November 7, 2006

The Inconvenient Truth about Middle Earth

Two weeks ago it was suggested in these pages that Jimmy Carter should run for president a second time. The idea seemed laughable if only because, well, the man in question was Jimmy Carter, a man whose biggest success in office was to make the name “Jimmy” acceptable for persons over 15. The writer of the column, Joe Katz, might as well have touted the presidential prospects of Grover Cleveland—I’m a fan by the way—for all the good it will do him.

While Katz tabbed the wrong man for the job, he was correct in looking to the past for the leaders of the future. Call it revisionist history if you want, but when we are afforded the opportunity to amend mistakes past, inaction can prove calamitous. With this in mind, I plan to cast my vote in the next presidential election for Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.

In 2000 Al Gore fell off the deep end in his battle with George W. Bush. He was presumed lost and the Democratic party continued on without him, without the man who was expected to lead them into another eight years of peace and prosperity. All that remained was his precious “lock box” and his characteristic sneer. What made Gore’s death all the more tragic was his steadfast refusal to leave the public spotlight. He offered broad, sweeping criticisms of the new administration, got a gig teaching at Columbia University, and then, to the horror of a nation, grew a beard.

For many, the beard was the final straw. In the early days of the calamitous 2004 election, when Bob Graham actually thought he had a chance and the Swift Boat Veterans were still hard at work at their old jobs—clubbing baby seals to make discount-priced salami—Gore’s name was floated out as a possibility. There was talk that he wanted to try his luck again, and why not? He had lost in 2000 under the most dubious of circumstances, and it was thought that maybe, just maybe Americans might see where they had erred.

But then we saw the beard. Bushy and slightly disheveled, off-color and unkempt, Al’s beard convinced America that the fallen star had seen his final day in the sun. He had become a parody of himself. There was a not-so-subtle implication in his choice of facial grooming: Have no personality? Grow a beard! Sure thing, Al. Will do. The rumors fizzled and Democrats were rewarded with John Kerry, whose campaign brought new meaning to the word “inspiring.” Specifically, he gave it an antonym.Gore’s fall from prominence and eventual comeback is eerily similar to that of another bearded legend: Gandalf the Grey, of Lord of the Rings fame. Gandalf, like Gore, fell into nothingness after a particularly heated fight with a monster of the deep. He was presumed lost, another life wasted away to martyrdom in a seemingly hopeless quest.

And then a funny thing happened in Middle Earth. Unbeknownst to the reader, Frodo, or the Fellowship, Gandalf slayed the Balrog. He fell through fire and darkness and was reborn anew into something greater than his old self. Out with Gandalf the Grey, in with Gandalf the White. And from that point on, it was curtains for Sauron.

The Al Gore that has graced the big screen and the best sellers list for the past year is a refreshing change from the one we once wished would just go away. For one, he’s clean-shaven. With the success and importance of An Inconvenient Truth he has gained a street-cred with the general public that he never had as Vice President. So long as he remains in the spotlight, the jokes will persist: he invented the Internet, he’s a sore loser, he sighs and moans like a bored student on a field trip. The difference now is that he doesn’t care. In an election that has been dominated by vitriolic attack ads, Gore’s confidence in his own qualities and his resolve to stick with the issues that matter can only help his public perception. And then there’s the Clinton factor.

Gore’s biggest challenge in 2000 was in defining himself in relation to Clinton. It was a slippery slope, as the then–Vice President tried to take credit for policy decisions while distancing himself from the personal crises that marred the second term. Now, with six years of President Bush stirring disillusionment among most Democrats and some conservatives, Clinton is back in vogue. Regardless of what the facts may be, number 42 is remembered in a far more positive light now than he was six years ago. For Democrats looking for an alternative to the eternally polarizing Hillary, Gore is a natural choice.