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October 11, 2007

Would Al Gore Make A Great President?

Chris Bowers is bothered by the "creepy cult of personality around [Al Gore], and the constant, deep hermeneutical readings of anything that Gore does or says to be an indication that he is running." I don't know that I'd go so far as to compare it to those awaiting the Rapture, but in general, I think Bowers is correct.

Before I make this point, a couple disclaimers: Writing my profile of Gore convinced me that he's a genuinely rare individual, and head-and-shoulders above any other politician on the scene in his ability to see around the bend and accurately analyze trends shaping public policy. I also don't think, at this point that he should run, as it's too late, and if he loses, he'll sacrifice much of what he's worked for.

That said, if Gore ran, and if Gore won, all those attributing messianic qualities to the man would be disappointed. The presidency offers a very limited amount of room for individual improvisation. You can choose what you emphasize, and how you go about it, but at the end of the day, the most important factors remain the composition of Congress, the state of the economy, the tenor of foreign events, and luck. That Gore has a tendency to see a bit further than other politicians wouldn't necessarily allow him to legislate further -- it may do the opposite, as he gambles political capital on problems others aren't convinced of, and then both fails to achieve the goal at hand and also degrades his general position.

Insofar as an individual politician's capabilities matter, it's probably their skill at campaigning, the size of their coattails, and their ability to butter up Congress. Save on the last, Gore isn't notably better at any of those tasks. His particular constellation of qualities renders him a remarkable gadfly and crusader -- but it wouldn't necessarily translate into a far superior presidency.

October 11, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

The best thing about Al Gore being elected would be Al Gore being elected.

A President Gore, even if he did nothing but throw out the first pitch at the Nationals' home opener every year, would be a walking one-man truth-and-reconciliation commission.

The Jesuits taught me in Moral Theology class years ago that restitution for theft requires the return of the thing stolen, and not a substitute, to the person from whom it was stolen, and not a surrogate.

Gore '08 -- Deus vult.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Oct 11, 2007 4:46:13 PM

That said, if Gore ran, and if Gore won, all those attributing messianic qualities to the man would be disappointed. The presidency offers a very limited amount of room for individual improvisation. You can choose what you emphasize, and how you go about it, but at the end of the day, the most important factors remain the composition of Congress, the state of the economy, the tenor of foreign events, and luck.

Hasn't George Bush sort of disproved this? Congress can be made feckless and irrelevant, the economy isn't so much of an issue as how you use it to benefit which people, the tenor of foreign events is often controlled by American foreign policy, and you can create your own luck.

Posted by: Justin | Oct 11, 2007 5:09:42 PM

> Hasn't George Bush sort of disproved this? Congress
> can be made feckless and irrelevant, the economy
> isn't so much of an issue as how you use it to benefit
> which people, the tenor of foreign events is often
> controlled by American foreign policy, and you can
> create your own luck.

Well, Bush/Cheney has proved that **Republican** Presidents who seize the live wire can run roughshod over whatever they please. I suspect that the H.R. Clinton Presidency will prove that a Democratic President who tries the same thing will be roasted by the media, the courts, and Congress, certainly not re-elected, probably impeached, and possibly be prosecuted on criminal charges.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 11, 2007 5:29:54 PM

The reason I would like to see Gore in the race is that he strikes me as the only Democratic candidate with the combination of experience, knowledge, intelligence, and battle scars to not only grapple with the incredible problems Bush/Cheney will leave behind but to handle the relentless roaring counterattack the Radical Right will open up the day after Election Day. Edwards and Obama could be decent Presidents. Clinton I am not so sure of due to her love of sneaky Cheney-type power but she couldn't be worse than W. But IMHO none of those three have the solidity to withstand the coming storm and prevent the Republican White Horse in 2012.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 11, 2007 5:33:53 PM

Sigh... I dunno, Ezra. The fact is that I'm looking at the prospect of abstaining from voting in the general presidential election (I'll vote in downticket races and am not in a swing state, so let's please hold fire) for the first time in my adult life, at a time when the national trends favor my party more than at any time since I was a toddler. If that's not depressing, I don't know what is.

And IME, Gore supporters aren't all that unaware of the obstacles you mentioned, in spite of some occasionally florid language and a few cases of terminal earnestness; it's more a matter of seeking the broad sense of purpose and leadership that Democrats perpetually lack, and a hope that maybe the electorate is better disposed to a solid, principled candidate than in 2000. Also, as a layperson, I can say that I find the endless poll parsing that Chris does, and to a lesser extent wonkish white-paper reviews that you policy types like, a bit... well, not necessarily 'creepy,' but maybe things that carry far too much weight among the professionals on our side, and too often rather soulless. And I'm honestly neither sentimental (if you want RL references who would laugh at that characterization of me, I'll provide them) nor dismissive of pragmatic concerns.

Posted by: latts | Oct 11, 2007 5:34:58 PM

I must say that I wasn't a huge fan of Hillary Clinton or her husband during their years in the White House. But I've grown personally fairly comfortable with the idea of a second Clinton presidency. Eight years of surreal awfulness will do that to you. I'm essentially a fan -- though not a rabid one -- of Hillary Clinton's toughness, smarts, work ethic and competence, and I think she'd be an unimaginably vast improvement over the current occupant of the White House.

That said, I can't say that I'm exactly blind to the implications for the republic of the growth of dynastic politics; if for no other reason, perhaps the former VP could in the end be impressed upon to run. Yes, Gore's father was in the Senate, but he wasn't president himself. Nor was his spouse. So, I guess I'm saying it will be kind of a shame should Al Gore eschew showing up for his date with destiny. I still think his concession speech in 2000 may well be the finest political oration I've ever heard.

Posted by: Jasper | Oct 11, 2007 6:06:39 PM

That said, if Gore ran, and if Gore won, all those attributing messianic qualities to the man would be disappointed.

A Gore campaign is primarily valuable if it's transformative, and that depends upon millions of people, none of whom are Al Gore. It would have to deliver a hearty fuck-you to the mass media mavens that sniggered and smeared in 2000. A Gore campaign would have to disdain the prescribed campaign calendar.

It's the opposite of a cult of personality, in a curious way. Like Davis X. says, it's about a kind of popular redemption. I honestly believe that Gore's presence in the race would serve as a catalyst for the kind of Extreme Makeover: Augean Stables Edition that American politics desperately requires.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Oct 11, 2007 6:53:16 PM

You know, I find the cult of personality around Barack Obama much more creepy. Its not because I'm a gore person over a barack person--far from it, I'm a yellow dog democrat and I'll vote for the nominee regardless. But J-H-C on a pogo stick if anyone deserves to have a cult following based on actual milage its Gore and not the one term wonder from Illinois. And I say that as someone who loved his speech and loved his book. But he has yet to prove his mettle the way Gore has, to me, as a true visionary and a man who can act, and act again, when most other men would have crawled into a cave and given up.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Oct 11, 2007 7:13:22 PM

It would be quite entertaining to see Al Gore run for president and get cornered into a debate on global warming. Wouldn't that be a hoot?

Posted by: Ron | Oct 11, 2007 7:16:32 PM

"Insofar as an individual politician's capabilities matter, it's probably their skill at campaigning, the size of their coattails, and their ability to butter up Congress."

This seems not correct to me at all, at least with regards to foreign policy where the President has tremendous power and discretion in his hands that he/she can wield for either good or ill. As people above have noted, George W. Bush is the prime example. If he had thought it was a bad idea to invade Iraq, we wouldn't have gone in. This wasn't a predetermined event--it's not clear to me what great relevance his views on Iraq had to his election as President--so it all comes down to individual judgment. At that critical moment, do you get that big call right or wrong?

I'm sort of conflicted on President Al Gore. On the one hand, it would be really cathartic to re-elect him President after 8 years of Bush, and no one can deny he has a tremendous amount of experience and is very qualified. On the other hand, I personally think his views on global warming are extreme and that the next President has much bigger and more immediate things to worry about. Also, he's much more of a Clintonian technocrat than some of his supporters realize, which IMO is a good thing but those who think he'll annihilate the Republicans or whatever are sadly mistaken.

Posted by: Korha | Oct 11, 2007 8:03:20 PM

"You know, I find the cult of personality around Barack Obama much more creepy."

The Obama cult was bigger last year, I think. IMO, the Hillary Clinton cult is the most disturbing one right now. Apparently every so-called "attack" (i.e. a drawing of distinctions) by one of the other candidates on Clinton redoubles the efforts of her hardcore supporters to elect her, of course regardless of whether these "attacks" are true or not. They plainly draw energy from being under siege by the enemy, real or imagined. It's a political asset for her campaign, I guess, but it disturbs me personally.

Posted by: Korha | Oct 11, 2007 8:21:39 PM

You might argue that a even a willful President can't accomplish much, but you sure as hell won't convince me that an absentee President (like aWol) won't run the country into the ground. We can't take any more chances, for christ's sake.

I think you ought to put a little more thought into the importance of convincing the world that the Bush years are over and we are undoing the fascist takeover. Gore's no saint, yadda yadda, but he's internationally respected in a way that few Americans, much less politicians, can match. Setting for someone else is like South Africa electing someone other than Nelson Mandela as their first president. Sure, there might have been a better bureaucrat, but he was a hero, and there's still something to be said for having a hero in the highest office in the land.

And that's why I nominate Al Gore to return as the leader of the fourth-and-highest branch of government: the Vice Presidency. Edwards-Gore '08!

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Oct 11, 2007 8:47:36 PM

You know the PWP* would never let Gore run, right?

*Powdered-Wigged Punditry

Posted by: hf | Oct 11, 2007 9:15:48 PM

Ezra you are dead wrong on this one:

. . . The presidency offers a very limited amount of room for individual improvisation. You can choose what you emphasize, and how you go about it, but at the end of the day, the most important factors remain the composition of Congress, the state of the economy, the tenor of foreign events, and luck.

Let's look at how much the President can do just in the realm of the environment and global warming.

President Gore would be the chief administrator of one of the largest Bureaucracies in the entire world. He would get to set the policy for the entire Executive Branch of government. That means, he gets control over regulations promulgated by the EPA, the DOE, NRC, NOAA and its sub-agencies, the Department of the Interior and all the rest. These are the MOST important actors.

He could systematically remap the entire environmental policy of the federal government without so much as saying a peep to Congress.

The fact of the matter is, the laws are there already, Congress already passed NEPA, ESA and Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act and others. The fundamental problem with all these laws is that they are bad laws, but that the agencies have systematically gutted and declawed them through rulemaking. If Gore gets in he gets control over rulemaking, and could promulgate fundamental reinterpretations of these laws, and change everything. Changing permitting decisions, NEPA decisions, discharge regulations, energy policy, I mean the list goes on forever.

Congress is useful and important, sure, but only to make these regulations a bit more permanent. But the fact of the matter is, regulation is where it is at. And Congress doesn't say much when it comes to regulation--they can't. It gets too sticky for them to get involved in, for example, what the appropriate regulation regarding discharges into a river are--they leave it to the EPA. The President controls the EPA, and through that agency, he control those regulations.

A President Al Gore could shape things in a way that no movie or Nobel prize could. He could cause this country to totally rethink environmental policy such that anyone that comes in after him would see the risk in changing back to our old (current) ways.

You're piece is way off the mark here. Al Gore could do more in the White House than he could ever dream of as an outside actor--especially now that Congress is so polarized.

Posted by: Tony | Oct 11, 2007 9:20:26 PM

If there is a cult of personality, may I suggest that the Iraq War-- and the fact that the three leading Democratic candidates are basically openly endorsing its indefinite continuation-- has a lot to do with it?

If I understand the base correctly, what it would like is some kind of assurances that the political dynamics have changed and that the supposedly more liberal party isn't going to be freely sending brave American servicemembers to their deaths just to look tough and win elections anymore. The election of a candidate who opposed the Iraq War when it counted would be a great step in that direction. The election of a candidate who voted for war with Iraq, and war with Iran, and who wants to indefinitely occupy Iraq-- which is what everyone is now saying is inevitable-- would be a step in the opposite direction, saying in effect that it doesn't matter how terrible a war we get into, we must continue mindlessly supporting any war that is proposed because otherwise we will not get elected.

Gore is a proxy for an electable candidate who got Iraq right.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Oct 11, 2007 9:25:37 PM

Gore/Feingold '08 !!

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Oct 11, 2007 11:58:42 PM

Gore is a proxy for an electable candidate who got Iraq right.

Like Obama?

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Oct 12, 2007 12:17:03 AM

"The presidency offers a very limited amount of room for individual improvisation?"

Some guy's on the phone for you. Frankly something. He sounds old, maybe even dead.

But he's pissed.

Posted by: wcw | Oct 12, 2007 2:25:55 AM

Come on, Al, run. Make my whole loser of a birthday week turn around. Prove to my blase sons that good can, indeed, triumph over evil, as well as over Evil™, A Subsidiary Of Lockheed-Martin.

Think of the poetry of it.

Posted by: litbrit | Oct 12, 2007 9:12:18 AM

Within the current system, no one can be a great president. Al Gore has much more freedom and has accomplished vastly more as a private citizen then he ever would as president. When you're president you're hogtied by the oil and gas lobbies and all kinds of other super-powerful interests. He is making waves these days only because he is NOT in elected office. I would hate to see him run for president.

Posted by: Rhea | Oct 12, 2007 9:54:06 AM

I love Al Gore, I voted for him and was devastated by Bush v. Gore. I still wear my "I Dissent" t-shirt containing the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion. But, I don't want him to run for President. And, I wish people would stop pushing for it. It's not only creepy; it's wacky. I wish Gore could be magically transported into the office of the President, just as they do, I suppose; but the reality is, politics is an exercise in cynicism and brutality. Gore has experienced the very worst of that and I wouldn't wish it on him again. He has MOVED ON; I wish his supporters at the grassroots level would MOVE ON too.

Posted by: Brighid | Oct 12, 2007 10:57:55 AM

One extraordinarily important skill you left out, and most people leave out, is management. Presidents manage huge bureaucracies.

And big idea people frequently are lousy managers.

Posted by: ostap | Oct 12, 2007 11:04:48 AM

Presidents manage huge bureaucracies.

No, they hire other people to manage huge bureaucracies. Sheesh... I've seen this argument before (seems like it's two-thirds of HRC's claim to the job, for no apparent reason), and it makes me think we're becoming some sort of Franklin Covey political party. Just apply Highly Effective Management Principles to any old ideology, and things will work out!

Posted by: latts | Oct 12, 2007 11:45:54 AM

Regarding Gore's "ability to see around the bend"--people who see Gore as Christ Risen for the Democratic party tend to leave to the side the fact that Lieberman was his running mate. He sure didn't see 'round that bend very well at all.

I've got nothing against the guy, and am thankful for the work he's done over the years, but it seems odd to treat the man as such a saint, unless one is just fantasizing about perfect candidates.

Posted by: jeffliveshere | Oct 12, 2007 12:01:20 PM

Gore's got Bloomberg syndrome: keep the people guessing to keep the people talking about you.

Posted by: yep | Oct 13, 2007 1:44:10 AM

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