Monday, May 22, 2006

Al Gore in '08

The Democratic longing for Gore to run is all over the internet, spurned on by his movie, An Inconvenient Truth. (Trailer.)

But isn't Al Gore the same boring, supercilious policy wonk who coudn't ride to (statistically significant) victory after being part of an administration that presided over eight years of peace and prosperity? What makes people think he stands a better chance now, especially since the Republican nominee will likely be a stronger candidate than Bush was in 2000?

The obvious reason is that nobody save Hillary thinks she can win the presidency and Democrats are grasping for anyone who can beat her in the primaries. The next obvious reason is that Gore has transformed himself from a robotic, poll-driven, insubstantial candidate to a passionate, inspiring, and human figure. There is truth to both of these reasons, but I don't think they quite capture Gore's newfound appeal.

Sebastian Mallaby, in today's Washington Post, raises a more plausible explanation: that after six years of the Bush administration's "contempt for expert opinion on everything from Iraqi reconstruction to the cost of their tax cuts," "President Bush and the congressional Republicans have created a Ross Perot moment: a hunger for a leader with diagrams and charts, for a nerd who lays out basic facts ignored by blinkered government."

Although his image has improved by being unshackled from the whims of pollsters and image consultants, Al Gore remains at heart a wonk, a "nerd." But in 2008, that might turn out to be an advantage.

In 2000, many swing voters went to Bush because of, essentially, his personality. Bill Clinton was still extremely popular and swing voters weren't unfavorable towards the Democrats on most of the issues. It was personal likeability which swung the election. The media made a big deal out of the fact that people "would rather have a beer" with Bush than with Gore, and Gore undoubtedly lost votes in the debate when he sighed derisively and seemed like the pompous nerd in class that everybody hates.

In 2006, the global warming issue, which happens to be Gore's passion, is also the perfect symbol of the difference he offers from the Bush administration. "That the earth is warming, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising at an accelerating pace -- and that these changes are driven at least partly by fossil-fuel consumption" is a fact accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists -- and by a majority of Americans -- yet Bush and the Republicans have trouble admitting it.

Candidate Bush acknowledged that climate change was a problem; once elected he denied it; then he denied the denial but refused to let his administration do anything about climate. Lately he has talked about ridding the nation of its oil addiction, but that's because oil finances Arab extremism. Bush has been silent on the link between oil and global warming.

Meanwhile, [other Republicans] have been vocal. James Inhofe, the Republican who ironically chairs the Senate environment committee, has described global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He avoids scientists who might put him right: His star witness at a hearing last year was Michael Crichton, a science-fiction novelist.

On its own, global warming is still not an issue enough Americans care about to turn an election. Yet as a symbol of all that is wrong with the Bush administration and other Republicans, it's powerful.

[A]fter years of governmental bungling, of willful indifference to truth, the national mood seems to be changing. Voters have seen that nice guys can screw up. And technocrats with diagrams and charts have never seemed so interesting.

In 2008, the voters may just care more about a candidate's willingness to hear and speak the truth than about who they'd rather drink with.

Here's hoping.


Blogger Ezzie said...

Interesting, but you picked a strange day to post this: Gore announced yesterday he would not be running.

More intriguing, though not surprising, is the desire by the left for an alternative to Hilary. She would get crushed in a general election.

5/22/2006 12:52 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Gore announced yesterday he would not be running.

Where did you see that? I can't find it anywhere. Are you sure he didn't say something like, "I'm not planning to run," which is what they all say before they run?

5/22/2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'nobody save Hillary thinks she can win the presidency'

'She would get crushed in a general election.'

By whom? Probably only by McCain among all the Republicans running. Rudy Giuliani won't get nominated, and Clinton might beat him anyway. Bill Frist has been a very ineffective majority leader and will be haunted by his video diagnosis of Terri Schiavo. Mitt Romney won't even carry his home state. George Allen would, but he makes Bush look like an intellectual heavyweight and his past expression of support for the Old Confederacy will make him an easy kill. Sam Brownbeck will scare people because of his militant Christianity. And does anyone really think George Pataki is a serious candidate?

5/22/2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

FoxNews, yesterday. I'll try to find it...

5/22/2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...


Maybe you're talking about this, in which Roger Friedman says Gore told him he's not running. Could be.

Still, I find it hard to believe that if he starts polling really well (the media will no doubt include him in polls) he'd stick with "No."

5/22/2006 1:47 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Yes, that's it. Thanks. You're right, and the same is probably true for Condi. However, I doubt Gore would run. Another loss could simply be too embarrassing.

5/22/2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger David Fryman said...

Does anybody else notice the similarities between Gore and Nixon? Nixon was a two-term VP for a popular president, lost a close election to an inexperienced candidate, left the public arena for 8 years during which a disastrous war destroyed Johnson's presidency, and then remade himself to win in '68.

I'm not sure what to make of it but it certainly sounds familiar.

5/22/2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger Ezer K'negdo said...

Wow. Interesting comparison David. Let's hope not all of history repeats itself! Running and winning, fine, but yet another white house scandal? OY!

5/22/2006 6:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I always thought Gore could have (and did - but we won't beat that horse again) won in 2000. My biggest criticism of him is that he never once made the environment his big issue during the campaign. He shied away from it and turned into - as you called him - a robot. I don't know who we can put up in 2008, it all depends on who the GOP runs. But Hillary? No way. Talk about pandering to the center/right...

5/23/2006 6:47 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...


He's going to run. < -- gut feeling.

He's going to win. < -- gut feeling.

He'll be COMPETENT. < -- seems likely.

5/24/2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger grumpygirl said...

bush is such an asshole.

the other day some reporter asked him if he was going to see al gore's film and he made some snarky comment.

gee, if i were the president i'd attempt to be gracious about someone who was once the VP and once ran against him in the election.

but, no. no manners. cheney has no manners, neither does his angry daughter. these people could use a copy of emily post. unless she's a democrat, then they wouldn't read it.

5/26/2006 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dont forget he also actually had more people in this country vote for him than the wya what dioes he mean by "stasticially significant" ride to victory then?

5/31/2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger David Kirschner said...

Why dismiss Hillary so quickly. I find her to be a formidable candidate. Although I would not support her, she has an excellent shot, both at the nomination and in the general election. I agree with Charlie that there doesn't appear to be any strong Republican other than Guiliani and McCain (although I'm not yet as convinced as Charlie that George Allen wouldn't do well). The hard right will never accept Guiliani, he certainly will not modify his socially liberal positions and despite his being at the helm of NYC during 911, he is a dogmatic person and governed accordingly. I don't think people want another president like that. As for McCain, he has been pandering to the center/left and every once in a while to the right. Sure, that is the same problem that Hillary has, but she has a far stronger political presence and political machine than McCain does. And Gore, I agree with everyone's assessment, but he still has one significant drawback. He has yet to morph himself into a statesman. He needs to temper his criticism of the Bush administration instead of the shrillness that he has been engaging in. It charges up the base, but won't help him with the swing voters. I haven't seen the film yet, but for his benefit, I hope that he doesn't come across as either holier than thou or as a fear-monger. In any scenario, absent some dark horse Democrat or Republican, I think it's Hillary as the next president. And frankly, it would be kinda neat because then the succession of presidents since '88 would be Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton! Very symmetrical.

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