With all the shameful, empty bantering in Congress about who is patriotic and courageous, there is among potential Presidential candidates one who truly would be both were he to throw his hat in the ring. That person is Al Gore.
This is a man we hardly knew when he ran for President and then won only to lose. He has changed the world for the better without being President. He has grown before our eyes in humor, strength and humanity.
This is a leader whose entrance into the Presidential race would raise the tenor of Democratic Party presidential politics, as he is both mature and centered. He is his own person more than any current candidate. He could do for the Democratic Party what Norman Lear suggested be done for the country -- bring it out of intensive care.
But why would he do this? He stands to lose so much. His current popularity, earned largely by commitment to environmentalism, would be threatened. As a candidate, he'd be required to take stands on issues he's been able to leave behind. The world would lose the focused commitment of a dedicated environmentalist, as he'd be enmeshed in extricating the U.S. from Iraq, perhaps from Iran if all goes in George Bush's favor, and also from Afghanistan and Pakistan where there is now a dangerous resurgence of the Taliban. According to Frank Rich this last problem makes the entire debate about the Iraq surge "as much a sideshow as Britney's scalp."
If Al Gore were to run for the highest office in the land, he'd inherit years of extraordinary diplomatic ineptitude at the hands of those now in office incapable of negotiation or even of avoiding direct insults to those who might otherwise be our allies. He would be the Commander in Chief of a tired, divided military and President to a disillusioned, skeptical America hated around the world.
Why would Al Gore become a Presidential candidate under such circumstances? Would he do it for glory? Unlikely. Would he do it for a place in history?
The reason that could pull him into the race is patriotism - love of country - the need to step forward to undo what has been done so horribly to so many in its name. And this would take inordinate courage for a man once burned so badly by a system that clearly can be, repeatedly, rigged.
Whether you'd vote for him or not, it's hard to deny that he'd extricate the Democratic Party from silliness by insisting that candidates grapple with issues of enormous importance to the world. Al Gore has the focus, humor, credibility, and good intentions to make that happen. His candidacy could raise all boats by raising the level of debate.
But it would take a true patriot to do this - not the kind we hear so much about who vote for more war. He would give up more than most -- in fame, success and fun -- and likely do so more for others than for himself. He'd show more backbone than can be found in all of Congress. And this is a lot to ask.
Yet, we can't afford to be generous. We must ask. This is an impressive man who doesn't simply talk about world threats; he acts to end them. A part of most of us wants him to stay where he is to keep doing the work he's doing. But we need him too much.
Once too practiced in his responses, his current public demeanor suggests he'd likely be far less so this time. From him we'd likely get the truth. That would be a breath of fresh air in these times of constant maneuvering. Even if he entered the race to advance environmental concerns, that would do just fine. We need him there. We need someone driven not by what sells but by what matters.