Running Mate: A Time For Tipper

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker (39) breaks a long run around the right end against the Cleveland Browns in third-quarter NFL football action in Pittsburgh, Dec. 7, 2006. Parker rushed for 223 yards, the most of any Steelers running back in history.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
She prefers to stay off to the side, taking pictures rather than posing for them. And somehow, even after almost a quarter of a century as a political helpmate, Tipper Gore has been able to hold onto her own priorities. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reports.

Tipper Gore has taken on difficult missions to places like Africa and Central America. But she always makes time for fun, even scheduling a campaign trip so she can ride a hot air balloon. She's known for her sense of humor.

Her take on the official role of a vice president's wife?

"The Second Lady," she says. "It just makes me feel like I just didn't try hard enough. My favorite one was when I was introduced by a very exuberant minister who brought me on stage as the second lady of vice."

It was at his high school senior prom that Albert Gore Jr. met Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson, nicknamed "Tipper" from a childhood lullaby.

So was it love at first sight?

"It was," says the vice president. "Both of us had dates with other people, and I talked with her, and I was smitten."

She was 16 and he was 17 when they started dating. They married when Tipper graduated from college and he was in the Army.

"But I have to say," says Mrs. Gore, "that we were in each other's lives from the night that we met."

Married 30 years, the Gores have four children: Karenna, married, with a 1-year-old of her own; Kristen, Sarah, and Albert III, a high school senior. Her husband calls her the protector of the family, and the famously stiff vice president gets downright mushy talking about his wife.

"We've been lucky in that, as we have grown older, we've fallen in love with each other again at each new stage," he says.

Scoff if you must, but Gore insists, "It's true. She makes me happy. She's the love of my life, and she's taught me a lot about life."

Is she an adviser?

Says the vice president, "Oh, sure. Sure. I can't imagine making a really important life decision without consulting with her thoroughly. She's my most important adviser."

Tipper Gore says she serves as her husband’s sounding board. When the campaign was floundering, it was she who urged Gore to move his headquarters from Washington to Nashville. She was a key confidant on his vice presidential deliberations and has been deeply involved in his run for the presidency.

"It's something that I am able to share with Al, and I do love that... I like campaigning," she explains. "I like people. I like campaigning. I don't pretend to know about every issue. He's the candidate. I am not."

Veteran Washington writer Sally Quinn says Mrs. Gore is "totally a natural person. I mean, there's not a phony bone in her body." She predicts that if Tipper Gore becomes first lady, she will not seek the spotlight except on the issues that matter most to her: homelessness and mental health.

Says Quinn, "Se likes it that Al is the one who's the star and that he's famous. So I don't think that she's at all publicity seeking. But I think that she would do anything she could to further the things that she cares about."

That means using her photography to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. She still goes out on the streets of Washington to work with homeless citizens, particularly to help them get access to mental health care.

Mrs. Gore says she did not really choose these issues, adding, "They chose me. I think that it's been important for me to be able to use the opportunity I have to give a voice to the voiceless."

Her interest in mental health was underscored by personal experience. In 1989, the Gores' son, then 6, was hit by a car and nearly died. After getting her family through that crisis, she had one of her own. It was diagnosed as clinical depression.

On the advice of people in the mental health community, says Mrs. Gore, she is deliberately sparing on the details of her bout with clinical depression.

"The key thing that I could do," she explains, "was to come forward to say, 'Yes, I suffered this. Yes, I got the diagnosis and treatment, and it worked, and I recovered.' And I think that is the message of hope that people need to hear."

Of course, there is stress on the campaign trail. But there also is ample opportunity to blow off steam. Last spring, Mrs. Gore, who was a drummer for an all-girl rock band when she was in high school, pounded out the beat in support of gay rights at the Equality Rocks concert.

"It's a very good cause, against hate crimes," she observes. "I had a blast. And it also was meaningful."

Although she loves rock music, and she loves to dance, and she loves to go out and have a good time, she also has a reputation as the "lyrics police."

In 1985, concerned about violent and sexually explicit song lyrics, Tipper Gore led a drive to create a rating system for music similar to the one used for movies. In her words, she was "asking the recording industry to voluntarily assist parents who are concerned by placing a warning label on music products."

Mrs. Gore and her group drew derision from the entertainment industry. The late rock star Frank Zappa called them "cultural terrorists," adding, "If anything's out of control, they are."

The lesson Mrs. Gore took away from the whole episode: "Probably just to know that what you’re doing is the right thing. And if it is the right thing and you’re sure about it, nothing else really matters. Just keep doing it… It was hard. But that's how I got through that part."

Asked if Tipper Gore is tough enough to be first lady, Hillary Clinton says, "Oh, sure. She's a strong person. She's a very strong person."

Hillary Clinton knows how hard it is to be first lady. She and Tipper Gore became good friends during the 1992 capaign.

"Well, we've had different life experiences," says Mrs. Clinton. "We have had different…professional backgrounds. But I think it's not fair to compare any of us to any of our predecessors or successors, because each of us comes into the White House wanting to do the best we can for our country, for our family, for the contribution we can make."

Sally Quinn believes President Clinton's conduct with Monica Lewinsky strained relations between the Clintons and the Gores:

Says Quinn, "With Tipper there, there was no question about it. I mean, not only had they…basically allowed that they were uncomfortable with it, but she certainly told friends privately, both of them. I think 'uncomfortable' is a very mild word… 'Completely appalled and outraged' is more how I would characterize what they were feeling at the time."

It's a subject that makes Mrs. Gore uncomfortable.

"There has been no estrangement," she begins. "I try to explain it this way: We became friends when we came out of the '92 conventions. Very, very close friends and partners. Somebody has a friend or a colleague at work who had a personal problem. You support, you stand by, you forgive that friend."

Press her to say that she is disappointed in President Clinton's conduct, and Mrs. Gore puts her foot down: "I think that it's something we believe we really want to put behind us, and not continue to discuss. I don't think it serves any purpose to do that. Friends stick with friends through thick and thin."

With the thick of the campaign ahead, Mrs. Gore is staking her ground as her husband's strongest defender. For instance, she states strongly as he is not stiff and robotic, as he is often portrayed.
"From the convention through the fall, people who are going to begin to tune into this election, they're going to see who this man really is, and what he stands for, and they're going to be able to make a well-informed decision about the future of this country," she adds.

Of course, Mrs. Gore thinks her husband would make a great president. But does she ever think that another life would have been a better life for them? Has this really been fulfilling for her?

"It has been very fulfilling for me," says Mrs. Gore, "probably beyond my wildest dreams."