Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Al Gore and the redemption scenario

Hey, remember Al Gore? Big guy maligned for his charisma-challenged demeanor who neverthless won 600,000 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000? Grew a beard and seemingly disappeared after the U.S. Supreme Court installed his opponent in the big chair? Flirted with the idea of an '04 Nixonesque comeback bid, and even yukked it up on Saturday Night Live, before opting for the life of a new-age entrepeneur?
Yeah, that Al Gore. Amazingly, however, there seems to be a bit of a boomlet about Gore these days. Who knows if it'll go anywhere, but there are serious folks in the political community who think that the newly unfettered Gore - with new lefty pedigree as's favorite Bush antagonist - now has the best shot at becoming the left-leaning alternative to Hillary Clinton in the '08 Democratic primaries.
Far-fetched? In the end, maybe. But we're currently in the season when everybody goes around kicking the tires of every vehicle in the lot, and suddenly, in some circles, the souped-up Gore model doesn't look so bad. He's universally known, he has a staunchly consistent anti-Iraq war stance, and he can raise big money quickly (as much as $50 million, some claim) from grassroots liberals via the Internet.
Buzz abounds. Donna Brazille, the Democratic consultant, when asked by the NY Times magazine to name somebody who could best challenge Hillary, replied, "This sounds absolutely strange coming from me, because I never in life thought I would utter these words again, but Al Gore." Unnamed "Democratic insiders" and "party operatives" told columnist Bob Novak over the weekend that Gore could be a big threat to Hillary. Ex-Clinton pollster Dick Morris says that "Gore has three things going for him: A perception that he was robbed of the White House and Hillary’s possible stubbornness in continuing to back the war. The third thing? The weather. As the evidence of global climate change impresses everyone who doesn’t work at the White House, Gore looks more and more like a man whose time may have come."
The most thorough contribution to the Gore boomlet appears here, in a respected liberal magazine; the writer/blogger, Ezra Klein, suspects that the liberal wing and the online community might begin "calling for a Bigfoot of its own" to challenge Hillary, because of her hawkishness on Iraq and her moderate stances on other issues. His scenario is grist for considerable debate right now on his own blog, and I wouldn't care to drop a bet right now on Gore. Why would he want to give up the life of a free-wheeling enterpeneur (cable TV, a new documentary on global warming which will be released in May by Paramount) in order to again become the focus of conservative ire?
But Klein does bring up a compelling issue: the changing nature of media coverage in political campaigns. Gore was cuffed around in 2000 by the so-called mainstream media, and he didn't like it. In the years since, he has been talking up the possibilities of new information streams, and, as Klein points out, a new Gore candidacy might test the notion that a candidate, rather than speaking through the traditional press, could power a campaign by blasting out "speeches on email, post videos on the Internet, release statements on a blog, use online organizing tools to empower the grassroots." Maybe those tools will have matured by '08, maybe not. But Gore is the kind of guy who could test the concept by putting them in play...
...If he wants. The other day, he issued a statement that would suggest disinterest in 2008: "I'm not planning to be a candidate again." That's not exactly Shermanesque - at least by the traditional rules of parsing. But in the case of Gore, who is no longer under the sway of political consultants, perhaps the traditional rules don't apply.