In Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Obi-Wan Kenobi, while in a duel to the death with his former student Darth Vader, says just before Vader strikes him down, "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." And so Al Gore seems to be becoming, which is why the right is so desperate to drag him back to 'mortality,' expending far more effort to speculate negatively about Al Gore than it would seem anyone would normally expend on a defeated Presidential candidate (after all, how often do you see them speculating on John Kerry or Michael Dukakis in the same way, despite a multitude of evidence that Kerry actually does plan to run for President in 2008?)
The former Vice President and 2000 Presidential candidate is now promoting a new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary which lays out his long fight to educate people about the facts of global warming, and which not only profiles Gore's efforts but the whole issue itself, and does so using logic, facts and hard science. Of course Gore has had environmental issues at the top of his list of priorities for decades, so it is hardly surprising that he would be lending his credibility to a movie about global warming, but it is interesting watching just how desperately the right wants to diminish this man or get people to question his motives.
Usually, when someone with a celebrity background (including politicians) speaks out for a cause, immediately there is a flurry of attacks and questions about their motives by their political opponents. In Gore's case, they are having trouble doing that. He has become much more of a difficult target since losing the 2000 election (the purpose of this post is not to rehash that, I'm sure everyone knows and has an opinion as to how-- but it was certainly the closest and most controversial Presidential election since 1876 or perhaps 1800, and we will leave it at that.) For one thing, he has become very rich: Gore is now a senior adviser to Google Inc., a member of the Apple Computer Inc., board of directors and co-founder and chairman of an investment firm. So any idea of attacking his commitment to environmentalism and other causes as 'being in it for the money' is ridiculous, and the right knows that. So they haven't even tried to push that angle of attack. Gore has never been accused of being unfaithful to his wife or committing other serious moral transgressions, so that line of attack is also closed.
So they are seizing on the only line of attack they have left-- speculating that it is a prelude to a possible Presidential run in 2008. After all, if you can tar someone as 'a politician' who is doing whatever (s)he is doing for purely personal political reasons, and you've got your grounds to call into doubt whatever that person is speaking on behalf of.
The problem with this argument when used against Al Gore is that it is not only stale, but there is no evidence at all to support it. The first piece of evidence that is not true is this: Al Gore announced in 2003 that he was not running for the 2004 nomination (despite similar speculation, compounded by the fact that he had for a time been pondering a run), and he kept his word and did not. He has now said that he is not a candidate for 2008, so based on the fact that he stuck to what he said the first time, it seems likely that he will stick to it this time as well (even aside from the fact that he had a well-earned reputation for earnestness during his years in the Senate). His early opposition, almost alone at first, to the Iraq war in mid-2002 at a time when the President's approval rating was in the eighties, and most politicians in Washington were either supporting it or cowering from the fight makes it clear that he is made of tougher stuff than the typical Washington politician.
Further, look where he is going to promote the movie: Right now, he is in California (where he premiered the film last night), and is scheduled to go to New York, Utah and France. Notice that New Hampshire and Iowa are not on that list. Further, it is hard to see why a person running for President would make his stops in California and New York (media and fundraising centers for sure, but if he was looking to raise funds he wasted the opportunity last night-- meaning that fundraising isn't his goal--, and states where the media coverage is likely to be more national than focused on the 'swing voters,' activists and voters in states with early primaries that politicians know they have to court to win a nomination.) He got the media coverage he was looking for in California and will in New York, but it is coverage of the movie, not the type that would be as useful if he were running for President. Utah-- the most Republican state in the country-- hardly a place where a Democrat looking to run for President would go, but exactly the sort of place that a guy who is looking to change the minds of people about an issue would want to go-- to speak to people who don't already agree with him about it. And France? Lots of U.S. Presidential primary voters there, I'm sure. But as this is an international issue, he is campaigning for the movie internationally as well as nationally.
The real problem the right has with Al Gore is this: they see him as a threat. Everyone would love to have an icon to speak for them in the press-- a person who is larger than life, and whose reputation is so large that it is hard to tear down, and a person who is listened to beyond those who necessarily agree with them. Unfortunately, such icons are rare. The only one I can think of today, who automatically gets listened to even by those who don't agree with them is Colin Powell-- even though he was much diminished by his role in the run up to the Iraq war. Ex-Presidents can sometimes be icons. Had Ronald Reagan stayed healthy, he might have become one. Of the ex-Presidents we have now, maybe Jimmy Carter comes closest. This is not based on what he did as President (he was, after all a one-term President who other than Camp David and an energy policy which in hindsight was visionary but was never implemented, did not accomplish much while in office and left under the twin clouds of 'malaise' and the Iran hostage crisis). His status as almost an icon is instead because of the remarkable way he has redefined the role of an ex-President. Of course, ex-Presidents have traditionally come closer to Gerald Ford-- occasionally coming in off the golf course for a softball interview. But Carter has recast the role of ex-President into the role of 'activist' (in fact, Richard Nixon began to change what the ex-President's role was, but Carter has set the standard). Does anyone think that Presidents Bush I and Clinton would have been called on to lead the tsunami relief effort if Jimmy Carter had not paved the way?) Carter comes close to the status of 'icon.' Close, but maybe not quite there. Bush I and Clinton themselves have potential but both have a huge negative-- Bush I suffered through the same sort of 1-term Presidency that just didn't quite have it that Carter did, and Clinton is still remembered for his one liner beginning "I did not..." and the political witchhunt that followed it.
Gore, on the other hand, could very well achieve icon status. His loss, ironically is the reason. Had he won, his legacy would have been measured in part by his Presidency (the same thing that is holding Nobel prize winner Carter back). By losing, and in a way that even the most hard core of Republicans has to admit was a tough loss to take-- and then bowing out gracefully as he did in his concession speech, Gore came out of the 2000 debacle without the White House but with his reputation intact. By not running in 2004 and 2008, he does far more than maybe set the table for some Presidential bid, whether he ever decides to run or not, on down the road. He holds all the cards that an ex-President holds as far as being able to speak with authority (and for that matter, he was a highly visible veep during eight of the most prosperous and successful years of our Republic-- but without the weight of the Lewinsky affair which compromises Clinton). The nagging suspicion that he may have in fact fully earned the Presidency but was denied it by a confluence of bad luck, ineptness on the part of local officials or perhaps something deeper than that (as I said, we won't speculate on that here), only enhances his stature.
It is for this reason that his detractors are always whispering, trying to suggest that Gore is always planning to 'run for President.' They want to be able to drag him into the muck with all the rest of the 'politicians' so they can diminish the man, and therefore diminish what he is saying. What makes ex-Presidents so appealing as icons is the 22nd amendment-- they have little or nothing more to gain for themselves, so if they stand for something, it must be out of personal conviction. With Al Gore declining now twice to run, he achieves virtually the same stature as an ex-President without accumulating any of the warts that a President will inevitably accumulate while in office. As time goes on, the last barb they have to throw at him-- that he is a 'politician,' becomes smaller, less sharp and more ineffective. And that is a scary thought to those who may now have to face him as an opponent-- not in a traditional campaign, but a battle of ideas.