There are already a few lonely voices out there trying to jump-start a draft Al Gore political movement. Maybe it’s time to help these voices to grow into a choir.
Suggesting a draft campaign for the presidency in the current political environment is, of course, hopelessly naïve. Today’s presidential campaigns are all about stockpiling money; and with the current front-loaded primary process, the fattest early bird is almost guaranteed to get the worm.
No, suggesting a draft campaign is as quaint and starry-eyed as, well, as the very idea that a politician might actually dare to take on Big Oil, the automotive industry and our entire SUV loving, gas-guzzling culture in order to fight against something as esoteric (if terrifying) as global warming.
But I can’t help myself.
I’ve mentioned my support for a Gore candidacy here at the café before. What I didn’t mention back then (in my more respectable pre-blogging days), however, is how much looking at Al Gore today reminds me of the way I feel when my mind drifts back to Tami Sampson.
How to describe Tami? Let’s just say she was a 17-year-old Angelina Jolie, except with a better body and a prettier face. And for one brief moment, almost 35 years ago, I had a shot. I had a real shot. But I blew it. I chickened out; I ignored the hint; I passed on paradise. And even today, happily married with great kids and a good life, I have to confess that sometimes, not often, but sometimes, right before I go to sleep at night her image presents to my mind with all of the grace of a thousand angels dancing on the head of a pin to a Mozart concerto, and I find myself wondering: What if?
Okay, actually that’s all bullshit. There was no Tami Sampson and if there had been I would have had no more chance with her than Dick Cheney has of being named one of People Magazines 50 most beautiful people. But you get my point.
A big part of the power Al Gore brings to presidential politics today is this very same “what if” factor. And it’s a power that no one else, not even Hilary Clinton, can begin to match. It grows every day of the Bush presidency; every lie feeds it; every blunder makes it more indelible.
I know it goes against the conventional wisdom, but I believe that the Democratic nomination is Al Gore’s for the taking: Hilary has bucks, brains and Bill, but Al has the magic, and in this contest magic wins 10 times out of 10.
David Remnick, writing about Gore’s new movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in the April 24 New Yorker, says this:
Last week, Gore dropped by a Broadway screening room to introduce a preview of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Dressed in casual but non-earth-tone clothes, he gave a brief, friendly greeting. If you are inclined to think that the unjustly awarded election of 2000 led to one of the worst Presidencies of this or any other era, it is not easy to look at Al Gore. He is the living reminder of all that might not have happened in the past six years (and of what might still happen in the coming two). Contrary to Ralph Nader’s credo that there was no real difference between the major parties, it is close to inconceivable that the country and the world would not be in far better shape had Gore been allowed to assume the office that a plurality of voters wished him to have. One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult. Imagining that alternative history is hard to bear, which is why Gore always has the courtesy, in his many speeches, and at the start of “An Inconvenient Truth,” to deflect that discomfort with a joke: “Hello, I’m Al Gore and I used to be the next President of the United States.”
Those inclined to be irritated by Gore all over again will not be entirely disappointed by “An Inconvenient Truth.” It can be argued that at times the film becomes “Death of a Salesman,” with Gore as global warming’s Willy Loman, wheeling his bag down one more airport walkway. There are some awkward jokes, a silly cartoon, a few self-regarding sequences, and, now and then, echoes of the cringe-making moments in his old campaign speeches when personal tragedy was put to questionable use. (To illustrate the need to change one’s mind when hard reality intrudes, he recalls helping his father farm tobacco as a youth and then his sister’s death from lung cancer.) But in the context of the larger political moment, the current darkness, Gore can be forgiven his miscues and vanities. It is past time to recognize that, over a long career, his policy judgment and his moral judgment alike have been admirable and acute. Gore has been right about global warming since holding the first congressional hearing on the topic, twenty-six years ago. He was right about the role of the Internet, right about the need to reform welfare and cut the federal deficit, right about confronting Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo. Since September 11th, he has been right about constitutional abuse, right about warrantless domestic spying, and right about the calamity of sanctioned torture. And in the case of Iraq, both before the invasion and after, he was right—courageously right—to distrust as fatally flawed the political and moral good faith, operational competence, and strategic wisdom of the Bush Administration.
Eleanor Clift said of Gore in a recent Newsweek column, “Once you’re bitten by the presidential bug, you stay bitten. The only cure is formaldehyde.”
I’m not so sure. My instincts tell me that he’s for real in not wanting to run again.
But why not start a draft movement anyway? Raise a little money; start the process of trying to put Gore onto some of the early ballots. If nothing else it will give him a graceful way to enter the race if he changes his mind.
Because the last thing we can afford to have coming out of the 2008 election is another bucket full of what ifs.