As Al Gore faces his final years in the White House, history will view his two terms as disappointing.
After a razor-thin victory over George Bush in 2000, the new President was ultra-cautious.
Republicans labeled him “Al Bore” for failing to pursue a muscular foreign policy and for endless consultations with UN members, NATO allies, even potential adversaries such as North Korea and Iran.
Then he overreacted to such criticism, using an intelligence report in August, 2001, as pretext for striking defenseless camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, arousing protests throughout the Middle East over the death of a populist leader, Osama bin Laden, and his followers.
Even more controversial was Gore’s expulsion of fifteen visitors from our ally, Saudi Arabia, for what Rush Limbaugh sarcastically termed “the heinous crime of taking flying lessons.”
The furor drove oil prices to $30 a barrel, with public protest bringing the President’s approval ratings down to 50 percent.
After that, Gore reverted to consensus by pushing for UN inspections in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, which were never found. This diplomatic waffling, critics claim, diminished the U.S.’s standing in the world.
On the domestic front, the President refused to stimulate the economy with tax cuts, despite an ongoing budget surplus, and pushed for crippling limits on industrial emissions to reduce the so-called greenhouse effect.
Despite such gaffes, Gore narrowly won reelection in 2004 by reverting to Bill Clinton’s ploy of “It’s the economy, stupid.” His opponent, Malcolm Forbes, never managed to stir voters with his proposal of a flat income tax.
As 2008 approaches, the blandness of the Gore years may end. Vice-President Joe Lieberman, with a lock on the Democratic nomination, favors an aggressive American stance in the world. He will likely face George W. Bush, who claims Gore's election sent the country into a downward spiral.
A major issue will be terrorism which, relatively quiescent in eight years of diplomatic bumbling, may come to the fore again when a new President has America acting like a superpower again.
The question in 2008 will be: How do we let the rest of the world know we can no longer be pushed around?