Was Al Gore Abused as a Candidate?

shock.jpgAlthough the post is more than six months old, a lively little discussion erupted underneath my item chiding former VP Al Gore for using a private jet on his promotional tour for “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Someone who signed his comments “algoredotorg” and has a website called Drafting Gore claimed here that during the 2000 campaign, the news media “was incredibly biased against Gore (moreso than any candidate in modern history)…” 

The sub-amateur historian in me didn’t recognize this as a political statement but as a historical claim with little basis; so I went on to list all the victims of media bias who ran for president since 1960.  (Interestingly, in many cases, the media showed unfairness to both candidates, which some news media spokesperson like to claim is proof of their objectivity.  It could also be proof that they are consistent horse’s asses.  You decide.) 

Anyway, being somewhat of an Internet Pangloss, I didn’t really see what “algoredotorg” was really trying to do.  This was not about comparing views of history.  This was about creating an alternate history of the 2000 election.  It’s a campaign.  Salon.com pundit Joe Conason gives it full expression on Salon.com:

The same press corps that once snarled for his blood is now smooching his boots — an implicit apology that might be gratifying to the former future president, if only he were still naive enough to value their esteem.

The sudden fashion for favorable comment won’t influence any thoughtful American’s opinion of Gore, but it should remind us of the dismal media performance that did such a terrible disservice to him and to the nation. Although Gore himself certainly deserves a measure of blame for the catastrophic conclusion of the 2000 presidential election and the events that led up to it, his hateful treatment by the press slanted the campaign against him from the beginning.    

Conason puts Gore on notice:  If Gore decides to run for president, the smooching will stop.  Like my commenter, Conason links to a Daily Howler piece that cites the many mean things pundits said about Gore in the past — the same pundits who like him now and are seemingly encouraging him to join the campaign.  He quotes ominously a statement from ABC’s The Note:

“Basically, the political press wants to tempt Al Gore into the race, and then they will destroy him as a flip-flopping, exaggerating, stiff loser. And Gore knows this.”

I dunno, Joe…that sounded kind of like a joke to me.

If Gore is too sensitive to take the media pounding that all presidential candidates get, then Conason’s right — he should stay out.  It’s like a star ballplayer deciding whether to play in New York or Kansas City.  If he doesn’t like being called out on the back of a tabloid in type face other cities’ newspapers save for presidential assassinations, don’t play in New York. 

But I’ve never heard Gore himself whine about his press coverage in 2000.  Gore is an odd fellow, like most politicians, and the press likes to join in the fun of making fun of public figures’ peculiar qualities.  I think Conason, the Daily Howler and “algoredotcom” do their friend Gore a disservice by making it seem as if harsh press coverage caused Gore’s defeat (or un-selection).   There are plenty of candidates who got terrible press and went on to win the presidency, including the current occupant of the White House.  Of presidents in my memory, I don’t think any of them won because the press was biased in their favor.

Gore lost in 2000 because he ran a bad campaign.  He is getting adulation now mostly because he is being so blunt about the cause that means the most to him, climate change.  It’s pretty clear now that he’s felt the way he feels about global warming since the early 1990s.  But he didn’t talk about it in 1999-2000 because his advisors didn’t think environment as an issue would be decisive.  And maybe it wasn’t — but Gore’s lack of passion was.  He campaigned on focus-grouped issues he didn’t give a shit about, and it showed.  The meme that Gore had to hire a feminist writer to teach him how to be an “alpha male” stuck because, by the time that happened, Gore had already made an impression on the electorate as a guy who didn’t know who he was.

Nobody could possibly say that now.  He is unleashed as an anti-war, pro-environment progressive.  His credentials and experience in economic and foreign policy would make him acceptable to moderates in ways that Barack Obama can’t be.  Gore is far from perfect, and those meanies in the media will continue to pick on his flaws (like the blatant hypocrisy about his personal energy use).  But now, it doesn’t seem to bother him.  He’s grown a layer of Teflon. 

He’s no longer the “old person’s idea of what a young person should be like” — the rap on him back when he first tried to run for president in 1988.  This month, he’ll turn 59.  He’s already won the gravitas primary, which I believe will prove to be the most important aspect of the 2008 contest — and is the big advantage Rudy Guiliani or John McCain would bring to the GOP ticket. 

I think a Gore/Obama ticket is the only sure winner available to the Democratic party in 2008.  A ticket headed by any of the three major announced candidates — Clinton, Obama or Edwards — would have to get a lot of breaks to win.  Gore is, by far, the best messenger for what the Democratic Party is about now, and because of his long experience, he can crowd out feckless characters like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, whose dithering has slid the party backward since last November’s win.  It would be good for the country, and great for the Democratic Party, if Gore decided to run.

So I say to his fans and defenders:  Stop being such wimps about the media!  You’re wrong about 2000, but even if you were right, it’s the wrong thing to be talking about.  Don’t talk about Florida either.  If Gore was robbed or if he wasn’t, it doesn’t matter now.  Gore-as-victim is a loser.  Gore is a leader now; stop babying him.  

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