When Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean's presidential bid on Tuesday, it was the most excitement Gore has generated since... since... well, the last time - whenever that was. Well, that's a bit unfair. For a sizable group of Democrats, Al Gore gets the blood pumping. For the rest of us, he's the human incarnation of footnotes: dry data compressed into an amazingly dull format.
"The Simpsons" said it best when Bart's friend Martin bought a talking Al Gore doll. When you pull the string on the doll's back it says, "You are hearing me talk."
No one knows what string Howard Dean pulled to get Al Gore to endorse him, but there's no denying the excitement it's caused. Washington is atwitter with Kremlinology about the inner workings of that riot of ambitions we call the Democratic Party.
Is Al Gore vying for secretary of state in a Dean administration? Is he positioning himself as the leftwing alternative to Hillary Clinton in a 2008 run? Does he think Dean will lose and that he will inherit Dean's activist supporters? Is this a way to once again make it clear that Bill Clinton is off Al Gore's Christmas card list?
After all, Hillary has come out as a centrist hawk on the war on terrorism and on Iraq, while Al Gore has continued to drift further and further out to sea in his angry denunciations of everything George Bush says or does, even when Bush takes positions the old, moderately hawkish, Al Gore championed, like nation-building.
The problem with all this speculation is that nobody knows the answer. Too often, professional commentators and private citizens believe they can conclude motives from actions, that they can connect the dots of what is known and figure out what is unknown.
Sometimes that's possible. More often it leads to goofy conspiracy theories or absurdly elaborate plots when the true story is pretty simple or even pretty elaborate but just different from the way things seem in public.
Whenever I hear C-Span callers or, say, Barbra Streisand opine that the Iraq war was fought for the benefit of Haliburton, my immediate reaction is that these people need to understand that life isn't a cartoon.
So, I confess, I don't know why Gore is doing what he's doing. And, from what I've read, no one else does either (besides, there's plenty of time to write about the 2008 campaign or President-elect Dean's - shudder Cabinet). So while Gore's motives may still be concealed behind the lead-casing of his android skull, the meaning of what he's doing is fair game for everyone.