Steven Clemons: Applause for the Inconvenient Gore

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Al Gore in 2000 was inconvenient, but it turns out he would have been the right man at the right time in November 2000. I seriously underestimated him at that time; or perhaps he is a dramatically new and different Al Gore today — finally punching above his weight.
A new film based on Al Gore’s globally delivered climate change messianism, An Inconvenient Truth. has opened in major cities around the nation — and it is a triple must-see. I finagled an invite to see the film in mid-May at a political celebrity-filled gathering that featured both Gore and the brilliant director, Davis Guggenheim, taking questions — one of which on China I asked (edging out my pal, David Corn).
It was a chattering political Hollywood at the beginning — lots of friends, journalists, bloggers, and spouses of big shots were there. But by the end of the film, the audience was dumbfounded by the film’s brilliantly delivered gravitas and message: we are all really, really screwed unless we squarely address the realities of climate change. The silliness that existed in the room pre-screening was overwhelmed by the knowledge that we had just seen one of the most consequential films of our time — delivered by a person who, if not derailed by his own poor decisions, poor advisors, and an easily distracted American public should have been President.
Others have done some excellent work deconstructing Gore’s objectives in the film and the substance of what was conveyed. See Paul Krugman or the Progress Report for all the detail and cross references you might want.
But I want to address features of the film and Gore’s message and person that others might not.
First of all, this film is a mass market version of Al Gore’s not-famous-enough slide show about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It’s a high-powered slide show, not about politics but about numbers — steadily increasing captured greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere paralleled with empirically measured temperature range increases — themselves corresponding to hit-the-audience-over-the-head photos of phenomenal changes in the world’s most famous and idyllic glaciers. It’s a movie about science, and Al Gore has leveraged his political celebrity, and his considerable brain power, into telling a story that those of us with resources in the world — meaning the rich powers and particularly the world’s leading superpower — need to address.
Gore vs. Bush was not an election I enjoyed. I had met Al Gore on numerous occasions — perhaps the most revealing was an early morning run of what I think was called the Capital Hill Challenge 10K in which various Congressional and administration offices sent teams to compete. I was on Senator Jeff Bingaman’s team. Gore may have had a team, or may have been alone — I couldn’t tell. And that was usually the problem I had conceptualizing Al Gore as President of the United States. I had no sense of his team-building abilities, no sense that he would be able to move a complex political system to higher ends.
There are many who no doubt will weigh in on TWN comments to tell me how wrong I was on Gore or to tell me what a great guy he is — but when I encountered Al Gore, I usually got the sense of someone overly bothered about everything, dismissive of his staff, and of course, stiff — but in ways that had little to do with the rarefied circumstances in which he was raised (even though the film goes into considerable lengths making it clear that Gore did make it out of the hotel at 20th and Massachusetts to the family farm a few months every year). Al Gore had a righteousness to him, a know-it-all-ism that undermined his ability, in my view, to build a following. Clinton connected with people as a protestant minister. Gore tried to guide and direct his flock like a Sumerian high priest.
James Fallows is the Chairman of the Board of the New America Foundation of which I was Executive Vice President for six years and of which I am now director of foreign policy programs. Jim wrote one of the first kiss-and-tell exposes in journalism of a President. That was, of course, Jimmy Carter. (I will link the piece in the near future but am now traveling and it’s hard to post.)
Criticisms that Fallows lodged of Carter — who looked past the critique and remained friends with Fallows — focused on Carter’s micromanagement style as well as his inability to build teams, delegate, and to move complex bureaucratic structures towards a goal. Carter was brilliant, perhaps one of the most ethical and intellectually talented Presidents of America’s modern era, but he could not move people.
The pre-chastened Al Gore bore significant resemblance to Carter. One manifestation of this is I know of few people who liked working for Al Gore — who would fight and die for him politically. The one exception being Leon Fuerth, Gore’s national security advisor, whom I like a great deal and find to be a visionary thinker about public policy traps that lie ahead. If you are a student at George Washington University, take Fuerth’s course.
But as many before me have said, the Al Gore at the Georgetown Loews Multiplex and who appears as narrator and star of An Inconvenient Truth is not the same guy. He says repeatedly that he is a recovering politician and has put political aspirations behind him — but seriously, if we could have that Al Gore — I want him. We all should.
But is that possible? A close friend of mine who worked in the inner circle of John McCain’s last election recently told me that he/she’s increasingly convinced that even if the human being elected President is a great person, and has enlightened thinking in some arenas, and is pragmatic and centrist deep down, what may matter more are the people around the President. Those with power in the “president’s court” often have more to say about the personality and priorities of an administration than the office-holder himself.
My friend was making simultaneously the case that John McCain is not a right-wing zealot and certainly not a fundamentalist but at the same time lamenting some of McCain’s recent statements and decision to speak at Falwell’s university.
In Gore’s case, the question is will the unadvised, more risk-taking Gore consider applying for White House residency again — or will he become a “pumpkin” the moment that he gains some momentum and advisors swarm in to give viscosity to a campaign.
I don’t know the answer. All I can say is that I like the Al Gore of most late.
This Al Gore was a student of Roger Revelle, someone I had the pleasure to know in Revelle’s last years in San Diego. Revelle is the person who did the painstaking empirical research that documented the steady increase in atmosphere-trapped greenhouse gases. Revelle was thoughtful, inspiring, a person who naturally cultivated followers.
See this film. And ask yourself if our current President could speak authoritatively about virtually anything other than clearing brush from his Crawford ranch. Perhaps I’m being unfair. But that’s what this film does. It makes one wonder how our world today would have looked if President Gore had won in the Supreme Court rather than George W. Bush.
America needs to get beyond the slick and easy. Gore is clunky, wonky, weirdly innocent in some ways given his background and acumen.
Gore may be the inconvenient truth Americans need to consider for larger things — as well as doing all that is possible to check and abate those factors driving rapid global climate change.
— Steve Clemons
Editor’s Note: This piece was written before I arrived in Vancouver, where Al Gore happened to be the last couple of days — opening his film here.
I had hoped to meet some
TWN readers today at a coffee shop, but there was not enough time to organize. I appreciate the many emails and promise to get here again soon — probably in just a few weeks. My apologies, however, this time.
I will be seeing Al Gore again on the night of Monday, 12 June in New York for a book party for the companion book that accompanies this film. I’ll post on that Gore encounter post-vacation.
Thanks to all who have been posting great material — and particularly to former Senator Gary Hart for starting things off.

— Steve Clemons

Comments

19 comments on “Steven Clemons: Applause for the Inconvenient Gore

  1. bylove says:

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  2. WOW GOLD says:

    you’re going to dish dirt on me you’ll need to be original. I have already written a book about my felonious past. I outed myself, so to speak so there is nothing revelatory about these so-called factoids. The book is called News Junkie. It was published last week.
    http://www.wowgold-powerleveling.com

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  3. bayarnaa says:

    i want connect al gore or his website please help me its very important

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  6. Randall says:

    Interesting factoid; I also just saw A.I.T. last night, and “We are all really, really screwed” was verbatim the message I got, and have been passing around since then.
    If you Google the phrase, you get your page. Is it concidence? No, it’s Global warming…and the only possible message you can get from this movie if you have an IQ over 60
    Somebody save the frog!

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  7. JakeBCool says:

    Zathras may be right in the claims he makes in his first paragraph, but have the wrong view of Gore. As Bob Somerby pointed out at great length, as Sarah Vowell wrote about in one of her essays in _Partly Cloudy Patriot_, much of the Gore-of-wood was the creation of the media (as were George Bush’s Spanish fluency, love of the common man, and lack of any symptoms of the classic triad for sociopathy).

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  8. Zathras says:

    The analogy between Gore and Carter is apt as far as leadership is concerned. As for “the new Gore,” like “the new Nixon,” we shouldn’t let Hollywood production values persuade us that men reinvent themselves at Gore’s age. They don’t.
    As for McCain, I remember hearing the same kind of talk about the men around the younger Bush during 1999 — how they would make up for his inexperience and lack of knowledge about foreign affairs and so forth. Things don’t work that way either. Presidents bring what they bring to the Oval Office, not what their friends bring — unless they are very weak Presidents, as Bush is. McCain has dealt for years with what is most likely a product of our very easily frightened age: liberals now think that his speaking to Jerry Falwell means he is soft on religious fanaticism. Conservatives have for years feared that because he works with Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold that he is soft on the far left. You can even find people (we heard some of them during the 2000 campaign) willing to believe that because he supported talking to the Vietnamese he was a sellout to the Communists. But these all say more about McCain’s critics than they do about him, and if there are reasons McCain should not be elected President in 2008 whom he talks to is not one of them.
    Like Steve I think America made a wrong choice in 2000, but the mistake was made in February, not November.

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  9. ciao!ciuck says:

    Yes to all of the above.
    Also, check out Spike Jonze’s “revealing, and never publicly screened, portrait of Al Gore made during the election campaign of 1999” video of Al Gore (see a clip here at wholphin.
    Truly, we got screwed.

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  10. Hal says:

    KathyF wrote:
    “As [Gore] said in Hay, he’s on Step 9 of his 12 step program for recovering politicians.”
    I’d love to think that this is a sly dig at Bush as a dry drunk, as well as a sincere statement. Is Gore capable of a subtle jab like that?

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  11. 2ndChance says:

    Re-Elect Gore in 2008.

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  12. Kathleen says:

    Any human being elected to the Oval Office is going to be, alas, human and imperfect. That said, I’d rather have Al Gore’s clay feet there, than anyone else’s.

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  13. Art says:

    Complete aside, the only three people who have ever replied thoughtfully to any postings or letters to the editor I have sent are you, Leon Fuerth, and oddly enough David Ignatius (I took extreme intellectual exception to his Paul Wolfowitz pre-war interview.).
    The point of the post: It’s good to see you and Leon are pals. And I share your admiration for his views and his courage to publicly buck the whole Iraq adventure.

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  14. Fred F. says:

    Maybe time-off from politics is what more Dem “potential” leaders need. Gore seems to have found himself and he seems a person we ALL like now when before he was losing votes to Ralph Nader. Though John Edwards was “forced” out of politics, I believe this break will serve him extremely well in any future political runs, same for Gore. It’s given them time to focus their passions, breath and return to the world the rest of us live in.

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  15. Just Askin' ... says:

    Enjoyed your article about Al Gore, especially after watching him on today’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos. Gore emphasized the importance of political will based upon an informed (educated) electorate in bringing about changes that might prevent a global climate meltdown. He certainly is doing his part to educate people, and deserves kudos for his effort. I wonder, though, if educating the fickle American electorate isn’t a Sisyphean task. We’ll see … .
    Do you expect to bring TWN to Texas anytime before the election, either 2006 or 2008? Believe it or not, there are a few Texans who appreciate rational political/policy discourse. We keep a low profile, lest the bedsheet crowd be roused, but with a concealing trench coat, dark glasses and due caution, we’d love to meet you for coffee and discussion. Please leave your response in a plain brown envelope behind the second mesquite next to the guard shack in front of the western White House.

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  16. km4 says:

    “Inconvenient Truth’ reviews
    Here’s a couple…
    Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: 4 stars. He writes.
    Global warming is real.
    It is caused by human activity.
    Mankind and its governments must begin immediate action to halt and reverse it.
    If we do nothing, in about 10 years the planet may reach a “tipping point” and begin a slide toward destruction of our civilization and most of the other species on this planet.
    After that point is reached, it would be too late for any action. …
    This is not a boring film. The director, Davis Guggenheim, uses words, images and Gore’s concise litany of facts to build a film that is fascinating and relentless. In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.
    Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be “impartial” and “balanced” on global warming means one must take a position like Gore’s. There is no other view that can be defended.
    A.O. Scott in the New York Times (review behind a pay firewall): “One of the most exciting and essential movies of the year. Seriously.”
    Meanwhile, what does the right wing offer on the subject of global warming? A call to hit the beach and ignore the problem.

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  17. JohnStuart says:

    EXPLAINING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “41” & “43”
    Steve writes “Even if the human being elected President is a great person, and has enlightened thinking in some arenas, and is pragmatic and centrist deep down, what may matter more are the people around the President. Those with power in the “president’s court” often have more to say about the personality and priorities of an administration than the office-holder himself.”
    This probably explains 80% of the variance between the two Presidents Bush.
    Bush 41 didn’t have an all-star “court” but, before be ran for President, he had a rolodex of quite respectable talent, some of which he called upon.
    The remaining 20% of the variance can probably be chalked-up to the presence of some basic decency in 41 along with presence of some basic leadership skills (Captain of the Yale Varsity Baseball team vs captain of the Deke Drink-beer-from-a-funnel” team).
    Whom you know and to whom you listen both count.
    I suspect that John McCain’s rolodex is not as deep as 41s was at a comparable moment. And John McC does seem to listen to some less salubrious types.
    On the other hand McCain has more decency than 41 (we won’t attempt to put 43 on the scale, and he certainly has more leadership in his character than 41 (one couldn’t find a point on the scale to score 43 on this dimension).
    John Stuart

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