Former Vice President and ultimately unsuccessful 2000 Democratic Presidential Nominee Albert A. Gore, Jr. is not running for President in 2004... or so he says... Perhaps he honestly believes, deep within his own heart and mind, that he has no intention of running for President again this time... or it is quite conceivable that he is merely jerking all of our respective chains with his most recent protestations on this score.
Earlier this very week, the former Vice President gave a fairly well publicized speech in New York City before a group which had been opposed to the war in Iraq. The speech, to my mind, often reads rather anachronistically: there are portions dedicated to Gore's decrying President Bush's handling of that war which would have been better given back in February, when the United States was still wrangling with the other Member-States in the United Nations Security Council for the approval of military action that, in the end, never came or, perhaps, in May- as a retrospective appraisal of a war much more recently completed (since the fall of the major cities in Iraq prior to that time clearly signalled the end of Saddam Hussein's regime)... but in August??!!
There are reports that Al Gore was urged to give this speech by none other than New York State's former Governor, Mario Cuomo; that Gore specifically requested that a forum be found in which he could give just such a speech; that the main purpose of the speech- despite the former Vice President's protestations to the contrary- was to test the waters for a potential Presidential run.
So... as to the question I myself posed as the subtitle of this piece: Is it time for more Al Gore come 2004?
For Al Gore has a problem- or, rather, two problems: these being the two main factions of today's Democratic Party of the United States: the so-called "New Democrats" who gleefully championed Bill Clinton as he successfully differentiated himself from the Walter "Fritz" Mondales and Michael Dukakises of the world and then went on to defeat an incumbent President, the father of the current President, back in 1992 and the Traditional ("post-New Deal") Liberals represented by such groups as Big Labor (as opposed to those Liberals represented by the likes of, to take only one obvious example, the Rev. Jesse Jackson). Gore's problem, should he decide to actually run in 2004, is that he does not well fit into either group, yet these are the two largest groups among Democrats that are going to "duke it out" for the right to name the Party's Presidential Nominee at the National Convention in Boston in less than a year.
Al Gore is, after all, not at all a "New Democrat". First of all, if he had been, Bill Clinton would not have picked him as his running mate in the first place more than a decade ago. Say what you will about Al Gore's relationship to Bill Clinton in particular or the changing role of the Vice Presidency within any Presidential Administration since Dwight Eisenhower had his first heart attack in 1955 in general, the simple fact is that Presidential Nominees still choose their running mates on the basis of, in some form or fashion, balancing the ticket. Al Gore brought no real regional balance to the Clinton-Gore ticket (although one could argue that- the former Vice President's reminiscences about the family farm in Carthage, Tennessee to the contrary- Gore as much grew up in Washington, D.C. as he did in the Volunteer State) and the fact that he was a U.S. Senator/former Congressman (hence "inside the Beltway") to Clinton's Governorship (hence Bill the Washington "outsider") is, in the main, a relatively minor balancing act (after all, Clinton was as much- if not more- the Federal policy wonk on that ticket, given his post-Arkansas childhood experiences as a student at Oxford and a Yale Law grad).
Think Al Gore is, nevertheless, a "New Democrat"- that is, a centrist? You need only look at who he picked as his running mate! I dare say that Senator Joe Lieberman was clearly the centrist Democrat on that ticket!!
What Al Gore brought to the Clinton-Gore ticket was an outreach to Liberals (and not so much the media's version of Liberals, who would, say, be attracted to the sentiments expressed in Gore's book Earth in the Balance, but also the Trad-Libs such as, as I've already noted, Big Labor), for Bill Clinton was not (Rush Limbaugh's impassioned diatribes heard across the land as well as the radio dial notwithstanding) a Liberal's liberal in the usual sense of the term. As a result, had the political winds been blowing in just a little different direction in the immediate aftermath of the earliest breakings of the waves of the Monica Lewinsky scandal back in early 1998, the Trad-Libs (led by, among others, then-House Democratic Whip David Bonior) would have surely left Clinton to slowly twist in the winds of Conservative Republican Impeachment as surely as the post-Goldwater/pre-Reagan Conservatives had let Dick Nixon twist against the gale force of Liberal Democratic Inquiry in the wake of "Watergate" back in 1973-1974!
Bill Clinton, for example, was as pro-Wall Street as any good Eastern Establishment Republican such as a Christie Whitman or a George Pataki or a Rudy Giuliani. Al Gore, therefore, served as running mate, and then Vice President, in very much the same role that Hillary Rodham Clinton (all before she became New York's junior U.S. Senator, of course) would serve as First Lady-- as a Liberal salve to soothe leftish nerves frayed by a Bill Clinton who, as Governor, had actually vetoed a civil rights bill! Hillary took care of mollifying the media-defined Liberals: that is, the minorities or the artsy/creatives of Hollywood; Al, meanwhile, reassured the Trad-Libs, such as a Big Labor nervous about Bill Clinton's getting far too cozy with the entrepreneurial classes as the Nation's economy surged throughout the 1990s. The message from both Al and Hil to these two vastly different liberal constituencies was basically the same: keep quiet, let Bill do his thing and the Democrats will, as a result of just such cooperation and quiescence from the more leftish, continue to win the big prizes- Presidential Elections. What else could so easily explain, to take an obvious example, a women's movement only too eager to back a President who had engaged in the behavior so graphically- where not also so unnecessarily- recounted in the Starr Report?
But does this mean that Al Gore, in the position of having no real hope of strong support from the Democratic Party center, can- instead- count on his Trad-Lib friends of yore? Hardly! The two liberal groups within the Party are, it is true, still the most galvanized among all Democrats about the election debacle in Florida back in 2000. They ever talk most long and loud about how Al Gore had a half million votes more nationwide than George W. Bush (though this factoid is largely irrelevant unless and until we someday switch to Direct Election of Presidents via Constitutional Amendment [Not Happening!]), how ballots were stuffed at the behest of- oh, who knows?- Jeb Bush or Katherine Harris or some other GOP functionary or other in the Sunshine State at the time, how legal voters were physically kept from voting, how "illegal" votes were counted (even though, as a matter of Law, if a vote is counted, it is- by very definition- then not illegal), how the U.S. Supreme Court "elected" President Bush (even though, constitutionally, it is Congress that is the final "umpire" of a Presidential Election and, as I myself observed at the time, not a single Democrat in the entire United States Senate formally protested the counting of Florida's Electoral Vote before the Tabulation Joint Session), etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam. Thus, it would be so easy to be misled into thinking that Al Gore would have a natural constituency among those most angry at what they- to this very day- perceive as being electoral "justice" denied.
Yet such is not the case... for three basic reasons:
First of all, the cry of "Foul in Florida!" still being heard among the liberals (whether Trad-Lib or no) of the Land is not so much a reflection of a recurrent wish that Al Gore had been elected but more a lingering remnant of the ultimately vain hope that George W. Bush would not be elected and the subsequent wish that Bush had not, in fact, actually been elected. In other words, "Florida 2000" as a rallying cry is not nearly so much one of support for Gore as it is one of opposition to (where it does not also take on an air of abject disdain for) President Bush. Hardly the foundation of a winning campaign for the 2004 Democratic nomination Secondly, Al Gore wears the "L" of "Loser" on his forehead (and a half million vote plurality does nothing to at all mitigate this) and we do not live in the age of a William Jennings Bryan or an Adlai Stevenson being given another chance at the brass ring by the Party.
But it is the third reason that is the most problematic for a potential Al Gore candidacy in 2004. Liberals of all stripes within the Democratic Party have pretty much been sitting on their hands come the General Election campaign for the Presidency for almost two decades now: the last Democratic Presidential Nominee who was the champion of at least one of the two liberal wings was Walter Mondale in 1984; in 1988, Michael Dukakis tried unsuccessfully to turn his "Massachusetts Miracle" into the very pro-entrepreneurial economic agenda that Bill Clinton would later employ (though, to be fair, Dukakis' opponent- George Bush pater- was running as "Reagan's Third Term" [albeit a "kinder, gentler" one!] with Ronald Reagan about to leave office as a hugely popular President), Clinton himself- as I already pointed out- was not truly a Liberal's liberal and Al Gore wouldn't have even gotten within smelling distance of the 2000 Democratic Nomination had he not been Clinton's V.P. (even though Gore's attempt to run as "Clinton's Third Term" fell just short of the mark-- or did it? [;-)]). With no Democrat currently in the White House, one cannot expect either liberal faction within the Democratic Party to so sit on their hands in 2004! And Al Gore cannot rightly claim to be the champion of either (especially with all the political "buzz" among liberals surrounding Howard Dean of late).
Still, one cannot expect Al Gore to necessarily successfully resist what must be a strong temptation to run for President- not only again, but also so soon (when most political observers expected such a "do-over" by the former Vice President in either 2008 or 2012, depending on whether or not a Democrat can defeat President Bush next year). He simply must be looking over the field of bantamweights and lightweights among the Democrats lining up for the job and comparing them to his own still-so-recent strong association with the Democrats' most recent heavyweight champion, Bill Clinton. What must Al Gore be thinking?
There is a famous cartoon from the 1892 Presidential campaign which shows the two opponents of that election, incumbent President Benjamin Harrison and former President Grover Cleveland (whom Harrison beat in the 1888 Electoral College, although- as with Al Gore- Cleveland seemingly had the Popular Vote [though, truth be told, the historian has to be rather careful whilst crunching any raw election statistics from back then]), in a boxing ring... Harrison is standing in one corner of the ring, putting on his boxing gloves while casting a steely glance over to Cleveland, who sits defiantly on a stool in the other corner, awaiting the opening bell of the First Round, with a patch reading " ' 88 " over one eye...
Does Al Gore, somewhere in his dresser drawers, have a similar eye patch labeled " ' 00 "?... is he trying it on for size even as I type this??... then again, Don Quixote, too, had his "impossible dream".