THE BLOG
01/14/2008 12:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Al Gore Could Do This Election

I said earlier that there's no point in Al Gore endorsing anyone in the primary. But if he does want to have a salutary effect on the presidential election, I have a proposal for him. More on that in a minute.

It's looking like John McCain has a better than even chance of getting the Republican nomination. He has the distinction of being by far the most sensible Republican candidate on the subject of climate change. It is one of his storied heresies from Republican orthodoxy.

He is drawing fire from the right on the issue, insuring a stream of glowing press (never underestimate the press's love of a maverick, faux or not) and a powerful appeal to independents (one of the reasons he won so big in NH). This makes him a very potent candidate in the general election, if he makes it there.

Inexplicably, green groups seem determined to help McCain as well, actively muddying the differences among the candidates on climate. "The true frontrunner in the 2008 presidential campaign so far is the issue of global warming: all four winning candidates to date support capping greenhouse gas emissions and solving the global warming crisis," said LCV. Representatives of Environmental Defense and NRDC echoed the message. One NGO green said that all four winning candidates have "a position that is certainly far better than the Bush administration" on climate, which is a bit like saying your ankles and your ears are both above your feet.

These groups are effectively trumpeting their own success -- "look how important we made this issue!" -- at great peril to the climate they claim to be protecting. The fact is, McCain would be a much worse president on climate than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Those who support strong action on climate would do well to highlight, not elide, that difference.

It's not about partisan attacks. It's about giving voters who care about the issue the information they need to express that concern with their vote. The message that "everybody's great on climate" does the opposite -- it removes all political valence and neutralizes the issue.

That's where Al Gore could come in. He's not particularly well-received in the political realm, be he is viewed as an authority on the subject of climate change. His judgment on which candidate is strongest on climate would carry considerable weight, and might offer countervailing pressure against the forces working to push the issue off the table.

If I were advising Gore, I'd tell him to refrain from endorsing a candidate at all, even in the general. When asked, he should say, "I've had my fill of American electoral politics. I have bigger things on my mind now. What I care about is a serious plan to address the climate crisis. I will make my opinion about the candidates' proposals on that subject well known." The fact is, if he assessed the candidates honestly on climate, McCain would come out looking shabby.

Why is McCain worse than Obama and Clinton on climate? I'll address that in a separate post.

grist.org