For Progressives, Gore's the One in 2008
In recent days, the word used more and more frequently to describe Hillary Clinton's march to the Democratic presidential nomination has been "inevitable." She consistently leads public opinion polls across the country by a good 10 points over her nearest rival. Hollywood, after a brief infatuation with Barack Obama, is now, according to the Los Angeles Times, consolidating its support behind the junior senator from New York. Rupert Murdoch employee Peter Chernin extracted a cool $850,000 from wealthy Angelenos for the former first lady at a recent event in his home. A few days later, she was endorsed by the King of Hollywood himself -- Steven Spielberg.
I wonder if Mr. Spielberg will change his mind when Al Gore declares his candidacy this fall.
I have never met Mr. Gore. I make no claim to any inside knowledge on this question. I have no idea whether he's gaining or losing weight.
But I think he's coming.
I think he's going to find it impossible to resist.
And I think progressives should get busy, right now, working to hasten the day.
Many Prefer Gore Over the Entire Democratic Field
I have been working on Democratic political campaigns, international policy analysis, and anti-nuclear advocacy for a couple of decades now -- usually finding myself on the left side of the room. So, although I was somehow left off the invitation list for the event at Mr. Chernin's, I have met a great many rank-and-file Democratic voters over the years. And -- like other political junkies -- I have been talking with them a lot recently about the 2008 presidential contest.
The majority of my Democratic friends have devoted most of their attentions to the three avowed front-runners -- Clinton, Obama, and John Edwards. Yet during the last six months or so, whenever I've asked them whom they would choose if they were choosing between four candidates -- Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Al Gore -- probably 90 percent have told me, in a heartbeat, that they'd go for Gore.
So I've been thinking a bit about why that might be the case.
Gore v. Obama
When Democrats compare Al Gore to Barack Obama, they see someone with the same compelling charisma (at least now, if not in 2000), the same grass roots attraction, the same heart-over-head allure. Yet, it is beyond obvious to point out that Gore has almost infinitely superior experience in the national and international arenas. Obama, despite his manifest intelligence and palpable political gifts, still today has served less than two and a half years in the U.S. Senate, with stints as a state senator and a law professor before that. Al Gore -- who is only 13 years older than Obama -- has under his belt eight years in the House, eight years in the Senate, and eight years as vice president. Not to mention six and a half years since then as an amazingly effective environmental activist, worldwide, during which time "the Goracle" has become a cultural icon larger than mere politics.
Plus, you want to know the first thought that will spring into the minds of 90 percent of Obama supporters, the instant that Gore announces?
Gore v. Edwards
When Democrats compare Al Gore to John Edwards, they see two political leaders who insist on talking about Big Ideas. Edwards, displaying what all progressives should applaud as a profile in political courage, has centered his second presidential campaign on the injustice of intractable inequality -- not only around the block but also around the world. (In a little-noticed remark during the South Carolina debate in April, he called for "making primary school education available to 100 million children worldwide.") And he has crafted arguably the most important single campaign sentence at this critical juncture in our history, when he calls upon Americans "to be patriotic about something other than war."
Gore, of course, has one or two Big Ideas of his own up his sleeve. He has spent the last quarter-century sounding the alarm on global climate change and environmental sustainability -- and has almost single-handedly willed it into mainstream public consciousness. And now, with his new book, The Assault on Reason, already number one on the New York Times best-seller list, he takes on the sustainability of our American democracy itself.
Yet when it comes to political and policy experience, the single term in the U.S. Senate served by Edwards, with no other prior or subsequent political offices held, provides a national and international affairs resume arguably as thin as Obama's.
Only a few still dispute that climate change and other environmental challenges pose the single greatest long-term threat to the viability of the human community. (I like to accompany that by saying that nuclear terror poses the single greatest immediate such threat.) In April 1993, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," from more than 1670 scientists including 104 Nobel laureates. "No more than one or a few decades remain," said the scientists, "before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished."
Now, 14 years later, almost as if on cue, leading atmospheric scientist James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells us that we probably have only two remaining election cycles to elect a president to undertake the kind of comprehensive programs that seriously addressing the climate crisis will demand. After that, it will probably be too late.
Gore v. Clinton
When Democrats compare Al Gore to Hillary Clinton, they see two political titans -- similar experience, similar gravitas, similar authority both to manage the labyrinthine federal government and to credibly represent the United States in the global arena.
But Hillary Clinton has always engendered bitter antipathies, like perhaps no other figure in American political life today. These come not only from the millions of Republicans who say they would "never" vote for her, but from much of the core left Democratic base as well. I've never quite figured out why so many on the right so loathe the Clintons. But many progressives read the June 4, 2007 cover story of The Nation magazine by Ari Berman, entitled "Hillary, Inc.," which detailed the intricate web of the senator's corporate connections. Much of the core left sees her as a centrist, an incrementalist, a triangulator, a hawk who would do little to challenge the unaccountable leviathan that Eisenhower's military/industrial complex has become, a DLC Democrat who favors caution over conviction, calculation over commitment.
And with both the intensity of feelings about the Bush legacy and the rise even just since the last presidential election of the "net roots," that core left today is quite substantial.
In addition, with Senator Clinton, the old chestnut about her ultimate "electability" seems destined to become her decisive variable. In a June 12 Los Angeles Times survey, Senator Clinton comes out 11 points ahead of any competitor to win the Democratic nomination. When matched up against Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani, however, Obama defeats Giuliani 46-41 percent, and Edwards defeats Giuliani 46- 43 percent. But Giuliani defeats Clinton by a whopping 49- 39 percent margin!
Several polls have consistently validated this result. Although a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll two weeks ago had Clinton over Giuliani 48-43 percent, three others by Gallup have had Giuliani over Clinton by an average of 5 points. This, despite some surveys reporting that voters favor a generic Democrat over a generic Republican by more than 20 points.
There is no way this does not become the defining issue for Democratic primary voters in the first three months of 2008.
Senator Clinton's healthy and enduring advantage in the polls clearly indicates that many Democrats do like her. But in their moment of truth in the privacy of the voting booth, primary voters who think highly of her may in the end not pull the lever for her. Why not? Think the opposite of what happened to John Kerry.
Remember how, in the first three months of 2004, millions of voters who did not adore Kerry voted for him anyway, because they said they saw him as the most "electable" Democratic candidate? (Some wags observed that Democratic voters were so intent on ejecting George Bush from the White House that they voted not for the candidate they liked, but for a candidate they believed others would like in November.) Four years later, we may see almost exactly the reverse phenomenon. Millions of voters who like Hillary Clinton may vote for someone else anyway, because they will conclude, regrettably, that she "cannot win" in November.
And there really is only one possible "someone else."
Gore v. the Rest
The other five declared Democratic candidates -- Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson -- offer a wealth of political experience and wisdom. All have advanced imaginative policy proposals that Americans would do well to study -- and the media would do well to illuminate.
Many friends on the hard left retain a deep affection for Kucinich, and his uncompromising, inspiring, and comprehensive vision of progressive peace patriotism. (Not to mention his vision of getting insurance companies and employers out of the health care business altogether, and replacing them with non-profit single-payer national health insurance -- "Medicare for All" -- the only plausible long-term solution to the health obstacle course that confronts not just 50 million uninsured, but virtually all Americans.)
A few of my colleagues in the anti-nuclear arena have even cheered a bit for Gravel, who tried desperately to inform viewers during the April South Carolina debate that all three of the Democratic front-runners, incredibly, have refused to take "off the table" a pre-emptive American first strike, with nuclear weapons, against the nation of Iran.
But it doesn't seem terribly likely that in the end any of these five will stand between the Hillary Clinton juggernaut and the "inevitability" of her nomination.
Gore and the War
Al Gore also distinguishes dramatically from several Democratic candidates on the issue that voters rate as the single most important -- in some polls by 20 percentage points.
In September 2002, the former vice president spoke before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, excoriating the very idea that our country might be about to launch a pre-emptive, illegal, unilateral, unwarranted, and unwise march of folly in Mesopotamia. "The president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat," said the veteran of Viet Nam about the veteran of the Texas Air National Guard in September of 2002. "The administration has not said much of anything to clarify its idea of what would follow regime change, or the degree of engagement that it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place. ... If what America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth of equals, then our friends are legion. If what we represent to the world is an empire, then it is our enemies who will be legion."
Those words were spoken a month before Senator Clinton, in voting on the defining war and peace resolution of our time, spoke the word "aye."
Gore, the Critic of Contemporary American Democracy
I saw Al Gore speak on May 22nd, at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, in the inaugural event of his tour for The Assault on Reason. In a live on-stage conversation with Harry Shearer, the contrast between Gore's sheer intellectual firepower and that of the man who (didn't) beat him in 2000, the man who I recently heard on the radio, with my own ears, say, "the literacy level of our high school students are appalling," was, well, appalling. Gore traced the path from the Middle Ages to our own constitution. He discussed the relevance of Marshall McLuhan to our present predicaments, and the overwhelming dominance today of images over ideas. He lamented that the "well-informed citizenry" envisioned by our framers has degenerated into a "well-amused audience." He issued a plea for all Americans to work to restore to our public square a rational policy debate within a democratic marketplace of ideas.
On a more prosaic and immediate level, he delivered a blistering critique of the Bush Administration's Iraq debacle, its inaction on climate change, its obeisance to the rich and the powerful and the corporate elite, and its casting aside the long-standing American ethos against torture -- first insisted upon, he reminded us, by George Washington. And he made my own anti-nuclear heart beat more quickly when he delivered a one-word verdict on Bush's plans to build a new generation of nuclear weapons while hectoring countries like Iran and North Korea (and likely soon others) to forego nuclear weapons.
Gore 2000 and Gore 2008
Oh, there is one more asset that Al Gore brings to the table. Something unique only to him. In 2000 -- even with Ralph Nader siphoning 2.8 million votes from just over 100 million ballots cast -- the sitting vice president still beat the sitting governor of Texas nationwide by more than half a million votes. In addition, a great deal of evidence indicates that more Floridians tried to vote for Al Gore than for George Bush -- which means, of course, that Gore actually won in the Electoral College as well.
But, at least according to five Supreme Court justices, George Bush won and Al Gore lost.
That means that millions of Americans, even many who might not necessarily adore the former vice president, hold a rough recollection that in 2000, Al Gore had something taken away from him that he rightfully earned. And deserved. And won.
And that is why the "RAG" bumper sticker, in itself, will be worth ten million votes next time around, for this candidate and this candidate alone. First in the primaries, then again in the general election.
What is the "RAG" bumper sticker?
"RE-ELECT AL GORE."
Gore and the Human Future
Three years ago, in an excruciating effort to wrest the presidency back, Democrats nominated a candidate who focused virtually all his attentions on a hypothetical few million undecided "swing voters," rather than on the seventy million eligible Americans who -- waiting in vain to hear some kind of big, inspiring, courageous vision -- did not even bother on Election Day to show up.
Surely, we're not going to let ourselves make the same mistake again.
On the night before he was elected president in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy, speaking on the floor of the Boston Garden, said "I do not run for the office of the Presidency after fourteen years in the Congress with any expectation that it is an empty or easy job. I run for the Presidency of the United States because it is the center of action. ... The kind of society we build, the kind of power we generate, the kind of enthusiasm that we incite, all this will tell whether, in the long run, darkness or light overtakes the world."
Is there any political figure in America today who can better restore our faith in the light than Al Gore? Is there anyone who would better pursue not just American national interests but also common human interests, who would call upon not just our national patriotism but also our planetary patriotism, who might deliver a speech from the floor of the Congress not on the "State of the Union" but on the "State of the Earth?" Is there any better way the forces of peace and justice and hope can evoke the better angels of our nature than to mobilize, now, together, to demand an Al Gore candidacy?
Newshounds may remember Trent Lott's catastrophic faux pas in 2002, when he opined at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that if America had elected the former segregationist as president in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." My prescient colleague Gregory Wright, of the venerable Southern California Americans for Democratic Action (socalada.org), tells me he fears that at Al Gore's 100th birthday party, coincidentally in 2048, in a Tennessee by then considerably closer to the shoreline of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, someone -- perhaps someone not yet today even born -- will remark that if America had elected this man as president in 2000, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."
Of course, no one will need to say that in 2048, if we elect Al Gore president in 2008.