al Gore's green streak

"Al Gore's green streak" Continued...

Issue: "Back to no future," April 22, 2000

air-conditioning, and sport utility vehicles in a quest to "mask" their psychic pain.

While Mr. Gore's book does address important environmental concerns like water conservation and rain-forest depletion, the book also segues randomly into social analysis, with sometimes troubling results. On the family front, for example, the vice president slams the cultural standard in which fathers are the heads of their households, theorizing that patriarchal families emerged only after the dawn of science. This, he writes, caused children to "become confused about their own roles in a family system that was severely stressed by the demands of the dominant, all-powerful father" who "effectively became God's viceroy." In a chapter titled "Environmentalism of the Spirit," Mr. Gore writes that "the idea of social justice is inextricably linked in the Scriptures with ecology." As an example, he turns the Bible's first murder into an environmental tale: "The first instance of 'pollution' in the Bible occurs when Cain slays Abel and his blood falls on the ground, rendering it fallow."

Not exactly a Baptist interpretation of Genesis 4, yet Mr. Gore and his family attend New Missionary Baptist Church in Carthage, Tenn., according to his campaign bio. It's not the first time Mr. Gore's environmental views have seemed to conflict with his actions. In October, for example, Mr. Gore said he would ban all new offshore oil and gas drilling along the California and Florida coasts if elected. But he apparently doesn't mind U.S. drilling, as long as it occurs in somebody else's country. An indigenous Colombian people called the U'wa have since 1996 resisted drilling on their traditional lands by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Company. "We are willing to give our lives to defend Mother Earth from this project, which will ... destroy nature and upset the world's equilibrium," U'wa leaders said in a statement that made headlines four years ago. In 1998, Mr. Gore inherited nearly half a million dollars in Occidental stock when his father died. But, according to a report published in the political journal In These Times, Mr. Gore has refused to intervene on behalf of the U'wa who are still fighting Occidental, despite the tribe's apparent harmony with his environmental ideology. When queried, Mr. Gore's office did not dispute the accuracy of the report.

In the end it may be oil, rather than concern for the environment, that draws public attention to Earth in the Balance. In two national polls, only 2 percent of voters said the environment was a major issue for them in the 2000 election. By contrast, economic issues ranked high on the list. And skyrocketing gas prices, undergirded by OPEC-inflated oil prices, are already helping conservative commentators paint a target on Mr. Gore. "Mr. Gore laid the groundwork for high energy prices with his assault on the internal combustion engine in his book, Earth in the Balance ... and his relentless promotion of clamping down on use of fossil fuels," wrote 1996 vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp in a March 26 editorial. "The real danger in today's oil price spike is that it will provide cover for a new Gore administration to replace (OPEC) production controls with federal government taxes and regulations to keep the price of oil up." Mr. Kemp points out that the vice president backs the 1998 Kyoto Treaty, which would require America to scale back energy production to 1990 levels; in Earth, Mr. Gore wrote that he favored higher gas taxes. "Read Al's book," writes Mr. Kemp.

Believing that Earth reveals an ultra-Green Gore who sees the world through crisis-colored glasses, many Republicans are hoping everyone will read Al's book. But the GOP may be overestimating the caliber of their ammunition. Will the mainstream media downplay or counteract conservative attempts to point out Mr. Gore's philosophical excesses-excesses that could translate into public policy? If the 1992 media reaction is any indication, the answer could be yes-and no. While many reviewers clucked their tongues at Mr. Gore's overly passionate prose, major publications from The New York Times ("fresh and compelling") to The Boston Globe ("a genuinely prophetic book") still praised Earth in the Balance. But conservative columnists did have their say: Mr. Gore "trades in ideas, uncritically embracing extremisms," snapped George Will. ("Even spin doctors can't disguise Gore's eco-panic," wrote Joan Beck.) Early GOP criticism of Earth made more headlines than Earth itself.

Does Mr. Gore's book reveal him as a crisis-centric eco-avenger rooted in an Earth Mother metaphysic? Or did he merely overstep, as he did when he claimed in a speech last week that in 1971 his mother protested the Nashville City Club's men-only policy and "a few days later, this city club was opened to women and the charter was changed." (Actually, the club opened only its dining rooms to women-accompanied by male members-and did not go on to admit women as full club members until 14 years after Mrs. Gore's visit.) Or when he told South Dakota schoolchildren that he grew up on a farm "taking up hay all day long in the hot sun." (He did spend summers on the farm taking up hay, but grew up in Washington, D.C., the privileged son of a senator.)

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