Al Gore remains as ambiguous as ever about whether or not he will again run for the presidency. He has thus far said either “no” or makes statements that imply a “no”, but has until now not definitively and completely ruled out another run. Of course, he has some very sound reasons not to run for president again, some of them tied to the realities of being president, while other reasons seem more personal. Aside from that, remaining ambiguous as he has also keeps him in the attention limelight, which is good for people who want to sell an idea, or even books. But on the other hand: if Gore is so adamant that his nation’s stance on global warming should change, then there is one glaring reason, one truth why he should run: it is only a president that can turn ideas into law.
Truth be told: political junkies in the US media seem to be more enthused about a possible Gore candidacy than much of the electorate at the moment. When matched up against the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, Gore comes last in the opinion polls. Yet the junkies and the pollsters themselves then point to a “surge” (no pun intended) in the polls if Gore should announce; once Gore’s candidacy becomes fact, they argue, Gore would easily jump past the current frontrunners of the Democratic pack as voters would come to see him as a real option.
But how did that happen? How did Al Gore suddenly become such a hero with a huge popstar-like buzz?
Well, the environment of course, plus perhaps a large number of still very much disgruntled Democratic voters who are still fuming about how Gore was denied the White House in 2000. But these days, Gore’s popularity – especially among those who weren’t allowed to vote in 2000 due to their age – is mostly due to his stance on the environment. In the past three years, Al Gore has become the Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and the Mahatma Gandhi of environmentalism, all rolled into one. No public figure in human history has been so succesful in touting a world-encompassing message. Thanks to his hugely succesful movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, people all over the globe have embraced him as the champion of environmental change. And he certainly has not let them down. The highlight of all this should be the series of music concerts held in June this summer, Gore’s ‘Live Earth’ worldwide wake-up call in support of environmental change, which promises to be even bigger in size and rockstar-ego than the ‘Live8′ gigs that spanned the globe in 2005.
Like the environment on that day, Al Gore – who will likely kick-off the 24 hour music fest with a speech, hopefully not with a song – will dominate headlines around the world. It would be, to put it mildly, the best platform a politician could get to announce his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. But he won’t, and here’s why.
1. Gore is getting a lot more attention for his message by doing what he’s doing now than he probably ever would as president – and he knows it.
2. By not running for office he can say whatever he wants to without having to be afraid of political repercussions.
3. He is enjoying himself immensely.
4. His family is not exactly keen on having to go through a personally damaging, harrowing political campaign again.
5. He can focus on the one major thing he finds very important without being distracted by other matters.
6. He can keep his hands clean because he’s not forced to make political compromises on the environment.
7. He may look like the average Democratic dreamboat candidate but there are at least three candidates (and their teams) who’d fight him all the way, including every nasty trick in the book.
All very sound reasons. With all his experience as a Senator and Vice-President, Gore knows the difficulties of being an elected representative of a constituency. As president, he would not only be ultimately responsible for changes on environmental policies but also on (un)employment, economic growth, and trade balances with cheap labour countries. He would also be pitted against a behemoth of lobbying organisations tied to all the aforementioned issues in whatever way. That would pit him against Democratic(!) members of Congress who are sometimes very scared of that behemoth because of their own reelection campaign finance needs. By not being a president but still having the world as his personal stage, he can forcefully drive home the need for environmental change without this or that powerful lobby tugging at his shoulders.
But there’s a big snag, and Gore knows it; it’s probably another reason for his continued ambiguity. Gore may have influence and his ideas may have gotten a lot of attention, yes, but recent history shows that the will of the public oftentimes is not reflected by the policies enacted by their elected politicians. Scream as he might, with all his influence and public support for the opinions he is tauting, the current US Administration has shown no sign whatsoever to follow his (and the public’s) lead and get serious about, for instance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This week’s blunt rejection of otherwise quite mild emission caps at the upcoming G8 summit merely proves that point; despite big public support for environmental policy changes back home, the Bush administration has no intention of actually enacting those changes. The administration would rather insult friendly allies sooner than make a positive difference.
So despite all of Gore’s promotion of the environment, the really inconvenient truth is that after a hugely succesful movie on protecting the environment and succesfully making protection of the environment a hot topic in the public’s mind, it is still signed agreements that really make a difference. And that is just where it all goes awry. For all the rhetoric – “we are addicted to oil”, as George W Bush said – and vocal care for the environment, the governments of the United States, China and Russia will still not commit themselves to real change.
Yes, China and Russia too should commit themselves to change, but the fact that they aren’t now should not put off any US move. China and Russia’s unwillingness to perhaps curb their GDP growth by 0,2% is no excuse for the US administration to not lead the way, together with Europe.
But I digress. With each speech on the environment, Al Gore and those who support his views (which constitutes a clear majority) are just spouting carbon dioxide, adding to the multitude of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Signing agreements to curb emissions causes less Co2 pollution, of only because the speeches are no longer necessary, and with that should reduce greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, the only ones able to really change things are the very politicians we all elect to represent us. Looking at the websites of the current Democratic front-runners for the presidency, John Edwards’ site is the only one to mention putting caps on greenhouse gas emissions. The websites of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are ambiguous, at best; they seem only to parrot the stance of the current Administration, which puts more faith in technological advances to curb greenhouse gas emissions – a ‘policy’ which has so far proven succesful in curbing the caps on emissions, not curbing the emissions.
And so this is Al Gore’s dilemma. On the one hand, he has been very succesful in changing public opinion on the environment, but sadly, recent history has shown that many politicians simply do not want what their constituency wants. Sure, some initiatives are taken here and there on a state-level, but on a national level, the picture is bleak. An example: even though pretty much everyone with a sane mind agrees that coal-fired energy facilities aren’t exactly environmentally friendly, four huge such facilities will be built in the US Mid-west in the coming years.
So on the other hand, Gore must know – and he’s smart, so he knows – that the only way to really, truly make a difference is to have the power to put his ideas into practice, to make them the law of the land.
And there is the case for his candidacy. With so many presidential candidates, many of their campaign platforms are usually watered down the second the candidate actually becomes president, in fear of scaring away an electoral base. Al Gore, however, would have a very difficult time watering down his pledges on the environment. Any hint of him doing so would mean political suicide, and he knows that, too. Should he fear that? Yes, but then again: if Gore is so passionate about his ideas and so convinced that change must come, then there’s really no other option but to strive to have the power.
So there is only one solution to get things done: he should run.