Woodrow Wilson, the Virginia-born Princeton professor who ended up in the White House proposing global peace agreements as unrealistic as Gore’s climate treaty is the archetypal example of the blend of Southern and Northern elite WASP culture and politics. Wilson believed in democracy but not in the people; well educated, well intentioned and well behaved moral leaders needed to guide the masses lest in their ignorance and weakness they fall under the sway of unscrupulous demagogues. North and South the progressives believe that the masses need to be governed: they will drink too much without Prohibition, they will drive too much unless gasoline is heavily taxed, they will eat the wrong things, the poor weaklings, if we allow fried food in the school cafeteria.

Al Gore junior was as perfectly primed for the life of a gentry progressive as it is possible to be. The son of a senator, he was educated at St. Albans and Harvard. When, after working as a journalist investigating corruption (an honest referee in a dirty game), he learned that his father’s old House seat had become vacant, Al Gore ran and was elected. Atticus Finch, reporting for duty.

Unfortunately, Gore’s life has coincided with declining public interest in the kind of elite liberal leadership he was trained to provide. The shift of the white South away from the Democratic Party is sometimes portrayed as simple white flight from a Democratic Party that was embracing Black voters. This is a part of what happened; what also happened was that as Southern whites were gradually becoming better educated and more urban, they were no longer interested in the two types of leadership the Democrats traditionally offered: Atticus Finch and George Wallace. Neither the gentry progressive nor the race-baiting demagogue spoke to the white South very clearly anymore and the rise of the Republican Party in the South brought new kinds of discourse and new kinds of politics to a South that had less and less room for the Gores.