Mar 11 2007

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The Norwegian Candidate

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The “Real” Alternative

In a culture that celebrates the obvious at the expense of the deliberate, the narrative on next year’s presidential election might well be considered written.

The gauzy optimism that comes with a deep bench of presidential contenders has made the Democrats practically giddy. Still, for Republicans deep in shock from the midterm elections and uncertain of their future amid continued war and scandal, there is a bright spot.

The strongest Democrat is not running.

Yes, at first blanch it does seem counter-intuitive, but consider these postulates.

Mrs. Clinton is formidable, but ultimately flawed. Obama is inspirational, but inexperienced. Edwards balances precariously between conviction and chameleon. Biden’s substantial intellect is at war with his discipline, while Richardson still grapples with character issues closer to home.

No, upon closer inspection, the Democrats have a serious “Goldilocks” problem with their presidential candidates – several credible choices but no ideal candidate, at least not yet.

That potential candidate is in Tennessee and Republicans should remain hopeful that he remains there.

Yes, Al Gore.

Mention Gore to Party stalwarts and the conversation starts with fatigue and grows to despair.

He’s yesterday’s candidate, having botched a no-lose election during unprecedented peace and prosperity, and then bungled the aftermath.

If that wasn’t enough, his brief foray into the 2004 race was to endorse Howard Dean at the expense of his former running mate, and to do so only weeks before the Dean campaign’s implosion, providing evidence that Gore was both disloyal and clueless.

But there is more to Gore than negatives might suggest. Contrary to established wisdom, if you wanted a winning presidential candidacy right out of central casting, this could be it.

Unconventional?  Almost certainly.

Gore is a distraction now only if you assess his chances through the established prism of presidential politics.

But that prism is evolving at a furious rate. Dean’s fundraising in 2004 proved the power of grass roots activism when married with the Internet. And who but the sagest pundit would have predicted that obscure bloggers would be influencing elections, or that Mrs. Clinton would announce her candidacy through a Webcast?  Structures, processes, methods, they are all changing, radically altering the calculus of how to run for president.

In this vein, consider that Gore, having spent the last several years lecturing, writing and movie-making has, by intention or accident, created a vast network of like minded people who could represent a base of support for a presidential run. The “father” of the Internet could well be the first candidate to realize its full potential.

And for the Party, particularly its most militant and liberal adherents, Gore has been right on the issues from the beginning.

He was against the Iraq war before that position became cool, and he is the embodiment of the liberal orthodoxy on global warming.

Having won the Oscar and been nominated for the Nobel, Gore has secured his standing with two essential Democratic constituencies, Hollywood and the Europeans. Moreover, the Democrats believe that Gore won in 2000 anyway, securing the grievance vote, so energizing to candidates on the left.

More broadly, it seems that six years after a de facto banishment from the public arena, the nation has moved toward Gore, making his once extreme views seem practically mainstream. Without effort, Gore seems both credible and principled with no need for the Kerryesque issues contortions so familiar to Democrats, and more recently, Republicans.

And declared Democrats have reason to be nervous. Gore is more experienced than anyone running on the Democratic side, including Mrs. Clinton.

He brings genuine national security credentials to a run as a former House member, Senator and two-term Vice President.  Those credentials could be handy in the very tough debate on American security that will almost certainly come as the nominations fight heats up next summer, inoculating Democrats against charges of defeatism.

Which speaks to the larger power of a Gore candidacy in the general election.

In a climate where voters are fearful of the future but fatigued by the policies of the present, a Gore candidacy could reassure voters regarding Democratic resolve on security, while simultaneously changing course on American international priorities.

For anti-war activists of a different era, if only Nixon could go to China, then perhaps it is only Gore who can really end the war in Iraq.

Nixon also serves as a useful reference point regarding political comebacks.

It was after all Nixon who, having lost the closest presidential race in American history returned victoriously to Washington and the White House eight years later amid an unpopular war.

And like the “New Nixon” of 1968, it seems we now have the “new” Gore as well.

Even detractors have to admit that he seems much more comfortable in his own skin than he ever did in the 2000 race. Having lost the White House once, Gore seems to have confronted his own personal demons and come out the better for it. The experience frees him to worry about his passions and principles, not the polls or his prospects – a pivotal advantage.

And for Gore personally, what could be a more satisfying road to redemption than saving the Party from a revival of Clintonism and the presidency from the “hated” Bush?

With Clinton and Obama currently throwing sharp elbows at each other, Gore has time. Later this year Democrats will face a slate of bruised and tired candidates, looking improbably vulnerable to another Republican victory. When it happens, look for Party Big Feet to beat a path to Nashville.

Republicans should consider themselves warned.

1 comment

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