When it came to the public life of American politician Al Gore, the unexpected truth about the man who was the subject of the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" was that the movie -- which came well after his years of dedication to American politics -- did more for the stiff and sometimes unappealing politician than decades of public service could. The documentary paved the way to his crowning achievement, the one most elected leaders simply dream about, a Nobel Peace Prize.
Al Gore was born was born Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1948, the son of U.S. Representative and Senator from Tennessee Albert Gore Sr. and Pauline LaFon Gore, one of the first female graduates from Vanderbilt University Law School. Gore attended the St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. and then went on to Harvard, where a class with global warming theorist Roger Revelle introduced him to the environmentalism that would later form his legacy. His time at Harvard also led to his first brush with the entertainment industry: his roommate for much of his time there was a fledgling young actor from Texas named Tommy Lee Jones.
During the height of the protests against the war in Vietnam, and in spite of his father's opposition to the war, Gore enlisted in the U.S. Army after his student deferment expired. Gore publically claimed that avoiding the draft would have hurt his father's chances with his constituency in his bid for re-election, and that relying on his privilege to avoid his obligations would have been personally unconscionable. After his experience serving in Vietnam, and his father's loss of office in spite of his service, Gore became somewhat crestfallen. He initially opted to forgo law school and instead attended Vanderbilt University Divinity School (1971-72) before finally switching to Vanderbilt University Law School (1974-76), a pursuit he did not complete. Instead, he decided to run for a soon-to-be-vacated position in the U.S. House of Representatives, which was formerly -- and not insignificantly -- his father's seat.
Gore spent the following 16 years in the U.S. Congress, first as a Congressman from Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives (1977-1985) and then as one of that state's Senators (1985-1993). His steady climb inside the Beltway was sidetracked by an accident that took the life of his son in August of 1991. Gore referred to this traumatic event as the primary factor in his decision not to run for President the following year.
Nonetheless, Gore was tapped in 1992 to be Bill Clinton's running mate, and he accepted. Gore was inaugurated as the 45th Vice President of the United States under President Bill Clinton, a position he held for the following eight years (1993-2001). During his term he was actively involved in policy decisions, and was frequently credited with that administration's interest in the expansion of information technologies.
Following his Vice Presidency, Gore became the Democratic Party's nominee for President, and chose the controversial hawk Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Gore lost the 2000 U.S. presidential election to George W. Bush, despite winning the popular vote by a margin of more than 500,000 votes. He ultimately lost the Electoral College to the Republican after a legal challenge over allegedly unclear electoral results that led to a vote recount in Florida. The dispute played out for several months on national television, riveting international attention.
The legal dispute centered around possible "overvotes" caused by a confusing "butterfly ballot" design, a dispute that was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which led to a controversial 5-4 ruling in Bush's favor. The ruling aborted a recount effort that had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, effectively awarding Bush a majority of Electoral College votes. Although Gore claimed disagreement with the decision, he conceded the election, a move that made him even more unpopular with much of the American Left.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Al Gore became one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush policy of pre-emptive warfare in Iraq. Possibly emboldened by a "nothing-to-lose" status afforded him after the 2000 election debacle, the formerly reticent Gore came out swinging, and publicly poked holes in the rationale for war from an insider's perspective. His firebrand speeches elevated him to folk hero status within Democratic circles and forced a reconsideration of Gore by those who had previously dismissed him.
In what amounted to a break from a lifetime of moderate political positions, a bearded Gore pivoted noticeably to the left, taking roundhouse punches at American right-wing "religious zealots," criticizing Bush's deployment of wire-tapping without a warrant, breaking radically with his own previous stance on gay rights, criticizing Bush for his response to Katrina, and extolling the egalitarian potential of the internet to refresh what he referred to as a waning American representative democracy.
Although he declined another presidential run in 2004, conversations about drafting the newly minted, outspoken advocate erupted. Gore endorsed Vermont governor Howard Dean instead, who eventually imploded on the campaign trail. In the 2008 Presidential Election, Gore remained on the sidelines again, prompting speculation he might be reserving the possibility of becoming a "compromise candidate" if the primary process was inconclusive. When Gore endorsed Obama, speculation about a second Vice Presidency surfaced, and after he publicly rejected that possibility, a cabinet position.
Public conversations about Gore's being gun-shy over a run for office were unavoidable, but Gore's own ideas about public service were no doubt redefined by the approbation he received for the portrait painted of him in the 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Reception aside, the documentary was structured around Gore's public speeches on climate change, which precipitated a recasting of Gore as prescient and socially committed outside of the benefits and constraints of electoral politics. In the context of the film, Gore's public record on climate change -- he held congressional hearings in 1976 when he was a freshman -- painted a picture of him as a lifetime activist.
As a matter of record, Senator Gore had pushed for environmentalism throughout the 1980s, the creation of an environmental Global Marshall Plan in1990, and actively promoted the call for globally responsibility in the reduction of greenhouse gases mapped out in the Kyoto Protocol. His lifetime of work around the issue led to his being named a co-recipient with the United Nations backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his life's work on the issue and the increase of public awareness spurred by "An Inconvenient Truth."
After Gore left political life, the formerly uptight-seeming politician began to poke fun at his previous image with cameo appearances on the sketch comedy series "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1975- ) and animated science fiction parody "Futurama" (Fox 1999-2004, Comedy Central 2008-13). Both of those shows had Gore's comedy writer daughter Kristin Gore on their staffs at the time.