Environment

Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize, Will He Run in '08?

Al Gore’s supporters are making a last-ditch bid to convince him to make another run for the presidency. Will he change his mind now that he's won the Nobel Peace Prize?
In a full-page New York Times ad on Oct. 10, a group of grassroots Democrats, called DraftGore.com, published an open letter to Gore pleading with him to enter the race.

"You say you have fallen out of love with politics, and you have every reason to feel that way," the letter read. "But we know you have not fallen out of love with your country. And your country needs you now -- as do your party and the planet you are fighting so hard to save."

Across the country, local draft-Gore groups have sprung up, preparing for signature drives to put Gore on the ballot in Democratic primaries, even as the clock on registration deadlines ticks down.

Some Gore backers hope that Gore might change his mind and enter the race after Oct. 12, the scheduled date for announcing the Nobel Peace Prize, for which he is a nominee because of his work on global warming.

The urgency that these rank-and-file Democrats feel about a Gore candidacy derives, in part, from the inadequacies of the current crop of presidential hopefuls who are seen as lacking the foresight, the experience or the gravitas that Gore offers.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton may have reinvented herself as an Iraq War critic for the Democratic primaries, but she was a staunch supporter of the war from 2002 to 2005, even aligning herself with Sen. John McCain's advocacy for a military escalation.

In a Dec. 8, 2003, article, New York Times columnist William Safire dubbed Sen. Clinton "a congenital hawk" whose mantra on Iraq was "failure is not an option."

It was not until George W. Bush's approval ratings went into freefall in late 2005 -- and Sen. Clinton was eyeing the Democratic presidential nomination -- that she began repositioning herself as a war opponent.

By contrast, Gore was one of the few politicians of national stature who vocally opposed a preemptive war against Iraq amid the war fever of the time. In a speech in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002, he described the dangers of the Bush Doctrine's muscular unilateralism and the harm that could result from charging into Iraq.

Bashing Gore

Gore was excoriated by the Inside-the-Beltway pundit class for his deviant behavior in questioning President Bush's wisdom.

"Gore's speech was one no decent politician could have delivered," wrote Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly. "It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts -- bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible."

"A pudding with no theme but much poison," declared another Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer. "It was a disgrace -- a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence."

While some pundits depicted Gore's motivation as "opportunism," columnist William Bennett mocked Gore for banishing himself "from the mainstream of public opinion." In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Al Gore's Political Suicide," Bennett said Gore had engaged in "an act of self-immolation" by daring to criticize Bush's policy.

"Now we have reason to be grateful once again that Al Gore is not the man in the White House, and never will be," Bennett wrote.

Indeed, while doing the research for our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, I was surprised how often it was Gore who emerged from the political shadows to give a speech that crystallized the challenges facing the country.

Beyond his prescient comments about the Iraq War and his leadership on global warming, Gore offered erudite explanations of how Bush's arrogation of power marked an unprecedented assault on the U.S. Constitution and the delicate system of checks and balances that the Founders devised to protect the liberties of the American people.

Gore emerges as one of Neck Deep's few heroes, the rare political figure who dared to tell the truth and endure the wrath of Washington insiders.

While Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois also can cite his early opposition to the Iraq War, his weakness is his shortage of government experience. So, when Obama makes brave comments, such as the need to avoid nuclear brinkmanship and the wisdom of talking to enemies, his statements are dismissed as "gaffes."

As for former Sen. John Edwards, the other Democratic "big three" candidate, he suffers from a combination of weaknesses. While in the Senate, he voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq (though he has since apologized for that vote); his government service is limited to one term in the Senate; and although a skilled orator, he is easily portrayed as lacking much gravitas.

The other candidates -- despite positive qualities -- have not caught fire with Democratic voters, failing to move out of the single digits in most polls.

Fair play

Gore has one other powerful argument working for him. He is the only living American -- and the first in more than a century -- who won the national popular vote for President but was denied the White House.

Though a Gore candidacy would surely be met with more derision from the Washington pundit class, most Americans have a deep-seated sense of fair play. They believe that if someone plays by the rules and wins, the victory should not be stolen just because the other guy has more money, is more ruthless, or has better-connected friends.

Plus, millions of Americans now perceive Election 2000 as a harmful turning point in the nation's history, a moment when the nation was at a crossroads and lurched off in the wrong direction, before paying a horrible price.

Seven years ago, when Gore won the national popular vote against Bush and apparently also was the choice of a plurality of voters who went to the polls in Florida, the conventional wisdom was quite different: that the outcome of the election wasn't all that important.

Indeed, during the bitter Florida recount battle, the prevailing opinion in Washington was that Gore should step aside and let Bush take the White House. That supposedly would end the unpleasantness that was widely blamed on Gore even as Bush's hardball strategists dispatched well-dressed hooligans to disrupt the Miami recount.

"Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse," wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. "That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."

Cohen's view was widely held in Washington where many commentators openly disdained Gore as a "know-it-all" and favored Bush as a "regular guy" who would put the "adults" from the Reagan-Bush era -- the likes of Colin Powell and Dick Cheney -- back in charge of the federal government.

So, there was a palpable sigh of relief in the power corridors of Washington when five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Florida recount and effectively installed the son of the well-liked George H.W. Bush in the White House.

The thinking was that a few seasoned counselors behind the throne could guide the novice President away from any serious missteps and that the sordidness of the Clinton era would finally be brought to an end.

After eight years of hazing Bill Clinton and then Al Gore, the major U.S. news media suddenly began acting as if its primary duty was to protect the fragile legitimacy of George W. Bush's presidency -- a dynamic that deepened after the 9/11 terror attacks and continued through the first two years of war in Iraq.

Tide turned

It would not be until late summer 2005 -- when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Bush administration bungled the federal emergency response -- that the tide turned and the news media began to hold Bush accountable for the disasters that have been the hallmark of his presidency.

With that sea change came a grudging reassessment of Gore. It was harder to hold him up to easy ridicule since many of his dire prophecies had turned out to be true. Some of his supporters dubbed him the "Goreacle."

But Gore continued to resist the urgent appeals from his backers to enter the presidential race and offer the American voters a chance to correct what many see as the historic injustice of Election 2000.

Now, some of those supporters have resorted to an open letter urging Gore to get off the political sidelines and back into the game.

DraftGore.com's letter reminds Gore that he has often noted that "we are entering a period of consequences with regard to the global climate crisis," adding:

"Only from the Oval Office can you wield the kind of influence needed to move countries, policies and corporations to bring about meaningful change. The period of consequences you talk about is upon us in many other equally critical areas as well. Our Constitution is being trampled and our most cherished civil liberties are in grave danger. The Executive Branch is not accountable to anyone. ...

"Thousands of Americans are dying needlessly in Iraq while our reputation in the world has plummeted to an all-time low. The war on terror is backfiring as our enemies grow stronger and our resources are drained in an endless and unwinnable war. ...

"You were the first American political figure to brave political waters and warn us of the perils of starting a preemptive war in Iraq. You were right. But time to reverse the damage is running out. Given your experience, insight and the respect you enjoy among world leaders, you are uniquely positioned to bring this war to an end and restore America's good name."

The letter concluded: "Mr. Vice President, there are times for politicians and times for heroes. America and the Earth need a hero right now -- someone who will transcend politics as usual and bring real hope to our country and to the world. Please rise to this challenge, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been."

Whether or not Gore heeds this appeal, many Americans will live out their days wondering what better course the nation might have followed if those five Republican justices had simply allowed the Florida recount to proceed, if they had left the decision on national leadership in the hands of the voters.