In 1995 and 1996, I didn’t know anybody who really thought Bob Dole would beat Bill Clinton. I also didn’t know anybody who thought Dole wouldn’t get the Republican nomination. Bob Dole was just too Bob Doley. It’s hard to remember now, but before Lamar Alexander became “that guy in the plaid shirt” or “Lamar!” he was the GOP’s best hope in 1996. It was too cute by half, but he was right when he told primary voters “Remember your ABCs, ‘Alexander Beats Clinton.’”
Of course, there were lots of folks who despised Alexander in favor of Forbes or Buchanan or whoever else was in that bizarre contest. But the point remains, there was rarely that kind of passion about Dole — pro or con. He was just Dole and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him from getting the nomination. It was his turn.
I’ve come around to believing that something similar holds true for Al Gore. A new poll has him way out in front for 2004, receiving half the vote in a hypothetical primary while his opponents can’t break double digits. This will be the state of things all the way up to the premiere of Bush v. Gore II: The Chads Strike Back. Gore’s name ID, his national fundraising network, the widespread shoulda-coulda-wouldas of the embittered core of the Democratic party — as well as what I call the “loose-tooth” factor — all combine to give Gore all but a lock on the Democratic nomination. The loose-tooth factor, by the way, relates to the fact that it is human nature to indulge in one’s own pain. Even though it hurts, we all play with our loose teeth. Even though Al Gore is a giant toothache of a human being, the Democratic party cannot stop fiddling with him.
Professional Democrats make no secret of the fact that they want Gore to go away. Every time there’s a story about Gore’s maneuvering for 2004, some anonymous Democrat clicks his heels three times and says something to the effect of, “There’s no place like a Gore-less Democratic party. There’s no place like a Gore-less Democratic party. There’s no place like a Gore-less Democratic party…” But when they open their eyes, there’s the big sweaty robot standing there swinging his arms around and yelling, “Warning Little Americans! Warning! Big Oil is out to get you!” or something along those lines.
Even better proof that those in the position to know best don’t want Gore to run is the fact that none of Gore’s major 2000 campaign aides want to work for him anymore. Virtually none of his heavy-hitters from the previous season want to play on his team in 2004.
This fact underscores the disingenuousness of Gore’s latest reinvention (see my syndicated column on same). In Memphis last month, Gore confessed that his biggest failure lay in permitting himself to rely on his consultants too much. In other words: My only mistake was letting my handlers miscommunicate how great I am. Once again, Gore was blaming other people for his own failings and acting as if he was being courageous in doing so. But what elevates this from typical political egotism to first-rate shabbiness is that Gore had initially tried to get his consultants back. He only blamed them for his loss when it was clear they wouldn’t sign up. Cheap courage, on the cheap.
Still, none of this changes the fact that Gore is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination. To a conservative who tends to support Republicans, this is a good-news/bad-news situation. The good news is that Gore is going to run again. The bad news is that Gore is going to run again.
Somehow, after spending a full year shouting at the top of his lungs that Republicans are venal tools of the oil industry while he — the quintessential senator’s son with a mountain of Occidental Petroleum stock in his back pocket — is a close personal friend of “the people” and public enemy number one to “the powerful,” Al Gore has concluded that he should have “let her rip” the last time around. The man who, at his most relaxed, likes to draw cocktail-napkin charts of giant parallel computing systems thinks he was too “handled” last time around.
All of which means we’re going to be treated to an even worse rendition of Al Gore’s best impersonation of what he thinks Americans want an “authentic” Al Gore to look like.
What the “real Al Gore” will look like this time around is anyone’s guess, since there have been more real Al Gores than there have been pretenders to the Russian throne. Gore used to fine-tune his self-impersonations with the aid of the pollsters and consultants he now claims to have shunned. So, the next real Al Gore may once again pose for Rolling Stone with a “commando” look to his groinal region. Or he might decide that French-kissing his wife on TV was such a good idea he’s going to take it one step further this time and start sucking the faces off of primary voters. This, of course, will result in him taking a lot of buckshot in the Iowa caucuses.
But whatever the next real Al Gore(s) look(s) like (you heard it here first: In ‘08 Gore will run as a black woman), he’ll still be eerily similar to the “man” who was born barely nine months after aliens reportedly crashed in Roswell, N.M. And that means he will still be weird, annoying, disingenuous, smug, condescending, and exasperating to Republican carbon-based life forms everywhere.
The good news, of course, is that Gore will lose. But there’s plenty of time to go into that another day.