I think the current crop of Democratic contenders might be the best of my lifetime. I like several of them; I haven't picked a favorite yet. But I still find myself wishing sometimes that former Vice President Al Gore would jump into the race. Democratic consultant Bob Shrum tries to throw cold water on people like me in the New York Times Wednesday, offering this pseudo-sage advice: "Al Gore has become a prophet on a major issue and has become a very large global figure. But he would have to decide if he wants to be a prophet or wants to try to be president."
Shrum, who played a key role in both Gore's and John Kerry's disappointing campaigns (and many others), has become a favorite whipping boy for the Democratic base. That doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong, but I think he is wrong about Gore, setting up a phony choice. Sure, a speechwriter has to love pitting "prophet" against "president" for the alliteration alone. But in 2008, voters might want and need both.
Still, the Times article gives a little flavor of what the campaign would be like if Gore did leave the mountain and run. There's a lot about his girth, his net worth, and his contradictions: the would-be leader who's a bit of a loner; the man of the people hanging with Leo DiCaprio and Ludacris and slipping into his lovely Lincoln Town Car after a speech. And maybe there's a mistake, too? Was Gore really eating a low-fat sandwich in a San Francisco subway station, or a Subway restaurant? Either way, there's another punch line if Gore loses weight to make a run: Gore as Jared! (And was Shrum joining that chorus by calling Gore "a very large global figure"? Ouch. So much to think about.)
I met Gore once, almost a year ago, at Google (where else) where he was giving his global warming slide show. I'll admit it; I swooned. The slide show was astonishing, and so was Gore: funny, warm, self-deprecating, occasionally angry, just a real person -- all the things he wasn't when he was running for president in 2000. I came back to the Salon office and told everyone my vision: Gore makes "An Inconvenient Truth," wins an Oscar, sits out the early Democratic mudslinging and jumps in when the other candidates have slimed one another and we're ready for, yes, a prophet. I shared my vision with a Democratic netroots activist, who told me he had it too. Many of us are longing for a rescue from the Bush years, and what would be more mythical, even magical, than Gore, slain by Bush, James Baker and Antonin Scalia, rising from the political dead to rescue the world. To stop the war in Iraq, and global warming too. You don't have to be a lapsed Catholic to thrill to the symbolism.
I still feel that way. Leave it to Bob Shrum to remind me that politics is down and dirty and rarely magical. But I wouldn't give the last word about Gore to Shrum, or to journalists either. As Joe Conason wrote a few weeks ago, many in the media seem to be glorying in building up Gore only to have him around to tear down again. The world will repair itself either way, because that's the way of the world, and maybe Gore is doing his part by being our global warming ambassador rather than running for president. Maybe that's more important. I haven't completely given up on my rescue fantasies, however, and neither has Al Gore, I'd wager. That's why his language never entirely closes the door on a run. If I can't stop dreaming about Gore rising up to smite Bush and right the wrongs of the last seven years, how can he?