7 April 1999
Smile-a-while: Kelly, green with envy
Synopsis: Michael Kelly just cant get over the size of those six great big rooms.
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 3/24/99
The Son Also Rises
Gail Sheehy, Vanity Fair, 3/88
Gore: His wife, his public life, its all just been perfect
Michael Kelly, The Baltimore Sun, 12/13/87
Michael Kelly just cant get over the size of those six great big rooms. You know--those six big rooms the Gores lived in, in the 60s, when they were staying in Washington? In Farmer Al, poor Kelly describes the incredible size of the Gores D.C. spread. He just cant believe the privilege of it! Here--let Kelly describe it:
KELLY (1999): Al ran through the vast apartment. The Gore farmhouse occupied six big rooms on the top floor of the Fairfax [Hotel], and Al was proud of that; there werent many farm families in Washington whose penthouses boasted views of sunrise and sunset.
Kelly, of course, is determined to show that Al Gore was a child of privilege. So he wants to stress the incredible size of the apartment in which he was raised. You recall--the way Kevin Phillips described, in Gail Sheehys 88 piece:
SHEEHY: The first hint of Republican nervousness over the young senator from Tennessee surfaced when G.O.P. strategist Kevin Phillips warned that his party had better begin to cut Gore down by describing him as a spoiled rich kid from St. Albans...
Gores 88 campaign didnt get all that far; but now the plan had gone into action. Kelly got busy assuring Post readers how privileged the young man had been.
Meanwhile, we cant quite see how Kelly knows the size of those six great big rooms. We doubt that Kelly spent a whole lot of time at the Gores sprawling, six-room Ponderosa. But even back in 87, when he did his profile of Candidate Gore, Kelly spent a lot of time surveying those six giant rooms. In his interview, Gore described a small apartment. So Kelly began to grill Mom:
KELLY (1987): Actually, the mother says, it wasnt so awful. We had a large living room, a large dining room, three bedrooms and a good-sized kitchen and his cousins had the house next door with a big yard to play in.
In 1999--given new demands from Jim Nicholson--that small apartment that wasnt so awful had become a vast place with six big rooms. Even the bedrooms now were big, according to Kellys refreshed recollection.
But Farmer Al doesnt describe just the homestead; it also describes how young Al behaved. It describes the young mans arrogant attitude, when he was still just a schoolboy:
KELLY (1999): As he called for the elevator boy to hold the door, Al heard the cock crow. He smiled. It was a Gore point of pride to make the morning elevator by the cocks first crow. Senator Al kept a cock handy, right there in the hallway, for just that purpose, and damned annoying it was to the other patrons of the Fairfax. Al shrugged. The Gore clan owned the hotel, so to heck with them
Phew! What an absolute brat! And again, we well try not to bore you with ghosts from the past, but its odd to find Kelly painting this picture, because his 87 profile said something quite different. In 87, Kelly described a 9-year-old boy who was embarrassed by his fathers prominence (who later refused to let his father makes speeches in his first campaign). And here is what Kelly said, back then, about that elevator boy:
KELLY (1987): [Gore] was also unusually inquisitive. When he was 17 he made friends, of a sort, with a black teen-ager named Jerome Powell, also 17, who worked as an elevator operator in the Fairfax Hotel. Young Al got in the habit of asking young Jerome questions about life on the other side of the Washington tracks...The two young men stayed in touch and last week, at a $500-a-plate Gore fund-raiser at Washingtons elegant Mayflower hotel, Powell, now a professional singer, entertained the crowd.
Twelve years later, what Kelly recalled was Gore bossing Powell around.
But thats because Kellys absurd Farmer Al is all about propaganda. Its all about spreading that unpleasant image that Phillips described twelve years back. Its about creating unpleasant images, in a column too slick to stand up and make statements. Its about the silly, attack-mode press culture which our current age still abides.
Michael Kelly, discussing a family of four, called a six-room apartment vast. But this is the kind of abject nonsense that hobbles our political discourse.
In his own words: Sometimes a writer just shows us his soul:
KELLY (1987): The problem with Mr. Gore, if it is a problem, is simply that hes always been so good at whatever he did, so ambitious, so competitive, so sure of himself, that his presence sometimes makes lesser mortals feel, well, lesser.
Self-knowledge--we always advise it.
Tomorrow: Ignoring the nonsense, the bullroar and blather, the New York Times (pretty much) got it right!