Politics & Policy

Comeback Al?

Reinvention hooey.

Al Gore’s a lucky man. As we speak, his face is being added to Mt. Huffington, that virtual Rushmore of Great Men Destined to Save America. The committee deciding who gets chiseled onto Mt. Huffington has only one member: Arianna Huffington. In years past she has elevated her ex-husband, Michael, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and formerly relevant Warren Beatty as saviors of the republic. Now it’s Gore’s turn.

In a recent write-up of Gore’s visit to the Cannes Film Festival to promote his new film on global warming, which premiered Wednesday in Los Angeles, Huffington hailed the “new Gore” as the “hottest star in town,” beating out Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks. Gore told Huffington that this was his second trip to Cannes. “The first was when I was 15 years old and came here for the summer to study the existentialists–Sartre, Camus. We were not allowed to speak anything but French!” This, gushed Huffington, “may explain his pitch-perfect French accent.” Perhaps. Though according to David Maraniss’s biography of Gore, the former vice president’s 15th summer was spent working on the family farm. Remember those stories about how Al Sr. said, “A boy could never be president if he couldn’t plow with that damned hillside plow”? That was the same summer.

Apparently, Poppa Gore thought a boy who couldn’t both plow a field and parlez French existentialism could never be president either. Then there’s the fact that young Al got C’s in French at his tony Washington high school, St. Alban’s. That’s some school if a kid who can intelligently discuss Sartre’s La Nausée and Camus’s Betwixt and Between in apparently pitch-perfect French still can’t earn a B in French class. Mon dieu!

But let’s be fair. Maybe he misremembered the age at which he studied existential philosophy in France (though I could find no mention of such a trip in a quick search of his biographies). Why not trust him? After all, he’s not running for anything, right?

Wrong. Or at least that’s the hope of a growing number of liberals and journalists who are starting to get pre-buyer’s remorse for Hillary Clinton. In a giant love letter to Gore in New York magazine titled “The Comeback Kid,” an unidentified Democratic strategist likens the perceived inevitability of the Hillary nomination to “some Japanese epic film where everyone sees the disaster coming in the third reel but no one can figure out what to do about it.” The answer seems to involve Gore on a white horse.

Vanity Fair editor Grayden Carter tells Huffington that “Democrats are looking everywhere to find their presidential candidate.” But, he says, “the solution may be right under their noses.”

The reasoning behind the Gore boomlet extends beyond anti-Hillary angst. Gore won more votes than President Bush in 2000, which makes him not only popular but a lovable “victim” too. As one batty contributor to Huffington’s blog puts it, “If Al Gore was the Democratic nominee, there’s no reason to think he would get any fewer votes than he did before.”

But more important, he’s “a new Al Gore”–more relaxed, more passionate, more this, more that. And, of course, his fame as an environmental crusader is his greatest attribute among the liberal cognoscenti. Yet there were hundreds of stories about how Al Gore was a “new Al Gore” in 2000. Indeed, save for the environmental crusader part, it was the same new Gore then that we see before us today. Does no one remember his bold switch to earth-tone shirts, sloppy-smooches with his wife, and passionate harangues about Big Oil and fiscal lock boxes?

In fact, there have been lots of new Al Gores. In 1987, Dick Gephardt groused that “maybe the next debate should be between the old Al Gore and the new Al Gore.” In 1992, the press spotted the new Al yet again. The New York Times noted that “in Campaign ’92, there is a new Al Gore–crisper, animated, more to the point, leavened with a bit of impish humor.” In 2000, the new Al Gore did leave out his apocalyptic environmental messianism. But now the thinking seems to be that strident, green finger-wagging environmentalism would help him in ’08. Good luck.

The truth is that there’s always been just one Al Gore, a man betwixt and between his head and his heart, wanting to be both nerd-philosopher and poet-warrior–and coming up short on both counts.

It’s reminiscent of another existential play, originally written in French, so Gore no doubt knows it well. In Waiting for Godot, Godot never comes–and we are never even sure who Godot is. But we get the sense that the nonexistent Godot is really a Rorschach test of sorts, revealing more about what the audience wants him to be than anything else. So it is with those waiting for Gore.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services

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