Saturday, September 10, 2005

Why I Love Al Gore

Two news stories: here and here. There's also people asking a question, here.

Stranger things have happened than a return from the grave for Vice-President Gore. It always strikes me as very bad for American politics that, these days, losers are so tainted that they cannot run again. Only the most naive person believes that democracy always makes the right choices. It is merely a mechanism for avoiding the very worst. The idea that one top politician is destined to obscurity and shame in every election is, at the least, wasteful of talent.

In Britain, we've had a shift to a similar style. The Conservatives have lost their leader after their 1997, 2001 and 2005 election defeats, in all cases immediately after the results were announced. I don't think it's good for parties and in a Presidential system such as the United States, it certainly seems a shame for the country. Without any obvious equivalent of our Leader of the Opposition shadowing a Prime Minister, non-incumbent parties in the US have difficulties holding a President to account. While clearly tries to provide some sort of coordinated leadership for the Democrats, the political will doesn't seem to exist to take it very seriously.

But what does this have to do with Al Gore? Well, I think the speculation that he could make a come-back is pretty fantastic. But it's a shame that it is so silly. Perhaps I say this as someone who could never understand criticism of Gore's charisma or style, and perhaps such percieved failings were due to Anglo-American cultural differences. One thing's for sure: the idea of "Al Gore the liar" was a cynical media image completely manufactured against reality. To take one example, his credit for funding projects that led to the development of our internet, is now immortalised in the misleading claim "Al Gore's internet".

A Gore-Edwards ticket would probably look a little liberal to many Americans, but the strength of personalities is still there. Until Barrack Obama is old enough, the Democrats could do much worse than look for a President from those who have come so close to winning in the past two elections: Gore, Kerry and Edwards. In Gore's case he got more votes than Bush.

I realise this probably seems non-sensical, but it is puzzling why the attitude persists that a defeated US Presidential candidate is an untouchable loser.

Oh, and before anyone else points out... I realise the best example of candidates coming back from election defeat to fight again is Richard Nixon... ;)


montana urban legend said...

Richard, I don't think Al's descent was in response merely to him losing the 2000 election, but for losing it so negligently given the circumstances. Not being able to make the best case of a long record of prosperity and relative peace under Clinton, combined with an opponent that far Left candidate Ralph Nader described as "the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record," looked quite bad, since many would have thought a Gore win to be a slam dunk. The problem was that Gore lost much of his verve and seemed haggard in 2000, he distanced himself from pecadillo-prone Clinton (and incidentally, from their objectively successful record as well), and relied too much on PR, polls, choreography and other assorted fluff to fuel his campaign.

Americans need their politicians to demonstrate a natural sense of comfort in campaigning for the role they seek as well as a sense of ease with the populace responsible for making the decision to put them there. Gore demonstrated a complete lack of every natural ability inherent in a politician by 2000, as intelligent and successful as he might have been deemed previously (especially in 1992, I might add).

Lee said...

Gore managed to destroy his political future with his behavior after losing in 2000. I think a great many Democrats would have been open to his return in 2004, but he sunk into something resembling depression punctuated with very occasional provocative public appearances. Then of course he dropped out before the 2004 race really got started, and he aligned himself with Dean, in my opinion a catastrophic move. After this history of self-sabotage, I see no point in dreaming of a Gore revival.

All of the ingredients are in place for a political revolution in this country. I think the timing would be perfect for a legitimate third party to emerge in 2006/2008, and we are facing some epic crises which should bring new leaders to the fore. Bill Clinton was almost an unknown in 1992. Look for a comparable emergence in the next several years. Watch for new political heroes coming out of this Katrina debacle, for instance...

If I were a betting man, I would place big money on 2008, possibly even 2006, being far from "politics as usual."

Lee said...

Oh yeah, one other thought. You mentioned Richard Nixon as an example... Nixon was a political pit-fighter. The guy was meaner than a junkyard dog, and he simply did not give up. It would be impossible to picture Nixon having a Gore-style post-defeat "grow a beard and hide from humanity" phase. When he was out of power, he was plotting how to get power back. And when he felt down, I gather that tricky Dick tended to get really hammered and watch sports in private, not make it obvious how bad he felt in public.

Now, I didn't like Nixon, but you had to hand it to him for sheer persistence. Hell he was still trying to rebuild his reputation up to the day he died. Gore seems more likely to fade into trivial obscurity.

dcat said...

Lee --
I actually see something to what Richard has to say. Almost immediately after he last two elections, inmagazines like the New Republic, you could fine a level of recrimination that seemed a bit beyond the pale. Strategically, Gore screwed up in 2000, there is no doubt about that. But he still garnereed the most votes, and certainly the idea that Gore was absolutely untenable hinged on machinations in Florida, some of which were utterly legitimate, others of which were sketchy. TNR did the same thing after Kerrty's loss, lamenting that he was still going to try to be a party standard bearer -- as if a still sitting senator and the party's presidential candidate would or should be anything but.
I am not certain how viable a candidate Gore can ever be again, but I find him a lot more likable these days, and would not count him out quite yet. Depending on how the next two years go, the American political landscape might change fully, to the point where the democrat will even be favored. A 2008 Gore run would have to be about a lot more than "I warned you," but it would be an interesting subtext.
Clearly the dcat landscape has been much improved by bringing in a couple of brits to class up the joint.


Lee said...

Oh sure, personally I like Gore, similarly to how I like Jimmy Carter. He says what he thinks, and he does not seem to care anymore about polling results or strategic positioning. Out of all the candidates who have run for President in my lifetime, Gore might be top of the list for my "nice guy to have over for dinner" award.

With all that said, I'm just not sure he could mount a serious comeback without more of a political killer instinct. He has the temperament of a professor not a take-no-prisoners comeback kid. And yes I'll happily eat my words if he ever pulls it off :P

dcat said...

Lee --
I'm not certain the candidate has to have the instinct if he has handlers who do. he could have used a guy like carville in 2000. If he comes up with one, that might go a long way in aiding his prospects.
Our freshman year at Williams, i stuck around for graduation, and michael Dukakis gave one of the great speeches I have heard at one of those sorts of things. We tend to personalize things so much that we forget that someone who loses the Presidency is not necessarily a loser or a bad guy. I'd gladly have a dinner party that included George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Micheal Dikakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Richard said...

I find it odd that I scoff at the idea of a third party*, but yet think you should be more idealistic in thinking nice guys can finish first.

* = Especially being a member of the third party in Britain...

dcat said...

Richard --
I think nice guys with a dark underside can finish first.

A third (4th, 5th . . .) party is a lot more tenable (essential?) in a parliamentary system than it is in our winner take all republican democracy.


Lee said...

Perhaps I am willfully ignorant, but I've yet to figure out why a third party would not be viable in the House of Representatives, at least as a start. The cost of financing House races is far beneath Senate and Presidential elections, and the districts are more compact. A third part could conceivably emerge in the more progressive parts of the country, maybe taking a couple of dozen seats in an ideal scenario.

Given that the House tends to be fairly evenly divided, even a small third party could exercise power far beyond their numbers by serving as a swing vote.

And of course, once such a party made inroads in the House and got some visibility, they could start targeting select Senate seats and even the Presidency.

Yes, the Presidential elections are winner-take-all, and third parties have a near-insurmountable challenge in fielding Presidential candidates. Frankly our problem has not been lack of viability for third parties. Rather, in the US third parties are tainted by nutjobs like Ross Perot and Lyndon LaRouche. Or they have tended to be racist regional parties, as was the case with good ol' Strom Thurmond in 1948.

In our lifetimes, there has been no serious attempt to mount a third party capable of gaining broad appeal beyond the political fringes. Since it's been so long since anybody seriously tried it, everybody assumes it's not feasible.

Finally, I do hope that nice guys can win, but the last 50 years have not been nice to nice guys in American Presidential politics! Witness Jimmy Carter, lucky not to have been burned at the stake.