Al Gore lowers his voice, signaling that he's about to take me into his confidence. "I don't consider myself," he says quietly, "a natural politician." Never let it be said the Vice President isn't capable of understatement. Gore lets a half-smile play across his face, a sign that he knows he's revealing the obvious. "The back-slapping political style is not my natural forte," he goes on. "I really, really love the process of democracy. I'm inspired by it. I'm thrilled by it. I'm not exaggerating here." He pauses. "Now the election process is...a little different."
And that's as close as Gore will come to admitting the truth: he can't stand politics. To be precise, he does enjoy a few things about campaigning (counterpunching opponents, gaming out tactics, serving up red-meat rhetoric, tutoring voters during marathon town meetings), but he loathes the rest and isn't good at hiding how he feels. And it's intriguing that Gore, who is so often accused of being artificial and insincere, has his greatest difficulty with the most artificial and insincere parts of the process: bonding with the local party pooh-bahs, pretending that donors are friends, feigning affection for the media horde. "He loves the work of government but not the work of getting elected," says a former adviser. "The guy's an introvert. Putting himself out there is an act of enormous will. He tries and tries and tries, and then you see him withdraw into himself, switch on the autopilot and plod along. And when that happens, his capacity for work is never diminished, but his capacity for joy--the light touch a politician needs--gets lost."
Gore's aides are fond of saying that if he can just win, he will make a much better President than he makes a candidate. And he is a more multidimensional man than his public caricature suggests. His challenge isn't merely a charisma deficit or a tin ear or a knack for seeming phony even when he's being himself. It's that he must try to dispel at least five familiar myths about himself. Each is based on nuggets of truth, but Gore believes each fails to convey the essence of who he is. Is it possible that the shorthand on a man can be so wrong?
MYTH NO. 1 AL THE CAUTIOUS
The Vice President is often described as a play-it-safe politician who sticks to poll-tested scripts and panders every chance he gets. Though there's truth to this image (think Elian), Gore is capable of making gutsy campaign choices (think Lieberman). Lurking behind the often slippery candidate is a man whose approach to governance is undeniably bold.