A chasm has always separated Gore's professions from his performance. He denounces the rape of nature, yet has connived at the strip mining of Appalachia, and, indeed, of terrain abutting one of Tennessee's most popular state parks. He put himself forth as a proponent of ending the nuclear arms race, yet served as midwife for the MX missile. He offers himself as a civil libertarian, yet has been an accomplice in drives for censorship and savage assaults on the Bill of Rights. He and wife Tipper smoked marijuana, yet he now pushes for harsh sanctions against marijuana users. He denounces vouchers, yet sends his children to the private schools of the elite.

It's hard to find noble moments in Gore's political career. Such was not the case with his father. Albert Sr. lost his senate seat in 1970, in part because of his opposition to the Vietnam war. Al Jr. never forgot what he has perceived the lesson of that defeat to be. A visitor to Gore's office at the start of the 1980s urged him to "do the right thing" on an issue that spelled possible political trouble for the congressman. Gore pointed to a portrait of his father on the wall of his office. "He did the right thing," he exclaimed, "and look where it got him."

Gore is expedient, a trimmer. Take the issue of abortion, sadly the sole benchmark by which many liberals measure their expectations of a Democratic nominee. "At least Gore is for choice," they insist. Maybe so, but for how long? For whom? Not for the poor in federally-funded clinics. As a congressman, Gore spoke of his belief in "the fetus' right to life." He was a relentless supporter of the Hyde amendment, which banned federal funding for abortions for poor women. In one early version of Hyde's bill there was language allowing exceptions to the ban in the case of rape. Gore voted against that.

At the onset of his career in Congress Gore stated his view of homosexuality as "abnormal" and ratified that view in many subsequent votes. In 1980, he voted for an amendment prohibiting the Legal Services Corporation from assisting homosexuals whose rights were denied because of their sexual orientation. As a member of the U.S. Senate, Gore backed three anti-homosexual measures put up by his colleague, Jesse Helms. In August 1986, Gore voted for a Helms amendment forcing the District of Columbia to overturn its law prohibiting health, life and disability insurance corporations from using the new HIV test to reject applicants for insurance. A year later, Gore voted for a Helms amendment requiring HIV testing for immigrants, effectively prohibiting HIV-positive people from settling in the U.S.

The liberal loyalists who are staying with the Gore-Lieberman ticket instead of jumping ship to Nader are making the usual noises about the "lesser-of-two-evils." But when it comes to substance instead of moral pretension, the record refutes such cautious optimism. Right now, Gore, buttressed by his running mate, Joseph Lieberman, is staking out the ground of a "moral rearmament" campaign representing much of what the Christian Right has been calling for down the years: A big stick at home in the form of family values, censorship and more cops. God in every sentence. A big stick abroad.

What can minorities or labor hope from the Democratic ticket? Lieberman has an explicit record of attacks on affirmative action. Gore has a substantive one. Ask Blacks in Government, an organization of federal employees, their opinion of Gore's Reinventing Government rampages in 1993 and 1994, which axed the civil service at a rate Ronald Reagan never dared dream of. In 1999, Blacks in Government issued an assessment ("The New Spoils System"), which concluded "Reinventing has generally been silent about fairness and equality issues and has had a devastating impact on federal workers, particularly racial minorities." Ask labor about trade, NAFTA or the WTO.

Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party. He learned at his father's knee the liberal idiom of the New Deal, and he has spent his adult political life destroying the substance.

There's a myth that the death knell for liberalism as the dominant strain in the Democratic Party came with the crushing of Walter Mondale by Ronald Reagan in 1984. That disaster supposedly engineered the "moderate" takeover. A year later, the Democratic Leadership Council was formed, with Gore applying his old journalistic skills to write its inaugural press release.

But the real progenitors of the "moderate" Democratic Anschluss were Richard Nixon and Kevin Phillips in 1968, devisers of the Republican Southern Strategy, which proved that an updated appeal to God, guns, states rights and racism could secure the South. It was that strategy that finished off Albert Sr., stigmatized by Bill Brock as an effete Yankee liberal, the "third senator from Massachusetts," anti-God, anti-military, pro-bussing. In his very first run for Congress in 1976, Al Jr. took the Southern Strategy for himself, and it remained his political roadmap in the campaigns that followed. Gore won his first and, indeed, only seriously contested race as a Tennessee politician campaigning against Democrats, and that's how he has continued to define himself.

Al Gore: A User's Manual by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair will be published by Verso at the start of September. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.