07/06/2011 03:08 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011

Al Gore's Reality Check

Former Vice President Al Gore has a clear picture of climate reality, but a hypocritical and counter productive view of political reality.

That dichotomy was manifest in Gore's Rolling Stone magazine essay criticizing President Obama for failing to act more aggressively in curbing global warming.

Gore displayed his hypocrisy in the course of damning Obama with faint praise. The former vice president acknowledged President Obama's "green" accomplishments but added that they had fallen far short of meeting the environmental movement's expectations. Gore was unmoved by Obama's contention that as much as possible was done in the face of unstinting obstructionism from a unified Republican Party dedicated to bringing down his presidency.

Yet Gore bowed to political reality as much if not more than Obama when serving in the executive branch. As second in command under Bill Clinton, he was relatively subdued on environmental matters, compared to the outspoken views that he openly expressed as a senator and in his best-selling tome Earth in the Balance. It was all in deference to Clinton, whose White House environmental record only exceeded mediocrity at the end of his second term when he was half way out the door and did not need to bargain for congressional Republican support.

Nor did Gore become any bolder when he stepped out of Clinton's shadow to run for president against George W. Bush. During the campaign, Gore followed the counsel of his advisors who urged him to play down his controversial environmental activism in an attempt to expand his voter base.

It was only after losing the presidential election and entering private life that Gore in uninhibited fashion sought the public spotlight to promote his activist agenda for combating global warming.

Gore clearly had some second thoughts about condemning Obama for the same concessions to political reality that the Clinton Administration made. But the former vice president quickly dispelled any guilt feelings and proceeded to assail Obama for lacking the courage to defy the political odds and go for the whole ball of wax.

The problem is that if Obama were to follow Gore's proposed environmental playbook, the "perfect" could easily become the enemy of the "good" in the highly partisan climate pervading Washington. A plausible argument could be made that by asking for too much, one could end up obtaining too little.

Gore needs to be more measured in his assessment of Obama's environmental record. Let's see how aggressively the president acts when he no longer has to run for reelection, whether because he is defeated or retires after one term or is chosen to serve a second.

Edward Flattau's fourth book, 'Green Morality,' is now available.