Monday, March 05, 2007

Al Gore – The Week that Was: I am an Al Gore fan – I have been, since 1988 – and, I thought I’d offer my perspective on the past week, as well as the prospects for the much-discussed, much-fantasized (almost fetishized) possibility of an Al Gore run for the Presidency. It certainly was an eventful week for the former Vice-President, and for his many admirers. There won’t be any thing like this attention again on Mr. Gore, until the week of the big concert on July 7th. He may take that as an indication he would be wise to stay out of the race. For my part, I think he should draw the opposite conclusion, because he truly offers something no other candidate can – something we desperately need: An incontrovertible mandate for change, and the standing to lead the effort.

First, a review of the obvious: The Vice-President got the lion’s share of the attention at the Academy Awards, and much of the press afterwards. His global warming slide-show was forever immortalized when “An Inconvenient Truth” won the Oscar for Best Documentary. This well-earned high point was followed by the right-wing hatchet job, attacking the former Vice-President for his admittedly large utility bill.

What the critics did not acknowledge or understand was that the Gores had signed on to TVA’s premium-priced Green Energy program. Their entire bill goes to the generation of Green Energy, so that they are net carbon-neutral. They also have solar panels on their home, so that they generate some of their own power, and they further conserve by using fluorescent bulbs. The critics also glossed over the fact that the Gore’s home is more than a residence, since the Vice-President runs so much of his political causes from home. The critics set out to show that Mr. Gore was all talk, but they provided the focus to show that he also walks the walk.

As the week drew to a close, however, the attention switched to the high fliers among the declared candidates. First, Ann Coulter’s staggeringly unfunny, hateful and self-destructive “faggot” remark served as a reminder that John Edwards in still in the race – and maybe as an indication that Republicans are a bit fearful of Edwards as the Democratic nominee. As for the great oxygen sucker-uppers, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, they headed into the Southland to make their appeal for (stake their claim to?) the African-American vote, with their separate appearances as the commemorations of the March on Selma. The media fell all over themselves covering this titanic struggle.

For those of us who are political-junkies, it probably seemed as if everyone was as fascinated by and engrossed in the race as we are. Those in the game will feel as if Clinton, Obama and Edwards have all the focus, and the only serious chances of winning the nomination. Over the next four months, the “Draft Gore” talk will subside, and gradually (perhaps even quickly) recede into the background.

Since the rush to announce candidacies began in earnest in December, there has been regular discussion about Gore, and his shadow has loomed large over the race. His supporters, myself included, have regularly expressed their desire to see him join the race – and we have joined in efforts to persuade him to join the fray, with petitions, diaries and letters to the editor. That will change in the coming months, greatly slowing down, though not completely going away. There will be big blips on the 'Draft Gore' campaign's EKG monitor, in a couple of months, when the former Vice-President goes on tour to support his forthcoming book, "The Assault on Reason." There will be another round of speculation about Gore’s intentions at that time.

Indeed, back in December, the Washington Post published an article suggesting that the timing of the book release is no coincidence, and that Gore’s intentions may be made clearer, come May. As the article stated, while “he has no plans to run for president in 2008, former vice president Al Gore has nonetheless left the door ever so slightly ajar. It's a good bet that door will swing open a good bit wider come next May.”

I suspect the Post is wrong -- the issue will not be clearly settled then. Mr. Gore will find that his current formulation of having ‘no plans to run for office at this time’ is working for him. He will continue to deny that he has any plans to run, but he will also not rule out the possibility.

There are surely a number of reasons why Mr. Gore continues this dance, and it is tempting to speculate on each possibility. First, he may actually be sincere that he has no plan in mind to run, and equally sincere in saying he has not completely ruled it out. If so, he is studying the race and the world situation to see if circumstances will favor or call for his entry into the foray.

Second, Al Gore is astute enough to realize that he gets far more attention so long as he holds out the possibility of jumping into the race. The prospect makes him a far more attractive guest speaker, and will bolster his book tour tremendously. “Speculation about presidential ambitions and book tours have long enjoyed symbiotic relationships. In 1995, Colin L. Powell released his memoirs, "My American Story," in the midst of fevered expectations about his own presidential intentions. He ended up not running, but he did produce a runaway best-seller.”

For someone more interested in promoting his ideas, and his overarching political crusade, than in the income from book sales, the public spotlight is even that much more crucial. The spotlight that shines on Gore while he may yet jump in as the potential front-runner, will allow the Vice-President to be heard on his issues. During his May-June book tour, Gore will speak repeatedly about the importance of evidence-based policies, and “fact-based analysis.” He will offer criticism of the conservative political culture and its “unwillingness to let facts drive decisions.”

This is a message that deserves to be heard, and Al Gore may be uniquely suited to deliver this message. During the two decades he has been warning about the coming peril of global warming, he has been attacked politically and personally, ridiculed as “Ozone Man.” A cottage industry rose up to delay and obfuscate, to challenge both the science and the conclusions of those climatologists who were presenting the theory and the accumulating evidence that mankind was driving a process of climate change.

According to the climatologists, the incipient climate change held the prospect of massive forced migrations and the possibility of climate/weather-related catastrophes killing millions. Gore, and his comrades-in-arms, warned of massive species extinctions, floods and famines, droughts and rising sea levels that would drastically remake the maps, as the oceans reclaimed large swaths of land.

Throughout the debate, Al Gore has been a focus of the criticism of the politics and science of global warming. Even when he ran for President, he was careful not to overplay the issue, focusing on social security and other domestic issues. Suddenly though, almost everyone is willing to accept that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that mankind is driving the process with the generation of “greenhouse gases.”

So much time has been lost, while industry bankrolled a handful of scientists and conservative politicians to question the reality or severity of the threat posed by man-made climate change. The lost time may prove disastrous, even as few politicians to this day, seem truly willing to insist on new energy policies that might actually reduce emissions. Al Gore would be able to talk about the importance of having policies that are in line with the facts – with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. Because he IS Al Gore – because he was “Ozone Man,” people will take his admonitions to heart.

His message, however important it may be, will be only as effective as its reach. So long as people speculate about a possible Gore candidacy, there will be many more people paying attention to the former Vice-President, than would be true otherwise. Therefore, it is unlikely Gore will be quick to shut the door on the prospect. That would work against his intention to bring as much attention as possible to his appearances, and to his political causes.

That will be true for his critique of “The Attack on Reason,” and it will be even more so for his crusade on global warming, which he calls his great mission in life. His effort in organizing a worldwide concert in July to raise awareness about climate change will get that much more attention, as long as Gore holds out the possibility of running for President.

He may also believe that he would take away from this far more important, issue-focused campaign if he embarked on a personal Presidential campaign. I certainly understand this fear. If he remains outside the campaign, he remains above politics, and he can keep his personal focus on global warming, while the candidates quibble over past Iraq policy and nuances in proposals to end the U.S. role in the conflict.

For example, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Winning the prize would be a tremendously satisfying public acknowledgement of his work, but there could scarcely be any single event that would do more to raise worldwide consciousness of the threat and the need to take action. “Think globally. Act locally.” How much more resonance would that slogan have if the Nobel Prize Committee bestowed the world’s greatest honor upon Mr. Gore for his efforts to win over the public in the political fight over climate change science?

He may even be planning to use the Prize, should he be awarded it, in a whirlwind world tour to make real changes in energy policies. It would be a shame if the Nobel Committee shied away from giving Gore the prize so as to avoid the unseemly appearance of meddling in American electoral politics. It would also be a bit awkward for a Presidential candidate to receive such an international recognition. If he is engaged in an election campaign, just how much use will that award be in terms of a broader campaign to change energy policies both here and abroad?

All of these considerations ought to suggest that, while Gore may find it useful not to squelch speculation about latent Presidential ambitions, he will ultimately stay involved in his global warming campaign, to the exclusion of running for President. At the risk of showing great hubris, however, I wish to argue that these considerations ought to suggest to the former Vice-President that the time has come again for him to run for President. In addition, I believe there is a compelling case to be made that Al Gore would bring to the table qualities and assets that no other candidate possesses, and that he should feel an even greater obligation and mission to gain the White House.

His book tour, his concert in July, even a possible Nobel Prize announcement (and tour) – these are just blips on the screen. There is a much bigger picture, and a much bigger prize to be had. Gore can still achieve a great deal as a private citizen in terms of raising consciousness about the threat of climate change, but that isn't enough. The United States is responsible for fully 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. There is no way to combat global warming, without significantly changing the nature and scope of energy consumption in this country. No one can achieve greater impact in effecting needed policy changes than the President of the United States.

Moreover, I believe that no one – not any of the current or future candidates for President – would be able to effect the rapid changes that are needed – or rather, no one, other than Al Gore. The other candidates might put out strong environmental position papers, but they will lack Gore's passion for the issue. More importantly, if elected, others would also lack Gore’s potential mandate to act.

Whatever other Democrat that might get elected will face some tough obstacles on putting in real carbon-emission limits, and will find it impossible to fight the corn-ethanol lobby. If Al Gore were elected, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the American people did not know what they were voting for, in terms of real change on energy/emissions policy. He would have a mandate to act on emissions and energy policy – a mandate that no one else could claim.

I believe also that Al Gore may be uniquely positioned to lead the United States at this time, to reestablish our respect, our standing and our moral authority in the world. Already, he is universally respected -- perhaps in ways that ex-Presidents Carter and Clinton haven't even been able to achieve, since he is crusading on what may prove to be the paramount issue of our time, and has endured a great deal personal criticism for a crusade that wasn’t always universally appreciated.

Try to imagine the impact it would have upon our nation’s global image, if we were to elect Al Gore President, after he had received a Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of dedication to a truly global threat! He would bring new respect for the United States. I'm not sure the other candidates could match this.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she will be warmly received by a world that remembers the Clinton years fondly, and respects what Bill is doing these days. If Obama is elected, that may be well-received on the African continent, and throughout the Third World. Richardson is respected for his UN Ambassador days, and his diplomatic missions in Korea and Sudan. Edwards would have some international regard for his efforts to bring attention to Sudan, and Uganda crises. On the Republican side, Guiliani might remind the world that America was once the victim, and did not go into the terror war willingly.

Yet, none of these candidates have the international stature that Gore already possesses, and none could match the appeal of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Internationally, Gore is so admired that Cuba recently aired "An Inconvenient Truth" on the national, government run TV, and Raul Castro praised Gore. I would say that, on a subconscious level, here and abroad, Al Gore represents a vision of an America that might have been, but for the enormous foul-up in Florida in 2000. If Al Gore is elected President, it would an act of tremendous symbolic significance, and would be recognized as such everywhere.

On the issues, Gore has repeatedly shown exceptionally good sense and judgment. He was right on Iraq – to my way of thinking, right both times. Most Democrats opposed the first Gulf War, a view I found deeply misguided. Gore voted for it, but he also “felt betrayed” when we left Saddam in control, massacring Shiites and Kurds alike as a “betrayal.” I believe that misjudgment set the stage for a far worse calamity when the U.S. did depose Saddam in 2003.

Gore was most tragically correct about how the planned ’03 invasion of Iraq would be a grievous mistake, and about how the preparations for it were compromising our efforts on the real front in the war on terror. His speech to the Commnwealth Club, in opposition to the war, may go down as one of the most prophetic in history. Most of all, though, when no one else stood with him, Gore struggled to force the Senate to recognize the coming climate crisis. No one seriously doubts now that he was right then.

As I noted above, Gore may win the Nobel Peace Prize this fall -- which would be the crowning achievement in his global warming effort. He will be able to trade off that recognition to promote his cause for months, even a couple of years. After that, it's all downhill for him personally, in terms of what he can do on the issue of the growing climate crisis.

If he were President, Al Gore could do a lot more than just hustling to get some face time with Oprah. As President, Gore would have a bully pulpit even bigger than the Oprah show could provide, though I'm sure he could still get on Oprah, if he were President). Most importantly, as President, Gore would be in a position to direct policy – to propose and be taken seriously by the Congress, and other world leaders…in a way that no private citizen could be.

With respect to questions about running, I believe Gore is deliberately being a teeny bit coy, because he knows that brings more attention to him. More attention to him means more attention to his cause(s). The film was the crux of his new campaign -- not for President, but for a new carbon-correct ethic. I think he can do both -- that a run for President is the biggest step he can take in his campaign to fight global warming. On this point, I'm in august company -- former President Carter says he's carried that same message to Mr. Gore.

Ultimately, I think Gore won't run -- and I think that's an almost criminal abdication of the role he could be playing -- I won't say he has a responsibility or duty to run, because that's not fair to put that on one person. On the other hand, it's a fairly decent description of the way I view his position. Campaigning for President need not detract from his efforts on global warming. If he wins the office, it would be just the start of a far more significant effort to take on the climate crisis. It will be months until we have the final word on a possible Presidential candidacy. Though I believe it likely that I shall be disappointed on this account, I will continue to hope he does jump in those waters, feet-first.


Linds said...

Excellent analysis of the situation. However, I hope you're wrong about Gore never running again. The man is a freaking rock star and electing him could prove to be the Quantum Leap style-antidote to the 2000 debacle.

Well, at least a girl can dream!

Fisch said...

Obviously I agree with you on Gore being the antidote to the affliction we have suffered since 2000. Keep talking about it. That's the only way to convince Gore it is worth the chance and effort to run.