The New York Times
Reporting: Writings from the New Yorkerby David Remnick
David Remnick is a writer with a rare gift for making readers understand the hearts and minds of our public figures. Whether it’s the decline and fall of Mike Tyson, Al Gore’s struggle to move forward after his loss in the 2000 election, or Vladimir Putin dealing with Gorbachev’s legacy, Remnick brings his subjects to life with extraordinary clarity and depth.
In Reporting, he gives us his best writing from the past fifteen years, ranging from American politics and culture to post-Soviet Russia to the Middle East conflict; from Tony Blair grappling with Iraq, to Philip Roth making sense of America’s past, to the rise of Hamas in Palestine. Both intimate and deeply informed by history, Reporting is an exciting and panoramic portrait of our times.
The New York Times
—The New York Times Book Review
“Each piece is worth reading. From the first word of the preface to the last word of the final feature story, Reporting is captivating.”
—The Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
“A pleasure to read. The [essays] are intelligent and serious, but they're also perceptive and funny. Remnick mixes literature, politics and history and then tries to bring them all together into a meaningful whole.”
—Los Angeles Times
“The arrangement of pieces is so natural, and so symphonic, it's hard to recollect their discrete appearances: It seems as though Reporting is less an amalgamation of individual articles than it is a previously serialized volume at long last published whole.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
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Read an Excerpt
By David Remnick
Random HouseDavid Remnick
All right reserved.
The Wilderness Campaign:
Hey, Dwayne? . . . Dwayne?"
"Yes, Mr. Vice-President?"
"Could I have some more coffee?"
"Yes, Mr. Vice-President. Coming . . ."
It was ten in the morning in Nashville, a quiet weekday, with most of the neighbors off to work, and Albert Gore, Jr., sat at the head of his dining-room table eating breakfast. His plate was crowded with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast. His pond-size mug had, in a flash, been refilled by Dwayne Kemp, his cook, a skilled and graceful man who had been employed by the Gores when, as his boss often puts it, "we were still working in the White House." Freshly showered and shaved, Gore was wearing a midnight-blue shirt and gray wool trousers. In the months after losing the battle for Florida's electoral votes and conceding the Presidency to George W. Bush, on December 13, 2000, Gore seemed to let himself go, dropping out of sight, traveling around Spain, Italy, and Greece for six weeks with his wife, Tipper. He wore dark glasses and a baseball cap tugged down low. He grew a mountain-man beard and gained weight. When he began appearing in public again, mainly in classrooms, he took to introducing himself by saying, "Hi, I'm Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States." People looked at this rather bulky andhirsute man--a politician who had only recently won 50,999,897 votes for the Presidency, more than any Democrat in history, more than any candidate in history except Ronald Reagan in 1984, and more than half a million more votes than the man who assumed the office--and did not know quite what to feel or how to behave, and so they cooperated in his elaborate self-deprecations. They laughed at his jokes, as if to help him erase what everyone understood to be a disappointment of historic proportions--"the heartbreak of a lifetime," as Karenna, the eldest of his four children, put it. "You know the old saying," Gore told one audience after another. "You win some, you lose some--and then there's that little-known third category."
Gore has since dispensed with the beard but not the weight. He is still thick around the middle. He eats quickly and thoroughly, and with a determined relish, precisely like a man who no longer has to care that he might look heavy on Larry King Live. "You want some eggs?" he asked. "Dwayne's the best."
This has been the first election season in a generation in which Al Gore has not pursued national office. He ran for President in 1988, when he was thirty-nine; for Vice-President, on Bill Clinton's ticket, in 1992 and 1996; and then again for President in 2000. Having decided that a rematch against Bush would be too divisive (or, perhaps, too difficult), Gore has made an effort not to brood on the sidelines. Instead, he used words like "liberated" and "free" with a determined conviction to describe his inner condition. He was free of the burden, free of the pressure, free of the camera's eye. At home in Nashville, the phone barely rang. There were no advance people at the door, no aides at his shoulder. He could say what he wanted and it hardly made a ripple in the media. If he felt like calling George Bush a "moral coward," if he felt like comparing Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to islands in an "American gulag" or the President's media operatives to "digital Brown Shirts," well, he just went ahead and did it. No worries, no hesitation. True, at noon at the Belcourt Theatre, he was to deliver a speech to a group called the Music Row Democrats, but the only cameras were likely to be local. He jokingly outlined the speech on a small notepad with just two words: "war" and "economy."
When Al and Tipper Gore had recovered from the initial shock of the 2000 election, they spent $2.3 million on the house they live in now: a hundred-year-old colonial on Lynwood Boulevard, in the Belle Meade section of Nashville. They still own a place in Arlington, Virginia--a house that was built by Tipper's grandfather--and a ninety-acre cattle farm in the Gore family seat of Carthage, Tennessee; but Arlington was perilously close to Washington, and Carthage was too remote for a full-time residence, especially for Tipper. Belle Meade, which resembles Buckhead, in Atlanta, or Mountain Brook, near Birmingham, is a prosperous redoubt for businessmen and country-music stars; it encompasses a neighborhood of broad, sloping lawns, and houses with magnolia trees and "estate" driveways up front and glassy modern additions and swimming pools out back. Chet Atkins used to be a neighbor; Leon Russell still is. Some of the features of the house, which the couple expanded with the help of an architect, are distinctly Gore-ish: Tipper's full drum set, in the living room (complete with congas); Al's grip-and-grin photographs with the Clintons and world leaders, along the walls. There are fewer books and more televisions than you might expect. When the architect was designing the rear addition to the house, Gore asked him to curve the walls inward in two places in order to save several trees. "The trees weren't anything special, nothing rare or anything," he said. "I just couldn't bear to bring 'em down." In the backyard, around the patio and the extra-long pool, where Al and Tipper do laps, Gore also installed an anti-bug system that sprays a fine mist of ground chrysanthemums from various discreet sources: a tree trunk, a patio wall. "The mosquitoes just hate it," he said. Other features of the house are less environmentally correct. A 2004 black Cadillac, which Gore drives, was parked in the driveway. A '65 Mustang--a Valentine's Day gift from Al to Tipper--was parked in the garage.
Gore finished his eggs. He walked to a covered patio on the side of the house and settled into a soft chair. Dwayne brought his coffee cup and refilled it.
Gore has hardly been a recluse since deciding, in late 2002, not to run again. In the past year, he has delivered a series of speeches in New York and Washington sharply criticizing the Bush Administration, but he has answered few questions. "It's better that way for a while," he said. He has given speeches for money all around the world. And he is teaching courses, mainly about the intersection of community and the American family, at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, and Fisk University, in Nashville.
"We've got about forty hours of lectures and classes on tape," Gore said, deadpan. "Now's your chance to watch them."
Gore is beginning to make serious money. He is a board member for Apple and a senior adviser to Google, which just went through its IPO. He has also been working on creating a cable-television station and developing a financial enterprise.
"I'm having a blast," he said.
In a parliamentary system, a candidate for Prime Minister, after losing an election, often returns to the party leadership or at least to a prominent seat in parliament. It doesn't work that way in the United States. Here, you make your own way: you give speeches, write memoirs, accumulate a fortune, find a righteous cause. Sometimes a reporter might come calling, but not often. In any case, Donna Brazile, Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said, "When it was over, the Democratic Party kicked him to the curb," preferring to forget not only the Florida catastrophe but also Gore's own misplays: his mutating personality in the three debates with Bush; his reliance on political consultants; his inability to exploit Bill Clinton's enduring popularity and his failure to win Clinton's Arkansas, much less Tennessee; his decision not to press immediately for a statewide recount in Florida. Now, everywhere he goes, Gore is faced with crowds who despair of the Bush Administration and see in him all that might have been, all the what-ifs. The heartbreak of a lifetime. Sometimes people approach him and address him as "Mr. President." Some try to cheer him up and tell him, "We know you really won." Some tilt their heads, affecting a look of grave sympathy, as if he had just lost a family member. He has to face not only his own regrets; he is forever the mirror of others'. A lesser man would have done far worse than grow a beard and put on a few pounds.
Consider the expectations: more than Franklin Roosevelt, or even John F. Kennedy, Gore was raised to be President. His father, Albert Gore, Sr., a senator who was known to look as noble as a Roman statesman, expected it of him. When Gore's mother was pregnant with Al, Gore Senior told the editors of the Nashville Tennessean that if his wife gave birth to a boy he didn't want to see the story tucked deep in the paper. After Al was born, the headline read, well, mr. gore, here he is, on page 1. Six years later, the Senator planted a story in the Knoxville News Sentinel about how young Al had coaxed his father into buying him a more expensive bow-and-arrow set than they had planned to get. "There may be another Gore on the way toward the political pinnacle," the story said. "He's just six years old now. But with his experiences to date, who knows what may happen." By the time Gore made it to Harvard (the only school he applied to), he was informing his class of his ultimate ambition. His first run, in 1988, after he had spent just a few years in the Senate, was less an act of youthful presumption than a hurried attempt to win the White House in his father's lifetime.
Gore is fifty-six years old. After the 2000 race was finally resolved, some of the people around him consoled him by telling him to "remember Richard Nixon," how Nixon lost the Presidential race in 1960, lost the California governorship in 1962--informing the press that it would no longer have him to "kick around anymore"--and then came back to win the White House in 1968. Somehow, when that advice is mentioned to Gore today, it is neither consoling nor enticing. If John Kerry wins in November, that would likely spell the end of Gore's career in national politics; if Kerry loses, there would still be strong figures in a prospective field for 2008, not least John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
"Basically, the answer is, I do not expect to ever be a candidate again," Gore said. "I really don't. The second part of the answer is, I haven't ruled it out completely. And the third qualifier is, I don't add the second part as a way of signaling coyness. It's merely to complete an honest answer to the question and it in no way changes the principal part of the answer. Which is, I really do not expect that I will be a candidate. If I did expect to be a candidate again, I would probably not feel the same freedom to let it rip in these speeches the way I am. And I enjoy that. It feels"--and there was that word again--"it feels liberating to me." Running again for the Senate or accepting a Cabinet position, he said, was also out of the question.
Gore, along with no small part of the country, is convinced that had things turned out differently in Florida in 2000, had the conservatives on the Supreme Court not outnumbered the liberals by a single vote, the United States would not be in the condition it's in: the front page would not be describing chaos in Iraq, record budget deficits, the rollback of numerous environmental initiatives, a diminishment of civil liberties, a curtailment of stem-cell research, an erosion of American prestige abroad. Gore does not admit to any bitterness, but it is plain in nearly every speech he gives; and while the feeling may be partly personal--who could blame him?--it runs to a deeper, more public-minded sentiment than the disappointment of his own, or his father's, ambitions.
"Here you have a guy who worked all his life to achieve the one thing he wanted--to be President of the United States--and it was there, in his grasp," Tony Coelho, Gore's campaign chairman in 2000, said. "He felt Clinton hurt him, but nevertheless he worked his butt off and brought it off. He won the most votes, by half a million, but then the Supreme Court steps in and it's gone. It is hard for any of us to understand what that means or how it feels. The truth is that Gore is really a policy guy, not a political guy, and for him to feel that he was on the cusp of the ultimate policy job, that he could affect policy and the world like no one else, and then nothing--well, imagine that!"
In a little while, a new friend of Gore's, an eccentric musician and visual artist named Robert Ellis Orrall, was going to swing by to take him and Tipper to the Belcourt.
"You'll like Bob," Gore said, smiling. "But I'm warning you: he does his own thing. He's a crazy kinda guy."
Gore delivered that last sentence in what I came to think of as his Mr. Goofy voice. When he wants to undercut something he is saying, to indicate that he knows he is speaking in a cliche or taking on a stentorian or pompous tone, he uses the Mr. Goofy voice, stretching his face into a kind of clownish expression and affecting a tone more suited to a television dinosaur. Then, there is the Herr Professor voice, Gore as lecturer. Gore didn't really want to talk politics at first, but when the subject of the press came up he seized on it and gave, at my best estimation, a twenty-minute discourse on the degradation of "the public sphere," a phrase coined by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas in the nineteen-sixties. (One tries, and fails, to imagine the current President alluding to the author of Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action.) "He's a ve-rrry interesting guy," Gore said. "Why am I just finding out about him?"
It's easy to see that Gore, lacking public office, likes to teach.
Excerpted from Reporting by David Remnick Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David Remnick has been the editor of The New Yorker since 1998. A staff writer for the magazine from 1992 to 1998, he was previously The Washington Post's correspondent in the Soviet Union. The author of several books, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for his 1994 book Lenin's Tomb. Mr. Remnick served as an Olympic Correspondent and Commentator for NBC during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.He lives in New York with his wife and children.
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