In the wake of the recent waves of news regarding the recent EPA regulations and the National Climate Assessment report, I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change and American politics, and yesterday, a crazy idea popped into my head. I googled “Gore 2016” and, lo and behold, found that Mark Halperin, of Game Change fame, had recently floated the idea on “Morning Joe” a few weeks ago:
When you start to really think about it, it makes a whole hell of a lot of sense.
After all, the presidency was snatched, if not stolen, from Gore’s hands in 2000 (by the very Supreme Court that, by continuing to issue democracy-eroding and conservative-leaning decisions over the last several years, is currying increasing disfavor with the public). He’d be returning to help finish cleaning up the messes created by the man who was wrongfully given the job. Since that time, he has been outside of Washington–which gets you tons of brownie points these days, given how disgusted people are with Washington–thinking, speaking, and writing about…well, about how to save the world. The man won the Nobel peace prize in 2007–jointly with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But he also serves on the board of Google. Gore is a man who understands our world and where it is going more than most people in politics. The value-proposition to the voter is that we live in a strange new hyper-complex world, and we need a president who can guide us through it. Gore would have no time for GOP attacks on big gov’t and democrats not understanding the power of the private sector. By straddling both worlds, he can speak knowledgeably about both (this was one of Obama’s weaknesses–he had, or was perceived to have, little understanding of the private sector, not to mention a lack of executive experience, which Gore can claim in spades). And Gore has Washington experience, yes, but “good” Washington experience, or experience when Washington was “good”: during the heady days of the Clinton years, the holiday from history that spanned the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11.
Moreover, Gore’s hands are completely clean of the major foreign policy decisions and events of 21st century American politics. He exited the political stage before 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, and hence he cannot be subject to the same kinds of attacks and is thus not automatically disadvantaged at the start of any debate about them. Americans are exhausted by the toxic and never-ending round of aftershocks from those two major events. Obama–for all the good he has done winding down the wars, killing bin Laden, decimating terrorist networks, more or less prudently straddling the delicate line between intervention and non-intervention in Libya and Syria in a post-unipolar geopolitical world, managing the relative decline of the USA as a global hegemon, and just generally trying to get the country less involved in the Middle East–has become tainted with the blood of the wars that Bush started.
As has Hillary: the Benghazi scandal will stick and will never, ever go away. The recent events in ISIS and the ongoing civil war in Syria will be rolled into Benghazi to create a narrative that the seeds for the new instability were sown on her watch. While foreign policy is not likely to feature among the top tier issues in the election (pending another major domestic terror attack, increasing destabilization of Iraq, or something else), it’s a serious weakness for her as a candidate. When paired with what is likely to be a strident libertarian voice in the debate–from Rand Paul–Clinton’s liberal interventionism will raise questions in voter’s minds and whether and to what extent she would continue what many liberals and even centrists consider to be Obama’s continuation of a Bush-ist foreign policy posture. Despite her solid turn as Secretary of State, as well as the Democrats’ perceived increasing strength on national security–due in large part to Obama killing Osama, and at great political and geo-strategic risk–foreign policy presents a problem for Clinton in 2016.
As does her almost constant involvement in politics for the last quarter century. Gore’s entry into the race would seriously disrupt the going narrative–Hillary’s inevitability–and when coupled with the overheated predictions of her certain victory in 2008, this may begin its unraveling. Gore is a vision of what might have been–and could be a vision for what still could be. He evokes the heady, high-on-the-hog days of the Clinton years, without the baggage that Hillary bears. Gore bends us back to a time before 9/11, when the country was looking at the dawn of a new century, confident, peaceful, prosperous. Gore does not sound the bellicose notes of liberal interventionism that attract the neo-neo-cons to Hillary. He can be pitched as a wise elder statesmen who has been around the block, been away from Washington for many years, watching what has happened and how it devolved, who is coming back to clean house.
And speaking of clean. The most potentially game-changing element that Gore would bring to the campaign would be a serious focus on global climate change. Environmental issues have always been peripheral in modern American politics–or at least increasingly peripheral since Reagan. But climate change has begun to shift toward the mainstream in the last couple of years, and may well come to occupy in the politics of the late 2010s the same place it had in the early 1970s, the golden age of environmental legislation and public awareness and advocacy. No politician in the country–in the world–is more knowledgeable and more qualified to speak about it than Gore; there would be an element of unspoken “I told you so” about his candidacy: “We should have never elected Bush, never gone into Iraq, and never gotten more involved with the middle east. We should have started the long, hard, and inevitable work of beginning the transition to a low-carbon energy economy that will create jobs, spur innovation, restore our infrastructure, save money in the long-term, protect our environment, and make America a place where we build things again.” The country has been casting about since the end of the Cold War for a Great Purpose, and 9/11, unfortunately, filled that void with a martial narrative based on constant conflict and inflated threats. “Islamofascism” is not a serious threat to civilization; global climate change on the order of 3-4 degrees Celcius is. A president who is a champion of the climate is a president who can command global respect and leadership. In sum, Gore has the potential to evoke in the American political imagination an alternative, positive vision for what the country can be in the 21st century.
And a positive force in the world. The current debate on America’s place in the world seems caught between a wishy-washy liberal-sometimes-interventionism, pushed by Obama, and a new isolationism, pushed by Rand Paul and the Tea Party. The neo-conservatives, relieved of command and credibility, can only carp and writhe on the sidelines, criticizing, e.g., Obama for the rise of ISIS while providing no positive alternative or vision, other than to double down on the War on Terror. But what Gore could offer is a new vision for the a direction for the planet: not what we are against (terrorism), but what we are for (a clean global energy economy), and put our money and our resources where our mouth is. The ability for a President Gore to maneuver here depends deeply on Obama’s leadership on climate and energy issues in the next two years, and actually, with the presidential campaign starting to ramp up in 2015, at just the time that the pivotal international climate negotiations that conclude in Paris in December will be under way, a Gore climate candidacy may provide Obama’s sails with needed wind.
Progressive populism will almost certainly play a starring role in the campaign, and though by rights she should probably be president, Elizabeth Warren is probably too liberal to be the nominee. But she is a fiery champion of the people. She speaks with a conviction about her beliefs and disdain for her opponents that is usually found only among movement (faux) conservatives; the difference is that she is bright and right. In a time when income inequality and student loan debt are and perceived to be rendering a brighter future unlikely for more and more Americans, a politician who channels progressive populist passion will get a lot of mileage. When you roll together Warren’s focus on young people with Gore’s focus on climate change–plus the fact that Warren checks the Woman in the White House box–what you get is a ticket that is focused on the future (which happens to be the title of Gore’s latest book). Part of the trick to becoming and being president is to inspire and stir people without coming off as an unreasonable person. Gore offers the steadiness and wisdom of the elder statesmen; Warren the fire and fuel, the spark and sizzle. A Clinton candidacy would be about the past, and the re-litigation of the past. The country is so over all that.
And should Jeb run, and should he win the nomination, the country would be faced with a decision whose poetic dimensions would defy belief: Bush v. Gore.