Try on this political look-alike for size: Al Gore is Richard Nixon.
Both were two-term vice presidents in decades of prosperity; both lost the closest election in modern American history at their time (in both cases in a year ending in a zero) and considered themselves robbed of victory; both were counted out of politics; both waited on the sidelines, quietly amassing clout as the administration that defeated them led the country into a disastrous war; and both — if the parallels hold — resuscitated their political lives for a presidential campaign that they won handily (in both cases in a year ending in an eight).
OK, so I can’t claim credit for the comparison — The Sporting News was pretty excited to come up with it — and these coincidence games can get pretty silly. This one weakens at the part where Gore steadfastly insists that he’s not running again, although of course the Nixon-Gore parallelists point to Gore’s statement as proof positive that the comparison works. After all, didn’t Nixon say exactly the same thing? But I’m intrigued that anybody, in however convoluted a form, would compare Nixon and Gore. Even in 1960 Nixon was thought of as, well, a dick, while Gore in 2000 was derided as a policy wonk, soft at the core, with a wooden personality. So what’s changed? When did he move from the back pages of Roll Call to the front cover of Rolling Stone? How did we get Al Gore Superstar?
Gore himself has largely been responsible for engineering the change in his public perception. He was gracious throughout the Florida recount saga; he made the tour of Saturday Night Live and the comedy circuit; he devoted himself to fighting global warming, a cause that was seen as a kind of personal quirk (just about his only one) during his vice presidency but has since matured into an acceptable issue for the community of the right-minded to rally around; he won an Oscar. He benefited arguably more than any other Democrat from the failures of the Bush administration: None of this would have happened, we remind ourselves, if Al Gore had been elected president, and he’s acquired clout as a potential anti-war candidate by supporting Howard Dean in 2004 and by (unlike certain senators) remaining untainted of association with the Iraq war and the Bush administration.
But more importantly — and this is where the Nixon parallel has some bearing — Gore just looks like the kind of leader Democrats are craving. Edwards and Obama get it wrong when they talk about a new America. Over the last eight years the Democrats have become the new conservatives, desperate to restore everything to the way it was before the Bush cataclysm. Major social reform isn’t on the American public’s agenda in 2008. If there’s a great silent majority that a Democratic candidate can summon up, it’s interested in a president seen as suited to developing a responsible foreign policy, rebuilding multilateral relationships, at some level disengaging from Iraq, and returning to Clinton’s domestic policies but with greater environmental consciousness. Gore and Hillary Clinton would have equal chances in conjuring up Clinton nostalgia (note how far we’ve come from “Clinton Fatigue,” Gore’s purported nemesis in 2000), although Hillary may have so clouded her political image — she used to be the suspiciously liberal wing of the Clinton administration; now she’s a shameless centrist and, of all things, irremediably linked to the Iraq war — that Gore has emerged as the heir apparent to Bill Clinton.
This may all be moot, given that it’s 2007 and given that Gore continues to insist, as he’s insisted since 2000, that he’s not running for president. (Who does he think he’s fooling?) But Al Gore Superstar offers the Democrats a model for what the party needs to look like in 2008: politically reliable, environmentally friendly, manifestly non-radical but absolutely un-Bushian. Gore may be telling the truth when he says he just doesn’t want to put himself through another presidential campaign, and he might be perfectly satisfied with a victory by any of the declared Democratic candidates. But Gore, unlike any other candidate, already has his credentials and charisma firmly established. All he needs now is a secret plan for ending the war.
Sam Kahn is a junior in Pierson College.