I know this usually isn’t the venue for a friendly discussion of the former vice president, but reading my new colleague Gary Rosen’s cool-eyed blog post yesterday and David Brooks’s emotional column today, I found myself feeling a strange sort of admiration for Al Gore. Doesn’t it seem as though his 2000 loss, devastating though it must have been for Gore, was a huge liberation? As a politician, Gore never seemed comfortable in his own skin. The warmth and amused intelligence people insist he displays in private were never evident in public.
Instead, for the most part, he seemed calculating and false, going through personae the way Joan Crawford went through her wardrobe — the conservative Democrat, the national-security expert, the suffering solon trying to get the Gulf War right, the shameless utilizer of family tragedy, the killer NAFTA debater, Ozone Man, the Guy Who Kissed His Wife on Television, the fiery populist decrying the powerful, the sighing debater, the extraordinarily gracious conceder.
Since that concession, Gore has let himself loose in all kinds of ways. He no longer has to pretend, as all politicians most. He is clearly happiest and freest as an autodidact preaching populist pseudoscientist. And everything has gone his way. He’s gotten rich off Oracle stock. He’s started a cable-television network. He’s written a bestselling jeremiad. He has starred in a hagiographic documentary. He promoted a worldwide rock concert. He offers unrestrained Hyde Park rants about those he disagrees with using rhetoric (brown shirts, etc.) he could never have deployed as president.
Whatever else you can say about Gore, he has clearly been having the time of his life. I once said, after he first came out swinging against the Evil Right, that he had gone crazy. That was clearly wrong, because I imagined that the Gore of the NAFTA debate and the concession was the real Gore. The ranting and raging Gore, the Old Testament rock star, is clearly the real Gore — and letting that man loose has saved Gore from a representative political life that was tying him up in knots.