Posted on September 05, 1994 in Washington Watch
Vice President Al Gore’s trip to Cairo to attend the World Population Conference in Cairo casts an international light on his increasingly important role in the Clinton Administration.
Due to a serious leg injury (which has the Vice President walking on crutches and his entire leg in a cast), Gore’s trip has been severely scaled back. The trip was to have been one of the most extensive and far-reaching foreign trips by a U.S. Vice President: it would have taken him to Cairo and Berlin, then to Israel, Jericho, Jordan and possibly also to Saudi Arabia. The multiple venues of the proposed trip would have provided the Vice President with important opportunities to advance a number of key U.S. foreign policy objectives.
In Berlin, Gore was to have been present at the final departure of U.S. troops from that now-unified city. The Israel, Jericho and Jordan visits were to have focused on continued U.S. support for the peace process. In Jericho, the Vice President was to have announced the first U.S. private sector investment projects in the West Bank and Gaza. These nine projects, are anticipated to bring over $230 million in direct investment and to create over 5,000 new jobs. They were facilitated by Builders for Peace (BFP), a U.S. private sector initiative. Gore himself, with the support and encouragement of President Clinton, was instrumental in the process of launching BFP, an Arab American-Jewish American cooperative effort designed to bring tangible benefits of peace to the Palestinian people.
While doctors had advised the Vice President against making the trip at all (due to the severity of his injury), Gore’s commitment to the conference and his personal commitment to President Mubarak to visit Cairo resulted in the more limited schedule he will follow. A White House spokesperson noted that the Vice President is extremely disappointed that the remainder of the trip has been postponed. Gore is tentatively set to announce the BFP projects for the West bank and Gaza before his return from Cairo.
At the population conference, Gore will continue to work toward an international compromise and consensus on key issues. He will also emphasize the U.S. Administration’s belief that it is not only possible but essential for political leadership to build ties and develop partnerships with religious leadership world-wide that will enable them to work together toward common goals. Gore’s own personal commitment to dialogue with Islam and his deep respect for Islam has been made clear in the past. In June of this year, Gore spoke at the Islamic Center Mosque in Washington, DC. The Vice President was the first Administration leader to visit the mosque since President Eisenhower visited it in 1957. In his remarks, Gore said,
“We are neighbors. Literally. My house is only a few minutes’ walk from this stunningly beautiful mosque. The wonderful thing about neighborhoods is that – when people live next to each other, have meals together, root for each other’s children on the neighborhood soccer field – differences melt away, and the common concerns and common ties of life bind us together.
”...As we begin this new year, I offer my hope for people in this country and for people around the world. It is the hope for peace,...a word which is derived from the same root as Islam itself. It is the message preached by all the great religions of the world. It is a message no one can ignore, whether on a hillside outside Sarajevo, a street in Gaza – or in a Washington neighborhood.”
Despite the severe scaling back of the trip, what is clear is that Gore’s far-reaching involvement in foreign affairs and domestic affairs makes his Vice Presidency unique and worth examining.
U.S. Vice Presidents traditionally play a silent partner role under the Presidents they serve. They are usually chosen for reasons of electoral politics. Presidential candidates typically select a Vice Presidential running mate who will add regional, generational or ideological diversity to their campaign. So it was that the young eastern liberal John Kennedy selected the older and more conservative Texan Lyndon Johnson, or that conservative California Ronald Reagan chose a more moderate Texan (albeit with Eastern roots) like George Bush. The major criteria used in the normal Vice Presidential selection process is finding a person who will bring new constituencies and electoral votes to a Presidential campaign.
Once elected, Vice Presidents are rarely given a very visible role and virtually never a leading policy role. They perform ceremonial functions, attend state funerals, and raise money. On occasion Vice Presidents have been called upon to attack the Presidents enemies or defend his policies – that is, they give speeches that their Presidents would prefer not to give themselves.
In every instance, Gore has been a different kind of Vice President. From the day of his selection by Bill Clinton, the political analysts were startled by the radically different path laid out for the Vice President by then-Democratic candidate Clinton. The young moderate southern Governor Clinton chose the moderate and equally young southern Senator Al Gore.
Gore was considered to be strong on national security and defense issues, a committed environmentalist, and a devoted family man. These were the very issues that defined the “New Democrat” (i.e., not the traditional “liberal Democrat”) campaign that had brought Clinton to victory in the Democratic primary. Since these were also the issues on which the Republicans were set to attack Clinton, some analysts saw that the selection of Al Gore not only added to the Democratic ticket but also reinforced Clinton’s commitment as a “New Democrat.”
But the conventional political wisdom was that the selection of Gore, while intriguing, was not politically smart because it didn’t meet the traditional criteria. The analysts were proven wrong.
Clinton and Gore and their wives campaigned together as a team and projected a positive image of compatible and dynamic youthful crusaders. It seems clear that a genuine friendship has developed between the two men and their wives. They translated their youth and their partnership into the winning theme of a new generation inspiring hope for change.
With their election in November of 1992, the political analysts suggested once again that Clinton would behave traditionally. They believed that he would feel threatened by his Vice President, and would therefore reduce his role from full partner in the campaign to the traditional junior partner role of Vice President.
And once again, the analysts were proven wrong. In many ways Clinton and Gore have continued to function as a governing team. And increasingly Gore has been given high-profile assignments by the President, which have further enhanced his role in the Administration.
There is, as one White House aide describes it, “an intense working partnership between the President and the Vice President.” It is the access the Gore has to Clinton and the President’s respect for his Vice President that enables Gore play the role that he does. They meet regularly, and Gore and his national security advisor participate in the daily White House national security briefings.
Other Democratic party leaders note that the credit for Gore’s high-profile role belongs to Bill Clinton. Former Senator Gary Hart, for example, notes “Al Gore is a star in this Administration in virtually everything he’s involved in. I think a great deal of credit for the authority he has goes to the President. ...I think most Presidents, for reasons of their own insecurity, do not want a true operating Vice President. I think it’s a tribute to Clinton that he is not concerned about that.”
Richard Moe, a former aid to then-Vice President Walter Mondale, has observed that Gore “has clearly developed a relationship with the President that has allowed him to be involved in every major decision making process.” And Moe believes that the selection of Gore was “a reinforcement of what Clinton was all about. ...So they are in sync, they really understand each other, they can relate to each other well.”
As a result of the positive relationship and the fact that Clinton is comfortable with Gore playing a major and visible role, Gore has been assigned to work on a number of key Administration priorities.
Early on in his Administration, Bill Clinton got embroiled in an intense controversy over his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But what made this controversy more dangerous for the White House than many others was the involvement of Ross Perot in the campaign against the agreement. Perot tried to mobilize his political forces (which, it must be remembered, gave Perot nearly 20 million votes in 1992) against NAFTA, and bought extensive television advertising time to take his anti-NAFTA Message directly to the American people. The Administration realized they had to counter Perot’s message quickly and effectively.
Al Gore volunteered to debate Perot on NAFTA on national television. Initially, White House strategists were hesitant to put Gore on stage with Perot out of fear that Perot’s folksy style and sharp tongue would put the Vice President at a disadvantage (even Gore is well-known for telling jokes about his “stiff” public persona). But with Perot gaining ground, Gore was given the task of taking on Perot in a one-on-one debate – and the move was stunningly successful. Political analysts felt that Gore could win the debate even while losing because the expectations for his performance were so low, but in fact nearly all analysts agreed that Gore out-performed Perot and easily won the debate. And, of course, Congress did eventually ratify NAFTA.
Another of Gore’s high-profile assignments a project known as the National Performance Review (NPR). The impetus behind the initiative – eliminating waste in the federal government and cutting out inefficiencies – was not new; but cutting the size of government was a traditionally Republican issue, and so the effort became a part of the effort to enhance the Administration’s “New Democrat” image. But Gore’s effort went beyond simply identifying and eliminating waste. It focused on improving the coordination between the federal government with local and state governments, and allowing local and state governments the flexibility to tailor programs to the needs of their citizens rather than to federal regulations. As a report on the NPR concludes, its “recommendations are not just about cutting wasteful spending, they are also about creating a government that works better.”
Yet another of Gore’s responsibilities is to oversee the Administration efforts regarding the Information Superhighway, more commonly known as the Internet – an informal network of academic, military and commercial networks which now spans the globe. The small part of that task for Gore has been overseeing the Administration’s entry onto that “superhighway,” and White House speeches and documents as well as documents from many federal agencies are now available on the Internet. But his primary responsibility is encouraging increased cooperation between the groups that form the Internet and developing standards both domestically and abroad for handling the exponential growth that the Internet has been and will continue to experience. The Administration’s overall policy goal in this area is to increase the ease of international communication and facilitate international trade.
Gore has also been assigned by the President to co-chair, with the Russian Prime Minister, the U.S.-Russian bilateral commission that oversees interagency cooperation between the two countries. The commission has been a channel for significant discussion on issues of common concern such as the exploration of space, the environment, trade and nuclear disarmament.
In many ways, a by-product of the Clinton-Gore relationship is the very reinventing of the role of the Vice President in government. As a result of the significant role Gore is playing in the Clinton Administration, the selection of future Vice Presidential nominees will be more carefully scrutinized and future Vice Presidents will be expected to play equally substantial roles in their Administrations.
As for Gore himself, a great deal more can be expected. He is, of course, committed to the reelection of Bill Clinton in 1996. But 14 past Vice Presidents have ultimately been elected President, and Gore clearly has the ambition to become the fifteenth.
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