So what does the famous Al and Tipper Gore snog-deluxe at the 2000 Democratic National Convention have to do with the upcoming midterm elections in 2018? And what does that question have to do with the Big Bang question that is always lurking in American politics, which is control of the U.S. Supreme Court?
Be patient with me here, because I can see the connections in my mind (and in my own political experience over recent decades). But I’m not sure if I can get them to make sense in 600 words or so. But that’s what I need to do, since these questions are connected to the content of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.
So let’s start with The Kiss.
Long ago, young Al Gore was one of the heroes of conservative Democrats everywhere — as in “blue dog” Democrats that lean left on populist economic issues and lean right on matters of morality and culture. In other words, Gore was a pro-life Southern Baptist guy when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives and an almost-pro-life guy when he first hit the U.S. Senate.
That made him the kind of Democrat that could get elected over and over in a culturally conservative state — think Bible Belt — like Tennessee. That was good for Democrats. Hold that thought.
But when Gore took his ambitions to the national level, the realities of Democratic Party life made him float over to the liberal side of things on issues such as abortion and the illiberal side of things on issues like religious liberty (I say that as on old-fashioned First Amendment liberal).
In terms of image, however, he made a great New Democrat partner for President Bill Clinton, who once flirted — in politics, that is — with conservative moral stances on a host of issues.
But then Clinton turned into a whole different kind of man in the public eye. To say the least.
So how could Gore, when it was his term to claim the White House, show that some of that old Al Gore, the married man who was sort of conservative and really wholesome, draw a line between his image and that of Bill “You’d Better Put Some Ice on That” Clinton?
This brings us to Tipper Gore.
At one point, her name was a curse word with the cultural left because of her role in founding the Parents Music Resource Center — a conservative network active in debates about popular music, video games, Hollywood, etc. Tipper was the perfect political mom and wife, at that stage, for a Democrat needing to maintain Bible Belt pew cred.
So when it came time to lay claim to the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, Al Gore didn’t just hug his wife and give her a peck on the lips.
Instead, there was The Kiss.
The Kiss said, “Man, I really love my wife.” But it also said, “Man oh man, the Gores are NOT Bill and Hillary Clinton. We are still the real deal.”
In other words, Gore “said” there is still some of that old family-values Democrat in there, even if I have changed my views on abortion and a lot of other cultural issues.
Trust us. We are not THOSE Democrats.
Now, jump to 2018. At this point, the Gores are no longer a couple and the Democratic Party has a strong, strong, strong wing of hardcore secular folks and religious liberals whose beliefs are best defined as the opposite of almost everything traditional religious believers hold dear.
Democrats want to take the Senate and, thus, have more clout in shaping the high court. But to do so they need to win/hold a few seats in the Bible Belt and the Heartland states of the Midwest.
Take Tennessee, for example. See this earlier post, focusing on a totally faith-free New York Times feature about the Senate race in my home state: “Big religion ghost: Would a 'blue dog Democrat' win Tennessee's U.S. Senate race?”
Could the old Al Gore, the young Al Gore with Tipper at his side, get to run for the Senate in Tennessee today and be embraced by the Democratic Party? Can similar candidate run, with the party’s blessing, and win in other centrist and conservative states?
Or is it too late for that? On election night, will we see that moral, cultural and religious issues have become The Kiss of death for some Democrats?