Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Al Gore Catch-22

In today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd says “leading Republicans and Bush insiders think a Gore-Obama ticket would be unbeatable.” But there is a catch.

If the former Vice-President had been the way he is today-—outspoken, self-confident, at times a bit confrontational--he might have won the 2000 election by an indisputable margin.

But today’s Al Gore isn’t running for President. If he decided to go for it next year, would he revert to the wonky version of 2000?

That question is raised by the mega-attention of the past week--a cover story in Time, reviews of his new book, “The Assault on Reason,” and endless press about how he has “fallen out of love with politics.”

“Free to Be Al Gore” is the theme of an E. J. Dionne column in yesterday’s Washington Post: “It's entertaining to talk to Gore these days because he's so clearly enjoying himself...(H)e did not speak as if there were focus-grouped sentences dancing around in his head. Nor did he worry about saying things that some consultant would fret about for weeks afterward.”

Pick a point of view about the New Gore, and the New York Times has it. Today Dowd says, “He is so fixed on not seeming like a presidential flirt that he risks coming across as a bit of a righteous tease.”

In the Times’ Sunday Magazine, James Traub concludes Gore has attained “prophetic status” by “acting as he could not, or would not, as a candidate--saying precisely what he believes, and saying it with clarity, passion, intellectual mastery and even, sometimes, wit.”

A Times review of “The Assault on Reason” says it “shows a fiery, throw-caution-to-the winds Al Gore, who, whether or not he runs for the White House again, has decided to lay it all on the line with a blistering assessment of the Bush administration and the state of public discourse in America at this ‘fateful juncture’ in history.”

In Time Magazine, Gore sums himself up: "There's no question I'm freed up. I don't want to suggest that it's impossible to be free and authentic within the political process, but it's obviously harder. Another person might be better at it than I was...Obama is rising because he is talking about politics in a way that feels fresh to people ...

I came through all of that and I guess I changed. And now it is easier for me to just let it fly. It's like they say: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

In politics, as in singles bars, hard-to-get can be sexy--up to a point. Over the coming months, Gore will be forced to resolve his ambivalence.

If he goes for it, he will have to give up overeating just as Obama has stopped smoking. As a team, they might be inspiring in more ways than one.

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