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Michael Russnow

Michael Russnow

Posted: February 15, 2008 12:22 AM

Maybe It's Time For an Old New Face: Calling For Al Gore


I'm constantly amazed at how the media control our thinking. We can't just look at the candidates for president, listen to what they're saying and come to our own conclusions. They have to tell us what the candidates said and whether it was effective before we can decide for ourselves whether any of it rings true and influences how we're going to vote.

The media prey on our base instincts, the fact that most people want to be on the winning side. You might support the candidate you really like up to a point, but if he or she is going nowhere right from the starting gate and those staunch political journalists keep harping on what appear to be meager chances, a drop in the polls is almost a foregone certainty. By the time your state votes, only the diehard fans of that particular candidate will wind up marking their ballots for that guy or gal.

And the more this happens, it causes an insurmountable spiral effect that eventually will cause the candidate to withdraw. Now, it's conceivable that he or she truly didn't have much of a chance, but too often it appears that the way people vote is often predicated on the decline or rising fortunes of the actors on the front page of that day's newspaper.

Consider the case of John Kerry, who was given up for lost in the latter part of 2003. Howard Dean was deemed the man, and he started accumulating endorsements from oodles of major Democratic Party players. Then, political reality came into play. Iowa and then New Hampshire, and Kerry was unbeatable -- at least up to the nomination phase.

The same could be said of John McCain. Wasn't he written off several months ago in the same way that Mike Huckabee was suddenly the guy to watch after his surprising win in Iowa?

And now, there is the back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. First, Clinton was unstoppable, and then she placed third in Iowa. But she came back in New Hampshire, and suddenly Obama was slipping after it appeared he might win that state. A couple of more contests in not too significant states and it looked like Hillary was out of luck. Early reports in California were that Obama was within two points of victory, but as it turned out he didn't come close. Plus Hillary beat him in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the latter victory particularly sweet inasmuch as its senior senator Ted Kennedy and much of his extended family had endorsed Senator Obama.

Yes, Obama had won Illinois, but most of his other victories were in caucus states (not a great indicator of voter potential, as they appeal more to activists rather than the broad electorate) or in medium to small states. And since then Obama has wrung up a number of similar victories, which have caused the media to portray Hillary Clinton as hanging by a thread.

The reality is that she is doing quite well in the big states to come, Ohio and Texas, and will probably do so in Pennsylvania. I expect her victories there to have the press do a complete reversal and suggest that Obama has a niche following but will never play to the masses. And then voter sentiment will shift the other way, wondering when he'll drop out for the betterment of the party.

Which leads us to the convention and the super delegates. What will they do with two candidates who have both amassed lots of delegates but with supporters who aren't thrilled with the other, and will they all come together in unity to oppose John McCain?

Now, these super delegates are party professionals. They're members of congress, governors, former presidents and the like. They don't want to offend either of the two major candidates' followers by choosing one over the other. So, maybe the best solution is to come out for someone who most people admire. Someone who has already won the presidential vote, but had victory wrested from him by a very political Supreme Court.

Of course I'm talking about Al Gore, the man who should be winding up his second term this year. A man who has grown so much from his earlier moderate-center political beliefs to become a populist candidate and forward-thinking visionary.

After the back and forth scoffing about how he lost the election, from the obviously political aspect of the hanging chads to his own failure to excite the electorate sufficiently to have had a comfortable enough lead so that Florida wouldn't have mattered, Al Gore has emerged from the dusty end of his last political incarnation to become a giant in the world we live.

His concerns for the environment, which led to his starring role in an Oscar-award winning documentary and a subsequent shared Nobel Prize have elevated him to a status few men or women of his generation have achieved. Plus, having stayed out of the 2004 race he benefits from the avoidance of the debilitating effect suffered by the likes of multiple nominee presidential candidates William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey and my personal favorite, Adlai E. Stevenson.

Voters are fixated on the public persona. In the case of Stevenson, for example, people forget that he was an electric candidate in 1952. He was the last man drafted for president by either party, whose electoral defeat stemmed more from the grueling Korean War which his party had waged, twenty years of Democratic party reign in the White House and an opponent who was enormously popular, the supposedly nonpolitical war hero, Dwight David Eisenhower.

Even after his defeat, Stevenson rose in public esteem as he battled McCarthyism and became a premier speaker on foreign affairs. Had he stayed out of the 1956 race, there's little doubt he might have been the nominee in 1960 and might well have won the prize, as Richard Nixon did bypassing 1964, grabbing the gold ring, barely, in 1968.

However, President Eisenhower had had a heart attack in 1955 and there was much talk that he wouldn't run for re-election. With this in mind, and knowing there would be a contested nomination battle, Stevenson announced his candidacy and then was committed to following it through even after Eisenhower felt well enough to run, subsequently beating Stevenson far more severely than four years earlier.

However, Al Gore, unlike Stevenson, actually won the presidential vote -- without question at the popular vote level, no one disputes that -- but arguably the electoral college as well, had Bush not had the Florida Secretary of State in his brother's pocket and a majority of Supreme Court Justices, who preferred his political views.

So, he is already a winner of sorts, and in the years since 2000 he has become a renowned world statesman. He says he doesn't want to run for president, but has never absolutely ruled it out in a Sherman-esque manner. People say he doesn't have the stomach for it anymore or that he's too involved in other pursuits he likes. This may be true or maybe he's just biding his time.

In any case, we are at a crossroads in American history with so much damage to our nation done by an administration not initially truly elected that effected policies and procedures that are going to take years to undo. Whether it is the Iraq war whose entry and conduct have been so questionable or the debilitating economy and health care concerns, all this and more have diminished the hopes of our citizenry. These are problems that need fixing, folks, and while it is intriguing to have candidates that will break through barriers never before realized in our society, I would rather have a candidate behind whom most Americans can rally.

While I believe John McCain is a step or two above the current White House occupant, I prefer a president at the penthouse level. McCain promises more of the same, which is why it is imperative that Democrats regain the White House and make significant gains in Congress to have a shot at passing the legislative agenda that will heal our country.

For this reason, I am herewith putting out the call: Al Gore, please reconsider. Your party and, more importantly, your country need you.