November 22, 1999
Vice-president Al Gore visited the Northshore Senior Center last week, answering questions from the audience.
Photo by Liane Edal.
by Marshall Haley, staff reporter
BOTHELL--While Vice President Al Gore's message focused on healthcare reform, the most surprising revelation was that he is neither wooden nor humorless, as comedians and cartoonists love to portray him.
Gore spiced his campaign message with several jokes, as well as serious anecdotes about his family history, during a 90-minute visit with over 500 people of all ages who gathered at the Northshore Senior Center on Monday, Nov. 15. He also praised Rep. Jay Inslee, who accompanied him, as a leader in national health reform legislation.
Inslee steered Gore to Northshore on the strength of the center's recent Award for Excellence in Program Innovation, presented to Northshore Director Marianne LoGerfo earlier this month by The Archstone Foundation at the American Public Health Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
Gore's motorcade, escorted by about 20 motorcycle cops--after enduring a semi-hostile crowd of Microsoft managers mad at the Clinton administration over the unfavorable antitrust ruling--passed through a youthful gauntlet of WTO conference demonstrators before finally reaching the relative sanctity of curious seniors. The Northshore crowd waited patiently for the Vice President to appear, more than an hour after his scheduled arrival.
Gore started out talking about his mother, who came from a "dirt-poor family." After working her way through college, she borrowed money from her tiny Tennessee town's Chamber of Commerce for bus fare to Nashville, "where she worked as a waitress for 25-cent tips," while becoming one of the first women to graduate from Vanderbilt University's law school. She married one of her customers, Al Gore, Sr., who also came from a poor Tennessee family before becoming a lawyer and U.S. Senator who was one of the primary writers of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, said Gore.
Saying he firmly believed that every citizen deserves "an equal day's pay for an equal day's work," Gore told the audience to remember he said that, "...because the next President will appoint 3-4 members of the Supreme Court. Americans are pioneers of the human spirit and examples to the world of what great things can be accomplished when everyone works together. I really believe that; I don't think that's just false national pride. I believe the human soul has the capacity for good and evil. Many countries are plagued with corruption and low morals."
Citing the national epidemic of the same political disillusionment that he felt in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gore said Americans "need to become one people, to break down the social barriers that divide us." He said after coming home from serving in Vietnam, he was discouraged by the negative reaction to Vietnam veterans, his father's being voted out of national office for voting his convictions, and by the whole Watergate mess.
"I wanted nothing to do with politics," said Gore. "I went to work as a reporter for the Nashville Tennesseean for seven years, and I told them, 'Don't give me any assignment with a political connection.' Then a few years passed, and something happened to me when I started covering City Council meetings. I became fascinated with how everyday citizens gave so much of themselves to solve vital community issues."
After a few years of observing that process, he decided to go into public service, he said. In his first race, he was expected to finish seventh out of nine candidates, "but Tipper and I beat them with shoe leather, and I was elected," he said.
Gore launched an attack on Bill Bradley, his Democratic primary opponent, by declaring his strong opposition to educational vouchers because they take money away from public schools. He said Bradley has voted for vouchers in every vote over the past 18 years, whereas he opposed it every time he voted on it in Congress.
Gore emphasized his repeated opposition to raising the eligibility age for Social Security benefits from 65 to 70, something he favors. He denounced Bradley's $1 trillion plan to replace Medicaid with healthcare vouchers, which he said would cap benefits at $1,800 for adults and $1,200 for children.
"I want to make pharmaceuticals affordable for seniors," Gore said on the theme that started his day in Los Angeles, where he unveiled his "Agenda to Improve Healthcare for America's Families." "Pharmaceutical companies definitely have their champions. I want to be the champion of all the people, of every state and jurisdiction." He said it's a disgrace that the wealthiest nation in the world will not provide proper healthcare to people who need it but can't afford high-priced health plans. "We need an HMO Bill of Rights in this country. Jay Inslee has been a leader in funding patient rights legislation."
He told a joke about St. Peter meeting three men at the pearly gates who were hoping to gain entry. "One was a preacher, whom Peter let right in. The second was a teacher, who devoted his life to children; he got right in. The third man looked down sheepishly, and said he was an HMO operator. Peter said, 'Okay you can go in, but you have to leave in 48 hours.'"
After warming up the crowd with a few anecdotes and jokes, Gore opened the meeting up to an hour-long question and answer period. A woman asked his opinion of the stigma placed on the mentally ill.
"The stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses is wrong," said Gore. "Just because an illness is in the brain, rather than another organ like the kidneys or liver, doesn't mean we shouldn't treat those illnesses like any other. Most brain problems result from chemical imbalances and almost all of them are treatable. Scientists are even finding cures for schizophrenia."
Asked if he thought "deadbeat dads" should be thrown in jail, Gore said he thought giving men a first option of job training would be a more responsible alternative, but if they ignored those opportunities, maybe jail could be an appropriate lesson.
"My wife and I will hold our ninth annual Family Care Conference in Nashville next year," said Gore. "We've found that about 25 percent of those 'deadbeat dads' are actually dead-broke dads. By giving them job training--a stick-and-carrot approach--we've seen that when a man is able to overcome the shame of not being able to support his family, he gains an emotional empowerment when he reconnects with his kids. These are often cases of men growing up belatedly and feeling a sense of heightened responsibility."
When six-year-old Rebecca Prouse asked Gore what he would do to make schools better, he said he would start by having fewer students per teacher.
"We need to start treating teachers like the professionals they are, and giving them the financial rewards they deserve," he said. "I'm for testing new teachers to make sure they are qualified, and for training experienced teachers in new techniques. I want to connect each class and library to the internet. We also need to make preschool available for every child, even those of underprivileged parents."
Gore stated his strong support for Affirmative Action and a national hate crime law. He said he strongly disagrees that America has made great civil rights progress. He strongly favors campaign fund control, saying he has never accepted a contribution of over $1,000.
On the question of gun control, Gore said he wears the NRA's attacks on him like a badge of honor. He said every new gun owner should be required to have a licensed identification.
"We need to pay attention to violence in the news broadcasts, TV shows, and movies, and ask those industries to restrict their use of violence," he said. "The average high school graduate has seen 20,000 murders enacted in the media. Maybe some of them have not built up their values and character enough and might be vulnerable to that kind of programming."
One grandmother told Gore she and her husband are paying their grandson's way through college, but they get no tax break for that, as their single daughter would if she could pay for it. Gore thanked her for making him aware of that, and said he hoped one of his aides was writing that down.
"I want your support and your hearts," Gore said in closing. "Together we can rekindle the spirit of America. Don't let your kids be cynical about our democracy. Democracy is a privilege reserved for those who deserve it. As someone once told me, democracy is a marathon, not a sprint. Right now, we are at the pinnacle of America's prosperity, but there is no guarantee that that will last. We must be united in order to be prepared for any eventuality."
Since Gore didn't get on the freeway for his fundraising dinner in Newcastle until almost 5:30, maybe voting for him could give locals real hope of more federal dollars to solve our gridlock problems.