The Nobel Peace Prize going to Al Gore has set off a new spasm of talk about the possibility that Gore might yet save us and run for president. Even hardcore progressive activists are hoping he joins the race.
In an AlterNet readers' poll last year (in which Noam Chomsky won the MVP for "Most Valuable Progressive"), Gore was far and away the preferred Democratic candidate.
But if Gore does jump into the race, a question will nag: Can we trust him?
Don't misunderstand me: I'd love to see Gore run.
Like many progressives, I've grown to appreciate the new Gore. Beginning in 2002 when leading Democrats had lost their voices, a reborn Gore spoke out loudly against Bush policies (and irritated mainstream pundits) through a series of speeches on Iraq, foreign policy, economics and the assault on our precious Constitutional freedoms.
Gore broke with former allies in the party establishment, worked closely with grassroots groups like MoveOn and endorsed the upstart Howard Dean in the primaries. He even spoke haltingly in favor of single-payer national health insurance.
His Inconvenient Truth documentary was not just a box office sensation. Gore turned it into a global organizing drive - earning supportive words from Ralph Nader. The movie showed Gore to be a serious and passionate advocate, whose plan of action begins from an understanding of facts and consequences. In other words, the opposite of the current White House resident.
If this new Gore were to run for president, I'd do everything I could to help him vanquish the Republicans.
But doubts still persist. Because I remember the old Gore.
I remember a politician whose words on the environment were not matched by later actions, a politician whose foreign policy views were often militarist and whose economic views were often corporatist.
I remember Vice President Gore -- despite having written the environmental manifesto "Earth in the Balance," which highlighted the impact of auto emissions -- as the Clinton administration's leader in a "partnership" with Detroit auto makers that failed to increase fuel efficiency standards one inch in eight years.
I remember a vice president who was the administration's go-to-guy in promoting corporate-oriented trade deals like NAFTA, with their obvious negative impacts on the global environment and on workers' rights. (Asked about NAFTA last year by Larry King, Gore's position seemed to have changed little.)
I remember a vice president who played a lead role in pushing through the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 that predictably led to the worst media conglomeration in our nation's history, and helped fortify the media empires of folks like Murdoch, Clear Channel and Sinclair.
And I remember a presidential candidate in 2000 emptied of progressive principles by Beltway consultants so afraid of the American people and democracy that they believe a Democrat must win largely through stealth. A candidate who chose as his campaign chair William Daley, the NAFTA campaign czar despised by labor unions. And as his running-mate Joe Lieberman, who aided Bush's side in the Florida fight.
In An Inconvenient Truth, Gore relishes a biting quote from the fearless progressive advocate, Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding." The Sinclair comment is pungently anti-corporate, anti-careerist. When I watched the movie, I felt I was seeing the new Gore critiquing the old Gore.
So the question remains: If Gore were to run for president again, which Gore would we get? And if he makes it to the White House (or gets close), could we be sure that the new Gore won't revert into the old?
In 2002, Gore parted with some old Beltway buddies. Today, the Netroots and online fundraising may be strong enough to allow the new Gore to flourish and win the White House without the backing of old-line media, timid consultants and corporate funders.
If Gore were to choose a grassroots/netroots path over the Beltway bandit approach, it could be an inspiring campaign that would infuriate the same pundit elite that went apoplectic over Dean's primary campaign.
Here's an inconvenient truth: Progressives are running out of options for 2008. A high priority for some is stopping Hillary Clinton -- the preferred candidate of many in the media, and the recipient of a recent campaign donation from Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch.
Many progressives have a message for Al: Please get into the presidential race. . .but free of the old corporatist baggage.