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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Gore's secret guru

So what accounts for the aggressive new Al? It's partly the expensive advice of feminist author Naomi Wolf

By Michael Duffy and Karen Tumulty

TIME magazine

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EST (1711 GMT)

You won't find her anywhere on the Al Gore campaign roster. Nor is she listed in the internal campaign budget, where she appears only as "consultant." Yet the mere mention of her name has a way of rendering campaign officials nearly speechless. One offered only that she was "helping out" on "outreach." Another adviser downplayed her as a "wardrobe consultant." Sighed yet another normally chatty adviser: "I couldn't begin to talk to you about that."

Maybe every campaign needs a mystery consultant, a mad genius who can turn a candidate into something bigger than himself. Inside the Gore camp, that role seems to have fallen to Naomi Wolf, feminist, best-selling author and outspoken advocate of female sexual power, who has quietly emerged as one of the most curious forces inside the ever more curious Gore operation. Just exactly what Wolf does remains a puzzle even to many inside the campaign. But whatever it is, someone must think it is worth a lot. Sources tell TIME that since Gore 2000 set up shop in January, Wolf has been paid a salary of $15,000 a month--all quietly funneled through a web of Gore-campaign subcontractors--in exchange for advice on everything from how to win the women's vote to shirt-and-tie combinations. Wolf wouldn't talk about her role for the record, and neither would Gore-campaign chairman Tony Coelho or message chief Carter Eskew. "She's a smart person who has interesting ideas," said a brave adviser, who then promptly hung up.

Some of those ideas might help explain why the candidate and his campaign have been so reluctant to say anything about Wolf. In her most recent best seller, Promiscuities, Wolf argues, among other things, that schools should teach teenagers the techniques of "sexual gradualism"--masturbation, mutual masturbation and oral sex--because it is more realistic than abstinence and safer than intercourse. "If we teach kids about other kinds of sexual exploration that help them wait for intercourse until they are really ready, we let girls find out about their desire...and let kids have an option not to go immediately 'from zero to 60.' Teaching sexual gradualism is as sensible as teaching kids to drive."

It is hard to imagine that Wolf has pushed this specific idea on the candidate. But Wolf has a way of popping up at make-or-break moments for Gore. She spent three days last week in New Hampshire with the Vice President, helping prepare him for the debate on Monday and Tuesday and then watching the televised event on Wednesday. Afterward, while Gore spent 90 minutes answering questions from lingering audience members, Wolf sat half a dozen rows back in the auditorium, dressed in black, watching her client intensely. "I don't think I can properly describe her role," said an adviser. "I don't think she relates to anyone but Gore."

Wolf, 37, is apparently counseling the Veep on more than just style points. Democratic Party sources say it's Wolf who, more than anyone else, has urged Gore to bare his teeth at the President he has served loyally for more than seven years. Wolf has argued internally that Gore is a "Beta male" who needs to take on the "Alpha male" in the Oval Office before the public will see him as the top dog. In private, sources say, Gore expresses an almost primal bitterness about his relationship with Clinton, contending that while he was crucial to getting the President elected in 1992, the public's disgust with Clinton now threatens his own ambitions. At last week's forum with rival Bill Bradley, Gore startled his audience by seizing upon the first question that was thrown to him--a broad one about the questionable behavior of politicians in Washington--to talk about "the disappointment and anger that you feel toward President Clinton, and I felt it myself."

Gore and his wife Tipper have always had a fondness for writers, bookstore gurus and outside-the-Beltway thinkers. The Veep kept a psychologist on his White House payroll as a management consultant for years. Wolf, campaign sources say, has also bonded with Gore's eldest daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, with whom she is working on efforts to involve younger voters--particularly women--in the campaign. Indeed, it is the women's vote, so crucial to Clinton's success, that has been one of the biggest puzzles for Gore this year. Why is it that a man who espouses all of Clinton's female-friendly policies, without carrying the Big Creep's personal baggage, has so consistently trailed George W. Bush among women voters?

The importance of taking back that vote has been underscored by recent polls, which show that Gore's slight rebound against Bush comes largely from women who are giving him another look. And that is where Wolf comes in. Raised partly in San Francisco during what she called a "decade-long Summer of Love," Wolf went to Yale and then to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. She was still in her 20s when she made her name as a social critic, with the best-selling The Beauty Myth, in which she argued that the male-dominated society has replaced "virtuous domesticity" with an impossible standard of "virtuous beauty"--meant to keep women internally inadequate and off balance.

Many of the activists who applauded her first book, however, took issue with her second one, Fire with Fire, in which she urged women to give up "victim feminism" and take up "power feminism." She argued that women should turn away from women-vs.-men feminism, avoid fault lines like abortion and lesbian rights, and start looking for bipartisan women's issues like violence, pay discrimination and harassment. The 1997 book, Promiscuities, recounts her sexual coming of age and denounces masculine attempts to muffle female sexuality by ostracizing the sexually adventurous girl.

Wolf made her first foray into presidential politics in 1995, as an adviser to Clinton's own once secret consultant, Dick Morris. In his book about that campaign, Morris wrote that he met with Wolf--whose husband David Shipley was then a White House speechwriter--every few weeks for almost a year. Morris credited her for helping "persuade me to pursue school uniforms, tax breaks for adoption, simpler cross-racial adoption laws and more workplace flexibility. She often said that the candidate who best understood the fatigue of the American woman would win." Wolf also persuaded Morris that the country was looking for a "good father," a concept that drove everything from family-friendly policies to the more mature demeanor that Clinton put forward in public. By all accounts, Wolf received no pay for her help.

If there is any testament to Wolf's staying power inside the Gore campaign, it may be that she has survived every one of its shake-ups. That may be because she's indispensable--or perhaps it's just her deep cover. Not even newly appointed campaign manager Donna Brazile knew of Wolf's involvement until recently. In the leaner operation that Brazile is running out of Nashville, Tenn., everyone has to sacrifice. Brazile, no Beta herself, cut Wolf's pay to $5,000 a month.

Another Kind of Campaign

Wolf's most recent book is a coming-of-age story, based on confessions from the author and her friends, that celebrates women as "sexually, powerful magical beings." It condemns a masculine culture's efforts to "punish the slut," the sexually adventurous girl who crosses the ambiguous lines separating "good" girls from "bad." The book argues that girls need "better rites of passage" so they will grow up being proud of their sexual womanhood. Men would also learn that "the sexual selves of girls and women" are "complicated, compelling and subtle."


Cover Date: November 8, 1999

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