For 2008 election, Al Gore could be the real deal

Published July 30, 2006

Al Gore, where have you been all my life?

Oh, I don't mean the alpha-male wanna-be, that scripted, stiff, uninspired candidate for president in 2000. I mean the self-effacing movie star with man-of-steel conviction from An Inconvenient Truth, who is trying to shake this country by the shoulders over the dire consequences of global warming. From the ashes of his overhandled "be everything to everybody" campaign rose the real Al Gore, a confident, wonkish, accessible intellect who has a supremely important question for inhabitants of Earth : How long can you tread water?

This is the man, with his charts and facts and rising seas message, that the Democrats should enlist in 2008.

Others have succeeded in winning the presidency after suffering defeat in general or primary elections, Nixon and Reagan to name just two. And Gore wouldn't have to go up against the Hillary Rodham Clinton big-donor fundraising machine. As Howard Dean demonstrated, the Internet is a gold mine of small-increment moneyraising that can produce huge sums - $59-million in Dean's case. As long as a candidate is in the race to be a leader as opposed to "not a loser," there are plenty of concerned Democrats of average means willing to give.

A candidate who operates with the candor, sincerity and smarts of someone not beholden to focus groups and polling data is what rank-and-file Democrats desperately want. By all accounts, Gore understands this now and would resist any reformatting by consultants.

America is ready for an adult like Gore to take charge and put the nation back on sensible footing: a footing where deficits do matter, where energy conservation is not sneered at as a "personal virtue" but is an aggressive national policy, and where science, facts and reality drive public policy, not the Christian Right's neo-medieval agenda.

George W. Bush, with his wishful-thinking governance and "Russia's big and so is China" understanding of the world, has handicapped our future by steering us into an interminable occupation, keeping us shackled to oil and adding trillions to our national debt. Putting things right, to the extent it is possible, and planning for the challenges ahead will take someone of enormous capability. Al Gore, the real Al Gore, is that man.

Gore escaped into academia following his wounding in 2000, teaching a class at Columbia's school of journalism in the spring semester of 2001. But since then, Gore has reared up like a mustang and galloped back into the fray. His speeches have been anything but careful and are being distributed through the liberal advocacy giant MoveOn.org. It is Gore's way of speaking directly to millions of Americans, without the mainstream media outlets filtering his message.

As reported by the American Prospect in April, Gore feels strongly that today's media is failing in its duty to inform the public. Former FCC chairman and longtime Gore friend Reed Hundt summed it up like this: "Gore's own view is that he sighed noisily in the debate and used the wrong telephone line to ask for money and the media said these are momentous events. Meanwhile, they ignore global warming and the failure to catch Osama and the destruction of the safety net."

So true. Dean's candidacy imploded due to "the scream"; John Kerry's 20-year record of public service in the Senate was boiled down to, "I actually did vote for the $87-billion before I voted against it." The media treat the presidential race as if it were a contest for student body president, where one's gaffes and quirks are more important than the issues. No wonder Gore is reluctant to try again.

Nonetheless, Democrats and the country need him. Gore's speeches over the last three years have been emphatic, insightful critiques of the Bush administration on everything from the Iraq war to the warrantless wiretapping of Americans. But it is the message he is sending through his sleeper of a movie regarding our planet's fragility that will resonate loudest.

Gore told Rolling Stone, "Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet. That is nuts! We have to change every aspect of that."

And I want a president who sees those massive reorderings as an essential priority - much more so than the permanent repeal of estate taxes for America's richest families or the protection of blastocysts in a petri dish.

Gore has given no indication that he will run again. There is a DraftGore.com Web-based effort and a lot of talk in progressive publications, but no promising signals from the guy himself.

Come on, Al. Give it one more go. You're ready. Rather than reinventing government, you have reinvented yourself - as the real deal.