The "Al Gore Problem," Defined

by Jonathan Chait | May 13, 2011

Dana Milbank compares Mitt Romney to Al Gore:

Romney has what might be called an Al Gore problem: Even if he’s being genuine, he seems ersatz. He assumed a professorial air by delivering a 25-page PowerPoint presentation in an amphitheater lecture hall – but the university issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the event, for which the sponsoring college Republicans failed to fill all seats. His very appearance – a suit worn without a necktie – shouted equivocation. His hair was so slick that only a few strands defied the product.

This is a perfect demonstration of an Al Gore problem, but I'd define the problem differently. An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney's hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he's doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.

I'm glad that reporters are paying attention to the Al Gore problem. But I wish reporters would understand what the problem is -- namely, a media pathology. After all, John McCain spent the years leading up to the 2008 campaign madly dissembling about and frantically reversing his record, but his mannerisms or appearance were never deemed to be a metaphor for a character flaw.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/88364/the-al-gore-problem-defined