Like a completely refurbished “pre-owned vehicle,” Al Gore seems to be positioning himself to Hillary Clinton’s left and as greener than John Kerry for a run at the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. His slogan might well read “reelect Al Gore.”
The former vice president’s slashing attacks on the administration and his stalwart, if misguided, opposition to the Iraq war leave him without the complications and complexes that will devil Clinton as she seeks to appeal to the unforgiving left of the Democratic Party.
And Gore may be a man whose time has come in his party. It was he who warned of climate change and predicted its consequences. Hurricane Katrina was just a fulfillment of the prophesies Gore wrote about in his late-1980s book Earth in the Balance. He has been an energy-conservation nut for years, and his obsessions with alternatives to oil will play better and better as we come to realize how our addiction to oil has led us to dependency on the dealers of this particular drug — Iran, the Saudi royal family and Hugo Chavez.
The Democratic base’s anger at Gore’s defeat in 2000 was assuaged by the worse Kerry defeat of 2004. The idea that he was an incompetent candidate has been replaced in Democratic iconography by the idea that he was cheated out of the presidency. The hiatus has healed his reputation with the base in much the same way that the negative rap on Nixon for losing in 1960 was ameliorated by the Goldwater wipeout of 1964.
History indicates that candidates who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College have all come back to win revenge in subsequent elections. Andrew Jackson, cheated in 1824, won in 1828. Grover Cleveland, cheated in 1888, triumphed in 1892. Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote in 1876, never ran again, but he dealt away the White House in a deal for the withdrawal for federal troops from the South, allowing the Ku Klux Klan to take over. (By the way, for a great history of how this era kindled the racism we have lived with since, read Eric Foner’s new book, Forever Free.)
For those who ponder the disloyalty of Gore’s taking on the wife of the man who plucked him from the ashes of his 1988 defeat to make him vice president, please recall Harry Truman’s line that if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.
Could Al beat Hillary? If Mrs. Clinton persists in her support of the Iraq war, he could. But never count on Hillary losing an election over a principle. It’s a bad bet. If she moves to the left on the war, as she already shows signs of doing, she would preempt Gore and Kerry and use her tremendous lead in fundraising and ex-officio delegates to cruise to the nomination.
Al also has a history of shooting himself as he nears the finish line. In both 1988 and 2000, he repeated the fundamental mistake of not talking about his signature issue: the environment. By backing off global warming and climate change as core issues, he seemed like just another Democrat scaring people about Social Security.
He also lost in 2000 because he vested control over the media in his campaign in his daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff. Supposedly endowed with what the family called “perfect pitch,” she had, instead, a tin ear. According to media consultants who I respect highly, she killed ads that would have worked and insisted on running stuff that accomplished nothing.
Having lost the 1988 election by, according to himself, relying on consultants, Gore blew the 2000 election by listening to his daughter. The next time, hopefully, he’ll listen to himself. His own instincts aren’t half-bad.
But Gore has three things going for him: A perception that he was robbed of the White House and Hillary’s possible stubbornness in continuing to back the war.
The third thing? The weather. As the evidence of global climate change impresses everyone who doesn’t work at the White House, Gore looks more and more like a man whose time may have come.