Who Will Own the Climate Change Franchise? The Clintons or Al Gore?

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I really did mean every word in my tribute earlier today to former Vice President Al Gore. Emails from campaigns, Senate and House press operations, the White House, NGOs, and even some in corporate America have been streaming into my email box congratulating him. I can’t imagine what Gore’s own email inbox looks like.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign site posted a big banner here:
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But Jim Lobe called today and asked what the political implications of the Gore Nobel Peace Prize win (shared win, of course) are. I gave him an earful of thoughts — but the thing most folks have not thought about is what tension this creates for the next President of the United States.


Here is Lobe’s article “Candidate Gore a Long Shot, Despite Nobel” that does grab a quote of mine:

Moreover, the growing conviction among political pros that Clinton, whose steadily growing lead in both money-raising and the polls, has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination, if not next November’s general election, also works against a Gore bid.
“If he challenged her at this point,” said Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, “he knows he risks losing Hillary’s support for crucial climate change initiatives if she becomes president. The fact that he owns the global climate change franchise will already make it difficult for the Clinton political franchise to find compelling reasons to adopt the issue as its own. It’s a delicate relationship.”

I think that Al Gore has just become the Ray Kroc of Climate Change initiatives.
Gore’s win seals the deal that he owns the global climate change franchise. Everyone big in this game — from firms, to NGOs, to governments — will need the Al Gore seal of approval on whether some initiatives are good or bad. That’s going to be interesting. Al Gore is going to be an NGO of his very own, and he’s probably going to have to get a sticker machine so that stuff he likes can bear his seal of approval.
But there is a bigger, more complicated and admittedly cynical dimension to the Gore win.
It keeps climate change policy from being something that anyone else can take a lot of credit for, particularly the Clintons — unless they can work out a deal.
Recently, some of this drama bubbled just beneath the surface at the recent Clinton Global Initiative in New York. A major new climate change initiative was announced at CGI by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and some other NGOs that had packaged their efforts as the “One Sky” initiative. Bill Clinton announced the commitment of the funders to the effort.
But some of the financial backers were concerned that if Gore was not part of the CGI discussion on climate change — that there would eventually be a feud between the Gores and the Clintons about the credit for these types of efforts.
In the end, Al Gore was on stage with Bill Clinton, Bob Zoellick, Angelina Jolie, Desmond Tutu and others in the opening session of the CGI. That was good. It held together a fragile truce among the rival Clinton and Gore franchises.
But the future will be interesting to see. Gore actually has a huge global following now on climage change policy — and Hillary Clinton, if elected, is going to need his approval and support, though it’s going to be painful (on occasion) for her to ask for it. Gore’s not the easiest guy in the world to work with.
But at the same time, Gore knows he needs a strategic, capable thinker who can push forward hard-to-digest legislative imperatives in the White House — and if he’s not in favor with Hillary Clinton (if she’s got the keys to 1600), then his efforts are going to significantly suffer.
She may not get all of the credit that her administration will want, or perhaps even deserve, in a climate change effort — but she’ll have to stroke the Gore machine to get a mutually beneficial arrangement that is somewhat win-win for both sides politically.
It’s going to be an interesting and creative tension to watch play out.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

13 comments on “Who Will Own the Climate Change Franchise? The Clintons or Al Gore?

  1. Jim DiPeso says:

    Does Al Gore own the climate change franchise? Right now, there’s no question about it.
    Is that healthy, in terms of getting a workable climate policy adopted in D.C.? Maybe not, if Gore the lightning rod makes it more difficult for a critical mass of conservatives to take the climate issue seriously, which will be essential to getting a workable climate bill passed.
    A climate bill will largely be an energy policy bill. The politics of making energy policy is like a chemistry experiment – just the right ingredients must be mixed in just the right quantities at just the right time, or else the whole concoction blows up. Passing a climate bill will be the most difficult energy policy chemistry experiment that Congress has ever attempted.
    Two difficulties must be overcome for the experiment to succeed. Conservatives must look past their distaste for Gore, get off the sidelines, and put policy ideas on the table for lowering carbon emissions, cutting oil dependence, and growing the economy. And Gore must be willing to share the climate change franchise with GOP leaders who demonstrate that they’re taking the issue seriously.

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  2. Ben Rosengart says:

    My, aren’t we in a rush to inaugurate Ms. Clinton?
    A year is a long time in politics.

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  3. downtown says:

    to Tony 3:29am:
    In their reality, there is no climate change! Why?
    ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

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  4. carsick says:

    I can’t imagine Gore endorsing a candidate in the primary primarily because he does know that he is a franchise of a cause that is bigger than the tit for tat of campaign competition. That decision may frustrate Clinton but ultimately it will allow her or whomever gets the nod to save face when joining him in public forums and initiatives.
    There is no way I see him taking a position in the next administration because it would deflate his ability to effect the global initiative. (I do feel that the next president has a good chance of being a one-termer because cleaning up the current administration’s messes will likely be painful. Gore, not that he’s planning to, could spend the next 5 years on the global initiative and still have a chance to run and win in 2012.)
    As a world player and leader/face of the issue, he actually has a stronger bargaining position with the next president. No one, especially a Democratic administration, will want him out there talking badly about America’s pace in the fight to reduce global warming.
    I do see him, like Bono, as a pragmatic. He will work to not make enemies and accept that progress sometimes comes slowly. He will not accept no progress though. WalMart recognized that.
    If 2011 rolls around and the next president is not popular he may well decide to jump in. That race would probably end up as a true coronation of a rock star.

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  5. Steve Clemons says:

    Dirk — It’s a great question actually. Looking through this lens from another country’s point of view, particularly one that had been on board with Kyoto from the beginning — Gore’s role may seem late and insignificant. But that’s actually not enough. The rest of the world — for whatever reasons — became dependent on someone like Gore becoming the Bono or Mahatma Gandhi of climate change. They never produced someone like that — for better or worse….but excellent point in any case,
    Steve Clemons

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  6. Dirk says:

    “Gore’s win seals the deal that he owns the global climate change franchise. Everyone big in this game — from firms, to NGOs, to governments — will need the Al Gore seal of approval on whether some initiatives are good or bad.”
    Steve,
    I wonder why you assume that other governments will need Al Gore’s seal of approval. One could easily make the case that this Nobel prize has been awarded as a wake up call to the US. Many other countries have active programs to address GW both internally and regionally that require no guidance or approval.
    The upcoming Bali talks will welcome Al Gore, as they will, hopefully, a new Labor leader from Australia and a China and India that are ready to commit to cuts in greenhouse gases.
    The world is still working on recognition in the US that there is a problem.

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  7. Alex Evans says:

    Very interesting post, Steven, and I suspect your point about the climate franchise will prove to be spot on. But the funny thing is, whilst Al Gore has proved to be terrific at ‘sounding the alarm bell’ on climate change, he’s also managed to get away with astonishingly little specificity on what he proposes actually to *do* about it – above all on the $64 trn question, i.e. what should happen at the global level after Kyoto’s expiry in 2012 (and how developing countries should be brought into the fold). See: http://globaldashboard.org/climate-change/citizen-gore/ for more.

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  8. Tony says:

    Further to TB & Caitlyn: Here in New Zealand, climate change is a separate portfolio with its own minister. Isn’t there a similar post/department in the US? If not, why not?

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  9. Tony says:

    Further to TB & Caitlyn: Here in New Zealand, climate change is a separate portfolio with its own minister. Isn’t there a similar post/department in the US? If not, why not?

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  10. Daniel O'Donnell says:

    Gore would not and should not accept EPA Administrator. That would be too narrow and too constrained. He has a much bigger mission. He went to Kyoto as VP, but now he can be a special ambassador.
    Imagine a Hillary Clinton Administration with Bill Clinton as a Special Ambassador to the world, to continue or improve his current work against poverty, and Gore as SA to the world for the environment.

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  11. Caitlyn says:

    Head of EPA – that is hardly the spot in the bureaucracy from which to address climate change, and if it was used for that, then a lot of other issues would be neglected. Inside the bureaucracy, DOE would be better, but Gore has independent power to inspire a large mass of people – giving that up to be a functionary would be just plain dumb, and appointing a bureaucrat with an independent power base would be a bad move for a new president as well.

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  12. TB says:

    Here’s an idea:
    Gore running for president is a bad idea on a number of levels, but Gore running the EPA for the next president is a very good idea.
    Oh, and if I were Al, and I did have a mind to screw the Clintons (for whatever reason), I’d call Obama right now and say, “OK, if you make me your choice for head of the EPA when you win the presidency, I will come out within the next 12 hours and endorse you and I will campaign for you fro now until they day your inaugurated.”
    I wounder how THAT would fly?

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  13. Dan O'Donnell says:

    The analysis has been framed as Gore vs Clintons, as though there is now a natural competition and contention between them.
    But all of the three are political lightning rods, though for different reasons. Gore is now a bigger lightning rod for environmental and GWCC issues, and so might deflect or absorb some of the anti-environment and no-such-thing right wing lightning that would otherwise be directed at Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton.
    All three are consensus politicians. They have worked together before, and two of the three now have been awarded the two biggest titles on the planet, with the third about to get the title too. I would hope that they can continue to cooperate to solve a problem which is possibly the biggest and most difficult problem ever faced by mankind. (And they all have children or grandchildren who will inherit whatever problems they don’t fix.)
    So, they’re all invested. All have much to win and much to lose if they do not cooperate. And all have about as much glory as anyone can get. I just hope some of this armchair psychology overcomes the natural tendency of individuals of the political species to seek the greatest glory they can achieve.

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