For some reason, known only to themselves and God, some people keep talking about Al Gore running for President…again. Now Mr. LaSalle does make some interesting points about the favourable prospects of a former popular vote winner/electoral vote loser. However, these candidates (Jackson, Cleveland) have only made their comebacks when they ran in the next cycle. What Gore would be trying to do in an ’08 run, as Mr. LaSalle also notes, would be to play the role of Nixon who makes the successful return to power after a squeaker of an election eight years before. The parallels are almost too good. He adds:
My own guess is that Gore would win the nomination without much of a struggle. He would just have to show up at the debates, and it would seem like President Gore standing with a group of pretenders. I hope to find out if I’m right.
Gore has one obvious advantage over his main competition (i.e., Clinton) in that he has always been against the war in Iraq, which will win him a lot of support from antiwar Democrats (and might even win him some independents and disaffected Republicans in the general, if it came to that). Antiwar Democrats, however, have virtually no power in the Democratic establishment, in spite of feverish expectations of any significant change on Iraq under the new dispensation, and could not push one of their own through the primaries on indignation alone. An antiwar candidate in 2008 is the DLC’s nightmare, interrupting their happy narrative of a return to Democratic power based on “responsible” national security views and other such losing mantras of centrist Democrats. They and all “responsible” Democratic donors will fight tooth and nail to stop such a candidacy. (Plus, his actual antiwar bona fides are pretty weak, since this Iraq war has been the only war I can recall him opposing.) Gore probably knows this already, which is why I will be absolutely amazed if he announces a run next year.
If he did run, he might also campaign more in his faux-populist mode and do better in two years than he did six years ago. But can you really see Gore in full Lou Dobbs mode? I can’t, either, so his “populism” would probably be limited to hitting Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance, much as he did last time to no particularly great effect. Gore’s wonkishness and attention to detail might be music to the ears of some people who have had about enough of the golly-gee school of presidential leadership, and the fact that the man is capable of absorbing and mind-numbingly regurgitating information about all kinds of things might make for a welcome change from Incurious George. Then again, he might start to make the paint on the walls peel as he spouts off his factoids about the newest advances in biotechnology and holds forth on how we can use government to empower ordinary Americans to make the most of…zzzzz. These might be limited assets, and they can backfire on him as they have in the past, but he will need all the assets that he can get.
Yet Gore’s numerous, glaring weaknesses could fill a book. Presumably, some books have been written on just this subject. He will forever have to live down the reality that he managed to take an election that should have been his by a comfortable margin and make it into what was technically the closest in American history. In other words, the man is political kryptonite. If you’re the Democrats and you want to win, you don’t bet on him as your nominee twice in three cycles with the absurd John Kerry in the middle. The constant fear that Gore will say or do something monumentally stupid that will lose them the election in ’08 (which they may think is theirs for the taking) will gnaw away at them and drive them mad. They will constantly be second-guessing him, which will in turn cause him to zig-zag in typical Gore fashion to try to keep up with whatever he thinks his public’s expectations are. So Gore will have to overcome, yet again, the knock that he is constantly reinventing himself and has no substance, but will be forced to continually reinvent himself as the campaign progresses.
Plus, he will be promoting his book starting only next spring in late May. If the book is part of the rollout of his campaign, he will be starting awfully late. Political junkies know that if you aren’t organising your exploratory committee at least one year in advance of Iowa and New Hampshire, you aren’t going to do anything at all or you are not going to be successful. Such a campaign needs money and a well-staffed organisation if the candidate hopes to make it past mid-March ’08, and it is fairly difficult to conjure these up on relatively short notice. Dean did all right on fundraising thanks to his smart use of the Internet, but his organisation was never up to snuff (as all of the cynics kept saying at the time). The serious contenders are getting started now, not seven months from now. Even if Gore did run at that point, he would almost be certain to lose in the primaries as his campaign runs out of steam before Super Tuesday.
And the name of the book? The Assault on Reason. What might it be about? The Washington Post reported about two months ago:
As described by editor Scott Moyers, the book is a meditation on how “the public arena has grown more hostile to reason,” and how solving problems such as global warming is impeded by a political culture with a pervasive “unwillingness to let facts drive decisions.”
This will appeal to a certain demographic. Those would be people who are already convinced that they represent the last bastion of enlightened understanding in America, threatened on every side by maniacal religionists who are coming to tear down all of the science laboratories and burn down all the libraries. The Damon Linkers and Michelle Goldbergs of the world may find Gore’s book fascinating. Obviously, these people would probably already be voting for the Democratic nominee, almost no matter who he was.
It will either put everyone else off or it will put them to sleep. As much as so many people rightly mock Mr. Bush’s “faith-based” approach to policymaking (as in, “I believe it will work, and that’s all that matters”), it is a lot harder to make the claim that we have an entire political culture defined by hostility to reason (or, at least, no more so than is inevitable in a mass democracy where most people vote on impulses and identity rather than policy and rational analysis). It is possible to indict the current administration for its disdain for the “reality-based community,” but so much of the conservative disaffection with Bush, besides his anti-conservative policies, already stems from the recognition that realism, prudence and sober analysis are seemingly nowhere to be found in this administration. Gore will simply be adding his voice to the chorus of so many who already see this problem with Bush, whose departure from the scene will tend to diminish the strength of his criticism of our supposedly anti-reason political culture.
No doubt Andrew Sullivan (who links to LaSalle’s post) will be jumping about in girlish excitement at the thought that a big-named politician may start saying things that sound somewhat like what Andrew Sullivan has written (at which point he will “welcome” Al Gore into the Church of Sullivan). That would be yet another reason why the book would be a complete disaster for a Gore candidacy.