The problem with Al Gore

Dateline: 27 June 2007

Each of the two parties has a ‘big three’ of Presidential candidates; one outsider challenging; and a wild card who may enter the race. For the Republicans the wild card is Newt Gingrich, whom Common Sense discussed last year. For the Democrats it is former Vice-President, Al Gore.

Gore, if selected, would be the first major party candidate since Richard Nixon to get a second chance at the presidency. They have other things in common. They were rather wooden senators selected as running mates by charismatic candidates. Both served two terms as Vice-President and lost narrow – and controversial –elections to the presidency. Both may have won the popular vote while losing in the Electoral College.

Nixon made a dignified concession, tried to relaunch his career by running for Governor of California, and ran again for the White House after eight years of exile. He narrowly won and was then re-elected in a landslide.

Gore publicly challenged his defeat and then sulked. He took his career in new directions in the media. In 2000, many Democrats publicly blamed him for throwing away an easy election. All he needed to do was run as Bill Clinton with a blameless personal life and he would have won. Instead he tried to reinvent himself, yet again, as a populist, championing the people against the powerful. Carefully forgetting that he had an extra-ordinarily privileged childhood as the son of a Senator.

He persistently made statements that were plainly at odds with reality. He claimed that his mother used to sing him “look for the union label” as a lullaby. He claimed to have been under enemy fire in Vietnam. The latter was verifiably untrue, and the song he claimed as his lullaby was written after he returned from the army. Was his mother really still singing him lullabies when he was running for Congress?

And yet, the romanticism of the lost leader lives on. His media career has been reasonably successful. He has stayed in the public eye. He did not have to cast a vote in the Senate on the Iraq War, and has thus been able to claim a degree of consistency on the subject. Like so much else in his career, it is illusion, but seems to have been accepted by the Democratic grassroots.

Will he run? Maybe. But expect some very heavy fire against him if he does. He is on record in 2002 as casting himself as an Iraq hawk. He claimed to have wanted to depose Saddam in 1991 – though his speech in the Senate at the time said the reverse. He said he opposed an invasion in 2003 because he thought Bush would be unwilling to sustain the necessary occupation. Well, he was wrong about that, and it is the occupation, not the rapid defeat of Saddam, that has proved controversial.

Expect sources close to Hillary Clinton to make sure primary voters are very well aware of this. Expect those same sources to blame Republicans for the ‘dirty campaigning’ – a rather unlikely scenario, as Al Gore’s woodeness and self-destructive dishonesty make him a welcome opponent.

Gore may run, but he will remind voters of why they didn’t like him much last time. And if he doesn’t, Hillary will.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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