Al Gore has problems making ends meet

Bowing to tradition, Vice President Al Gore released copies of his 1997 tax return to the public last week. On the same form that he listed his income of $197,729, he reported that he managed to find room in his family budget for only $353 in charity. This is less than one-fifth of one percent of his income.
Before you read any further, think about how much money you earned last year. Add up every last dollar. Now, divide that by 560. Those few dollars of your income, almost certainly less than what you have in your wallet right now, is the equivalent of what Gore managed to spare from his very healthy six-figure income. Chances are you have given more than that away over the past year. In fact, you have probably given more than that just to the homeless people selling flowers on the street.
If the nearly microscopic sum Gore donated does not turn your stomach, the excuses proffered by his aides probably will. The vice president, they whined, spends so much on tuition for his three children (two at Harvard and one in private high school) that he could not afford to be more charitable.
As we know from firsthand experience, Gore is not the only person with large tuition bills. He is, however, in a very select group: people who make nearly $200,000 and still have trouble making ends meet. And don’t forget about the vice president’s fringe benefits, like free rent on a rather nice mansion, a large staff to cook and clean for him, limousines, helicopters, and a luxurious jet. I don’t mean to suggest that the vice president of the United States should not be well-compensated or live in the vice presidential mansion. His claim of economic hardship, however, is clearly in the realm of the absurd.
For all of Gore’s lack of generosity, he certainly has no moral objections to asking ordinary Americans to reach into their own pockets and give to his campaign. Indeed, he has continually drawn criticism for being too willing to ask others. When caught red-handed “dialing for dollars” from his White House office, Gore reported that it was acceptable because “there is no controlling legal authority.” Well, Mr. Gore, “there is no controlling legal authority” in this case either — just a controlling moral imperative.
Throughout my childhood, there was a constant emphasis in my family on giving to those less fortunate. My grandfather started giving 10 percent of his annual income to charity each year at a young age, when he was working to help support his family and putting himself through college and law school. I look to my grandfather as the epitome of a leader — he led by example.
All of us, regardless of how much money we have, are direct beneficiaries of the gifts of others. The $30,000 we pay to Yale each year does not come close to covering the cost of our education. Yale depends on donations, whether from the Sterlings and Basses or from the vast majority who certainly cannot afford to get their name affixed to a building but give as much as they can. Their gifts are just as big a sacrifice as the millions given by the names we all recognize, and thus we owe these lesser known contributors an equal debt of gratitude.
Perhaps I am na├úve, but I would like to think that my leaders will hold the same respect for others that my grandfather holds — and that they will lead with the same sort of honorable example. Gore certainly talked the talk when he told me and the rest of the nation that “I feel your pain,” but when it came time to, quite literally, put his money where his mouth was, the vice president could not find anyone less fortunate than himself. Poor Al Gore: $75,000 in tuition bills and only $200,000 to pay them. How will he ever make ends meet?
Daniel Price’s column originally appeared in Monday’s Yale University Herald.