Gore’s Press Popularity Enters a New Phase

Whether or not Al Gore decides to run in '08, the press appears intent on keeping the possibility alive.

“Run, Al, Run,” says Rolling Stone, while The Economist, “Waiting for Al,” longs for the same thing. Maureen Dowd writes an “Ozone Man Sequel,” while the New Yorker’s David Remnick eloquently reflects on what might have been in a Gore administration — and notes that Gore, more than any of the already-declared Democratic presidential candidates, “has demonstrated in opposition precisely the quality of judgment that Bush has lacked in office.”

While not a draft, the press’s call for Al Gore to join the presidential race is undeniably building.

“If the Democrats were going to sit down and construct the perfect candidate for 2008, they’d be hard-pressed to improve on Gore,” Tim Dickinson wrote in Rolling Stone. “Unlike Hillary Clinton, he has no controversial vote on Iraq to defend. Unlike Barack Obama and John Edwards, he has extensive experience in both the Senate and the White House. He has put aside his wooden, policy-wonk demeanor to emerge as the Bush administration’s most eloquent critic. And thanks to An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is not only the most impassioned leader on the most urgent crisis facing the planet, he’s also a Hollywood celebrity, the star of the third-highest-grossing documentary of all time.”

Gore’s press popularity has been building for a year now. When CJR Daily first analyzed the Gore ‘08 storyline last May, we pointed out two phases of coverage: in the first, journalists considered the distant possibility of another Gore presidential run, and in the second that scenario became a probability. Now phase three has arrived — and, again judging by what you read and hear in the press, the VP’s comeback can perhaps best be termed a “definite probability.”

At the moment the press is fascinated by Gore, and it is not hard to see why. He offers a striking parallel to Richard Nixon, 40 years apart, and his bitter 2000 defeat and subsequent reinvention offer a story of epic reach. If his candidacy were to happen, said the Economist, “It would be one of the great dramas of American political history.” In his years out of office, Gore’s “critiques of the administration’s rush to war in Iraq and of the deceptions used to justify it,” as Remnick wrote, were proven to be “early, brave, and correct,” and with An Inconvenient Truth he has been acclaimed as a global warming sage (and Oscar winner). The Sierra Club’s executive director told Rolling Stone that Gore is “the indispensable character in the drama of the climate crisis”: “If it has a happy ending, he’ll be the hero. If it has a tragic ending, he’ll be the tragic hero.”

Plus, there is the allure of Gore’s newfound pop culture cachet. As a cheeky Washington Post headline put it, he “May Be America’s Coolest Ex-Vice President Ever”: “Incredible as it may seem, Al Gore is not only totally carbon neutral, but geek-chic cool. No velvet rope can stop him. He rolls with Diddy. He is on [a] first-name basis, for real, with Ludacris.”

There have been scarce notes of negativity, although a Buffalo News op-ed last Sunday, pointing to some polls that were more unfavorable than favorable, did argue that Gore does not have “a serious chance” to become president because he lacks appeal beyond his “core activists.” There have also been few reminders of the Al Gore of 2000 in the current coverage — though the Post did refer in passing to the “politician who at times gave new meaning to the word cardboard” — and, more importantly, even less reflection about how the press covered, or miscovered, Gore back then.

At Salon today, Joe Conason slams Dowd and the press corps overall for “the dismal media performance that did such a terrible disservice to him and to the nation”: “Had the recent adoration of Gore been accompanied by any sign of healthy introspection among those who once savaged him, there might be reason to hope that they’ve learned something from this extraordinarily costly lesson. But as usual, mainstream commentators prefer to write as if they suffer from severe amnesia (as well as database deprivation) — and to pretend that everyone else does, too.”

As this resurrection narrative progresses, it is doubtful that Gore will lose his appeal to journalists, who will continue to hunger for a “Sherman statement,” which Gore has so far persistently not given. Gore is uniquely able to enter the race as late as the fall, and as long as he keeps that door open a crack, and politicos excitedly talk about the formidable strengths he would bring to the campaign, the political press will keep the storyline alive.

What will keep things interesting is that Gore, through his many attention-getting activities, is proceeding along a parallel track to the presidency. On the Today Show Tuesday, Tim Russert outlined his upcoming schedule: “In March he will be testifying as a lead witness before Congress on global warming. He has a new book coming out in May. In July he is conducting concerts in support of global warming, legislation and activities on all continents across the [world].” Each of those events will probably bolster Gore’s public image — and as Russert said, his standing is already such that if “one of the front-runners faltered, he would be in a position for the party to turn to him and gear up immediately.”

Maybe the press cannot draft Gore into the race, but it sure can issue a warm invitation.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.