1988: When Al Gore Battled the Liberal Democrats by Gregory Hilton

Former Vice President Al Gore is now a liberal icon. He made global warming a prominent issue, is a hero to the environmental movement, and has been vigorous in his criticism of the Iraq war. Today the former Vice President’s endorsement is a highly sought after seal of approval by liberal candidates. Gore’s left wing views are far different from the moderate record he established during his four terms in the House and 8 years in the U.S. Senate.
Back then he had a pro-defense voting record on the Armed Services Committee, and criticized liberal Democrats who wanted to cut the Pentagon budget. Gore first came to national prominence during the 1988 presidential campaign.
The then Tennessee Senator was the only moderate Democrat running and never hesitated in attacking his party’s liberal wing. He was the original Chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and said the party had gone too far to the left when it nominated Walter Mondale in 1984. His wife Tipper also received national prominence with her crusade to put warnings on music labels.
Gore won the 1988 Democratic primaries in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Wyoming. Overall Gore finished with the third highest number of delegates and he eagerly took on the liberal front runners, Gov. Michael Dukakis (MA) and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Gore repeatedly said, ”Reverend Jackson and Governor Dukakis are just plain wrong.” Gore was the only 1988 Democratic presidential candidate who:
Criticized Cuba and Nicaragua and said they could not be trusted to abide by a peace agreement. Jesse Jackson defended the Sandinistas and said they should not trust President Reagan.

  • He was the only Democrat who supported U.S. assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras, and the only one to support the U.S. liberation of Grenada.
  • He labeled the anti-trade views of House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) as protectionism.
  • He strongly defended the use of United States Navy vessels to protect Kuwaiti ships flying the American flag in the Persian Gulf.
  • Gore opposed federal funding for abortion. He favored a moment of silence for prayer in the schools and voted against banning the interstate sale of handguns.
  • Gore was the only Democrat with the courage to denounce the extreme left wing foreign policy and anti-defense views of Jesse Jackson, who briefly became the Democratic frontrunner after winning the Michigan caucuses. Gore said he was “dismayed” by Jackson’s “embrace of Arafat and Castro. . . I categorically reject his notion that there’s a moral equivalence between Israel and the P.L.O. I could not disagree more with Jesse Jackson’s views on many foreign policy issues.”
  • Gore said Jackson was wrong to call for the creation of a Palestinian State and direct U.S. negotiations with the PLO because the group’s charter called for the destruction of Israel. NYC Mayor Ed Koch endorsed Gore and said any Jew or supporter of Israel would be ”crazy” to vote for Jackson.
  • Gore opposed Jackson’s plan to give reparations to descendants of black slaves.
  • Gore also took on Gov. Dukakis because he would not criticize Jesse Jackson. He said Dukakis was “Scared to death he’ll be misinterpreted. He’s very uneasy with the whole subject. It’s just ludicrous. He is absurdly timid when it comes to uttering the slightest sound that might somehow be interpreted as containing an unfavorable view of one of Jesse Jackson’s positions.”
  • Gore said Dukakis’ “view of the world reflects what I think of as naive legalism, an exaggerated faith in the United Nations, and a seeming reluctance to ever have the United States act on its own when necessary.” Gore criticized Dukakis for putting “public pressure on Israel,” which he said was not the right way to proceed.
  • Gore and the moderate Democrats
    Gore wanted to be the southern establishment candidate in 1988, and in those days Democrats still had a significant moderate to conservative wing. What Gore did not count on was that he would have to share the southern states with Jackson. 1988 was also the year of the first Super Tuesday. Dukakis won six primaries, while Gore and Jackson won five, and Gephardt one. Gore and Jackson split the Southern states.
    Gore was endorsed by Senators Howell Heflin (AL), Terry Sanford (NC), Sam Nunn (GA), J. Bennett Johnston (LA) and David Boren (OK), as well as Governors Buddy Roemer (LA) and Jim Hunt (NC). The chairman of his Texas campaign was State Rep. Rick Perry, who is now the longest serving Republican Governor.
    A major setback for Gore was when Jackson defeated him in South Carolina. Jackson had the endorsement of Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC), a protectionist who opposed Gore’s free trade views. Jackson won all the states of the cotton South except Florida.
    Gore had not done well in northern states, and made his final stand in the New York primary. When he received just 10% of the vote, he dropped out of the race.
    The Al Gore of today is far different from the southern moderate of 1988. He was then living in his wife’s modest girlhood home in Arlington, Virginia and was struggling to support four children in private schools. His wardrobe consisted of just two suits. Today he is worth an estimated $135 million.
    Gore dominated his home state in 1988, but he could never win in Tennessee today. In fact, the state rejected him when he ran for President against George Bush in 2000.
    In the Bill Clinton and Al Gore era of the 1990’s, the moderate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was a powerful organization. It definitely was instrumental in setting the policy of their administration. By 2008, no Democratic presidential candidate would participate in a DLC gathering. I am sorry Al and Tipper’s marriage did not survive, and I am also sad to note the demise of the Democratic Party’s moderate wing.

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