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Age d'Gore

By Russ Smith | Posted 3/7/2007

What a wonderful world it would be, many Democratic daydreamers are mooning about today, if only Al Gore hadn't been the victim of, in New Yorker editor David Remnick's words, a "judicial coup d'etat" in December 2000. While the more levelheaded of this starry-eyed bunch concede that the attacks of Sept. 11 would have occurred regardless of the "coup," the hindsight vision is something to behold.

A President Gore, undistracted by reading a book to kids in Florida, would've quickly reacted to the shocking events of that day, first by delivering a Kennedy-esque speech to the nation that night and then conquering the Taliban in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden would now be dead (making up for Bill Clinton's blunder in not capturing the al-Qaida leader in the '90s). Saddam Hussein, despite the Clinton-Gore administration's view in 1998 that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, would've been properly chastised and inspected by the United Nations and Baghdad left intact.

The U.S. economy was bound to continue humming--without Herbert Hoover Bush tax-cutting it to ruin--with unimaginable treasury surpluses that could be put to use properly educating, feeding, and insuring every person in the country. The "politics of personal destruction" would be a forgotten phrase, oil companies would embrace the necessity of confronting climate change, and citizens of Planet Earth would look to the United States for moral leadership. Europeans would welcome American tourists to their countries in the same manner as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were received in Paris more than two centuries ago.

As what-if fantasies go, it's a doozy. In a March 5 New Yorker "Comment" piece, Remnick, like countless pundits before him, speculated on the possibility of Gore entering the 2008 presidential race, although he admits it's unlikely. Nevertheless, Remnick keeps hope alive, writing: "But, as someone once said, stuff happens. The campaign may get nasty quickly. [Hillary] Clinton's Iraq position may prove untenable in any of its iterations. [Barack] Obama's youthful charisma may look like inexperience after prolonged exposure to electoral gamesmanship. David Geffen might grow claws. A year is a very long time in politics, especially in the circular shooting contests that the Democrats so often convene."

As a voter who'd support the flawed candidates John McCain or Rudy Giuliani over any Democrat, I, too, hope that Gore decides to join the fractious 2008 campaign. What a delight it'd be to see Gore, Obama, Clinton, and John Edwards gathering later this year on national television, a smack-down that actually has the potential for garnering semi-American Idol ratings.

If it's true that Gore, now that he (like other media-blessed politicians) has been knighted as a "rock star," has developed a public as well as private sense of humor, he could whip competitors in a debate. His early opposition to the Iraq war, which led him to endorse Howard Dean for the '04 nomination, would be a devastating contrast to Clinton's nuanced stance on the issue. As for Obama, I imagine Gore would take an older-brother approach, stressing the Illinois senator's lack of experience, a tactic that could succeed if he could dial down his penchant for condescension.

It could be that Gore will ultimately opt out, knowing that his status as a Democratic conscience will recede once he gets into the fray. Already, conservatives are salivating at another Democrat to lampoon. The Weekly Standard's Noemie Emery had an online post on March 2 in which she writes: [The Washington Post's] Richard Cohen had barely published his paean to Prince Al and his vision (about the need for austerity, and leaving a wee tiny imprint upon Mother Nature) when news broke that His Princeness, in his palazzo in Nashville, was burning through kilowatts in staggering numbers, and trampling all over Mother Earth (if not an Earth Mother) with hobnailed and giant-sized boots. This was the real Al, not the virtual one."

Part of this premature trashing of Gore the Candidate is undoubtedly a result of the dissatisfaction Republicans feel about McCain, Giuliani, and Mitt Romney. It's a fun diversion. McCain has been particularly off his game, inexplicably snubbing the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, continuing to embrace campaign finance reform, and even making noises about global warming, which is about priority No. 87 for GOP primary voters. The Arizona senator, currently lagging in the early polls, could certainly rebound when it counts, just as John Kerry overcame the Dean infatuation at exactly the right moment in 2004, but he has to settle on a consistent strategy to win over dubious conservatives.

Giuliani, on the cover of Newsweek's current issue, hasn't yet felt the wrath of religious conservatives who can't be expected to rally behind a man who's pro-choice, doesn't give a damn about sexual orientation, and has a very messy personal past. Just last Saturday, The New York Times ran a story about the former mayor's estrangement from his children, noting that Giuliani didn't even attend his son's high-school graduation. Maybe that won't matter: Ronald Reagan, unlike George H.W. Bush, never seemed to care one way or another about his children.

Gore, despite protestations to the contrary, is a political creature: Here's betting two bits he announces for president sometime this summer, after the other Democrats are dinged up.

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