<<One of many glamorous moments of the 1988 Al Gore campaign that I did not see.
Scene of my big campaign moment. I was not there either. >>
In honor of Obama’s Wyoming caucus win, I am going to reveal the prominent role of the Wyoming caucuses in my own personal history. 20 years ago, I was working as the junior speechwriter on current national treasure, then premature centrist Al Gore’s presidential campaign. I was in way over my head on several counts, and not doing the sort of glamorous, power-behind-the-throne work that people seem to associate with speechwriting. For the most part, I stayed in D.C. cranking out talking points and local situation reports and terrible, terrible jokes for momentary appearances Gore was making at places like the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park and the Dalton, Georgia Rotary Club, never knowing whether anything I was writing was actually issuing from the candidate’s mouth. The likely answer was probably not, at least not more than a line or two that might have made it in his standard stump speech. Other, more important people were writing the formal addresses that actually got read. I was not producing anything that was really worth saying out loud anyway.
That is, except for Wyoming. Gore’s whole 1988 race was predicated on sweeping the original Super Tuesday primaries, which were concentrated in the South and set up to infuse more southern, centrist influence into the Democratic nominating process. In other words, it was supposed to help some white southern hawk-ish type win the nomination, and Al hoped to be that type. Funny story, Jesse Jackson won a bunch of those Super Tuesday primaries, I needed a new job by April, and then the Soviet Empire collapsed, taking much of Gore’s raison d’etre as a candidate with it. (The environmental thing was not much in evidence then, at least not in the campaign.) Long story short, Gore 1988 did not go down as one of the more world-historical presidential campaigns ever chronicled.
On to Wyoming. At some too-late date, the Gore braintrust realized that the whole Super Tuesday gamble might not work out exactly as they had planned and decided to contest some states outside of the South and Northeast. (They had already Guiliani-ed Iowa.) As it turned out, Wyoming was one of two states outside the South that he actually won. This did Gore about as much good as today’s win is likely to do Obama, though I hope otherwise. Wyoming was a big deal to me, however, because for whatever reason they let me write the big speech there, the one that actually got read apparently more or less verbatim. It was at the historic Union Pacific Depot in downtown Cheyenne, and while I did not actually get to go there, I did know it got read (confirming hearsay) because some of my lines were quoted in a news story the next day.
That was a thrill, but it also helped make the decision I was ruminating over at the time about whether I was staying in D.C. politics and journalism after the campaign, or going on to grad school. Upon further review, it seemed sort of pathetic to be thrilled that I had written some words were said by someone else, with almost no one actually knowing about it besides myself and 2 or 3 others directly involved. I was not feeling the insider jollies that DC lifers seem to thrive on, and it dawned that relative obscurity in my own name (academia!) appealed more than getting my words on front page or TV news in someone else’s. What’s more, the speech that won Wyoming — if Hillary brought peace to Northern Ireland, then this is the least I can claim — had been more interesting than most of what I done for Gore because I got what then seemed very deep into the historical background for it. I had checked out some Wyoming books from the DC public library and written all this jazz about Democrats going west with the railroads, the western progressive tradition, etc. As a speechwriter, it seemed, I was a better and more enthusiastic historian than I had ever been with the boilerplate political verbiage.
At any rate, I dug out Al Gore’s historic Union Pacific Depot address out of my files and scanned it for the amazement of the reading public and those sadly obsessed with past political minutiae. You can see the actual antique printer edition here, with a bonus speech written for Casper, Wyoming that I will bet he did not read — prostitutes were mentioned. Or, read on: