The trouble with Al


Al Gore has done a lot of good during his long career in public service. His work on global warming, for example, has been exemplary. His work as Clinton’s vice president to streamline government and make it run more efficiently was outstanding. And it’s hard to argue that America would not have been better off with President Gore than President Bush Jr.

And so it’s tempting, when allegations are raised that Gore sexually assaulted a masseuse in 2006, to dismiss them. To argue that they’re clearly politically motivated. To assume the best, not the worst, of a politician who one has agreed with over the years.

This is a temptation that must be resisted.

I do not know whether Gore committed sexual assault in a Portland, Oregon hotel room three years ago. Indeed, only two people do: Gore himself, and the complainant. But as Hanna Rosin notes, the woman’s very detailed statement rings true. And Emily Bazelon cites the complainant’s own words explaining why she didn’t immediately seek out the authorities:

I did not immediately call the police as I deeply fear being made into a public spectacle and my work reputation being destroyed. I was not sure what to tell them and was concerned my story would not be believed since there was no DNA evidence from a completed act for rape. I did not even know what to call what happened to me. I did not know if the police would even want to take a report on this.

That seems completely rational; how would you react if you were the victim of a difficult-to-prove criminal case against Dick Cheney, or Dan Quayle, or Fritz Mondale? Probably by realizing that a rich former vice president would have enough power not just to avoid prosecution, but to make your life a living nightmare.

This does not mean Gore is guilty, either legally or morally. It is possible that this has been fabricated, that Gore is the completely innocent victim of someone with a vivid imagination. It’s possible.

But having read the complaint, I have to say that my gut tells me that it’s more likely Gore is guilty of sexual assault than not guilty. He may not be convicted. Indeed, he likely won’t be charged. But my gut tells me that Al Gore did something illegal and immoral in a Portland hotel room in 2006, and that is something that should not be taken lightly, and should not be minimized.

Humans are rarely all evil or all good. Al Gore’s actions in Portland in 2006 don’t eliminate the good he’s done on global warming. But the good he’s done on global warming doesn’t eliminate his actions in Portland in 2006. I will never look at Al Gore the same way again. And if his actions lead to civil or criminal penalties against him, he has nobody to blame but himself.