Politics-free, Gore makes remarkable comeback

July 21, 2008 

These could be very trying times for former Vice President Al Gore, even as he continues to grab national attention with a new call to achieve freedom from the oil dependence that strangles America’s economy and foreign policy.

His urging of a 10-year mission akin to John Kennedy’s pitch to put a man on the moon over the same period is inevitably overshadowed by the 2008 presidential campaign, which again, as in 2004, he declined to enter.

But Gore seems long ago to have purged from his libido the bizarre and questionable circumstances that denied him the presidency in 2000, and ushered in the failed presidency of George W. Bush, now staggering to an end eight years later.

He must at times ponder the opportunities that would have fallen to him to advance his views, not only on oil independence but also on the range of environment goals he champions, had he become president in 2000, or 2004, or by running and winning this year.

Instead, over this time Gore, through remarkable determination, concentration and self-discipline, has achieved a political makeover arguably unmatched by any previous losing presidential nominee. Richard Nixon’s comeback in 1968 after losing in 1960 could hardly be considered a makeover.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Gore’s transformation from a whatever-it-takes political operative in his 1988 and 2000 presidential bids to a green agenda-driven apostle from 2001 to the present has been the restoration of his personal credibility. Crowned by the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his environmental work and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” trumpeting the perils of global warming, Gore has managed to approach in many eyes the stature of a prophet, while not entirely surrendering his political partisanship. He has endorsed Barack Obama over John McCain in November, but while criticizing the incumbent administration, in his latest speech on energy Gore steered clear of their proposals in the field.

In turn, both prospective presidential nominees praised his speech.

Gore has come a long way in nearly eight years from the fiercely partisan political candidate who made an easy target for Republican attacks accusing him of patent exaggerations, if not lies, on such things as his role in developing the computer world and the Internet.

In the first of his 2000 debates with Bush, Gore struck or surrendered to a visible pose of impatient superiority toward the less-articulate Texan, sighing and raising his eyebrows to some of Bush’s responses and drawing critical television and newspaper commentary.

In two subsequent debates he amended his demeanor, but the negative impression stuck with many voters, though he clearly was more knowledgeable on most issues raised.

A mark of Gore’s success in rebuilding his credibility as a private citizen was that there were few snickers the other day when he spoke of the threats not only to the United States but also to the world community from continued failure to address oil dependence and other energy and environmental challenges. “The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk,” he intoned before a full house of supportive listeners at Constitutional Hall. “(A)nd even more, if more should be required, the future of known civilization is at stake. ... I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo.”

On the question of climate change, the key element in his documentary, Gore expressed even more urgency, saying, “we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes.”

The comments drew considerable criticisms of the time frame he set, but not of the substance of the warnings.

If Obama wins the election, there obviously will be a clamor within Democratic ranks for him to ask Gore to head his Department of Energy, other cabinet post or be a major troubleshooter. Even McCain, if elected, could be tempted to do the same.

But Gore said he saw his role “as enlarging he political space” in which either man if chosen “can confront this issue.” He has established such a unique stature as a spokesman for Green America that his best future service may well be to remain on the path he chose after his darkest political moments in late 2000.

Jules Witcover’s most recent book, “Very Strange Bedfellows” on the Nixon-Agnew relationship, is published by Public Affairs Press. Readers can write to him at juleswitcover@earthlink.net.

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