Gil Troy: Why Al Gore Shouldn't Think of Running for President Even Now

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Gil Troy is a history professor at McGill University. His most recent book is Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady.]

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize disproves one of the more depressing observations about the United States. The glittering Great Gatsby novelist of the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once said, bitterly, "There are no second acts in American lives."
However, after bottoming out in frustration when the presidency eluded him in 2000, Gore has enjoyed a triumphal second act as an environmental activist.

Gore's unique triple play of snaring an Emmy Award, an Oscar and now the Nobel Peace Prize, will inevitably resurrect talk of a run for the presidency in 2008. But Gore - and American voters - beware: The skills required to succeed as president and to win a Nobel Prize are not only different but contradictory, especially these days.

Americans yearn for a president with George Washington's rectitude and Pope John Paul's certitude. Celluloid and video presidents often have displayed those qualities, most recently in the character Martin Sheen created on NBC's West Wing, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet. Bartlet is not only honest and principled; he, like Gore, is a Nobel laureate, having won his in economics before becoming governor of New Hampshire and then president.

Alas, the real world usually leaves the Nobel geniuses in academia, the saints in temples and crusaders on the outside agitating for change within. The Al Gore who won the Nobel Peace Prize was very different than the Al Gore who lost the presidency by judicial fiat. Gore as environmentalist is passionate, daring, funny, even if a bit wooden in his Inconvenient Truth lectures.

Candidate Gore was lethargic, hypercautious, and so wooden that the few jokes he made had to do with his resemblance to those old-fashioned cigar-store Indians.

Few remember how awkward Gore was in 2000 - when he should have triumphed with large margins, and did not even win his home state. Few remember that in late October 2001, with Americans still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, few of Gore's own people missed having him in the Oval Office.

After America's Afghanistan invasion ousted the Taliban and sent Osama bin Laden to the hills, 14 of 15 Al Gore supporters the New York Times interviewed had little good to say about Gore's leadership ability. Most Democrats insisted on speaking anonymously, but they pointed to Gore's tendency to micromanage, to be a know-it-all, to get mired in complexity, and to lack George W. Bush's black-and-white clarity when communicating with the people. Similarly, the current Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has overcome her tendency to be stiff in public and rigid in her policy preferences, demonstrating a remarkable vindicating fluidity so far.

Many Americans also will be able to read the signals coming from Oslo loud and clear. Gore's prize is well-deserved for his activism, for his commitment and for his ability to get millions around the world thinking about our stewardship of this planet.

His success in popularizing the concept of everyone's "carbon footprint," which became the buzzword of this past year, is admirable and important. But the Nobel Prize committee's delight in selecting candidates who are Bush's rivals is not likely to win Gore many votes in America's heartland, even among many fed up with Bush.

At a time when America's international standing is so low, it is important to have Europeans' favourite Americans like Jimmy Carter and Gore wined, dined and prized on the continent. But being a hit in the castles of Europe - or even the seminar rooms and newsrooms of North America - has limited utility during a bruising presidential campaign across all 50 United States.

A healthy democracy needs consensus-building politicians who know how to compromise and Martin Luther King-style "creative extremists" who don't.
Gore has demonstrated great skill as an activist - and is doing noble work, challenging us all to build greater lives by living more modestly. But even in this age of celebrity politics, not all fame is transferable.

Gore should not let the accolades of Hollywood and Oslo go to his head. He should continue his great campaign for a clean future while watching the bruising, intensive, soul-searing, often dirty campaign for president of the United States go on without him.

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Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/27/2007

As a student returning from Europe in 1954 I was lucky to come into NY harbor on a passenger ship with 1,500 immigrants and about 30 Americans. The immigrants had been waiting in DP camps all around Europe for nine years since the end of WW II to get into the U.S. legally. They stayed up on deck all night the last night, crying and singing, playing their accordions, waiting for their first look at the Statue of Liberty. And when they saw it they bawled some more. It was 1880 or 1912 all over again. You have no idea what a powerful and moving experience that was for everyone present.

Frank Lee - 10/21/2007

Al Gore didn't lose the election. It was stolen from him.

Hungry people that vote with their feet aren't concerned about the the popularity of the the foodstore, only that it can be accessed.

Are ALL so-called historians right-wingers? Is it because they've been co-opted and seduced by being overpaid and tenured? Smart enough to know that if they ever hope to get quoted in the corporate press or on TV, they'd best make their bones by establishing themselves as thoroughly to the right of the sainted Reagan?

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/19/2007

So Al Gore "lost the presidency by judicial fiat?" In fact, he lost because he did not get as many votes as his opponent did in the state of Florida...

Then, "at a time when America's international standing is so low," how do you explain that the United States is the only nation on earth which has a million people attempting to crash its borders each year? Our standing is rather high among people who vote with their feet.

Joseph C. Douglas - 10/17/2007

Any historian worth his salt should know that Tennessee has a habit of not always supporting native sons. Polk lost the state in 1844, remember?

As for the author suggesting no-one missed "President Gore" on 9/11, all I can think of is Bush reading "My Pet Goat." Gee, Bush turned out so well, right? Finally, as to his "poor performance" in 2000, he did win the popular vote, despite media idiots saying things about him which were, sad to say, remarkably similar to the smears in this article. I think the author purposefully confuses the GOP spin with the reality of 2000.

Vernon Clayson - 10/15/2007

Professor Troy writes as if the US presidency is a noble calling when it is of little interest to anyone, other than the spoils system and power associated with it. In the US politics is a blood sport while his country, Canada, rests easy because it is in the sphere of American influence and their Prime Ministers are functionaries on a par with the princes of Monaco. Politics made Gore rich and famous, does anyone believe that he would have a Nobel prize if he wasn't in liberal politics? But,despite his wooden clumsiness and desperate cravings to be taken seriously, he is preferable to the alternative, Hillary Clinton, run, Al, run.

John W Bland - 10/15/2007

Not! Amen.

Let's leave Al to inspire worldwide understanding of—and to bestir those actually capable and competent to access what possible(?) intelligent responses we have to—the apparent climate tipping point.

We are teetering on another, more immediate and more heartbreaking tipping point—the apparent imminent death of America. If I had thot that I would live to see my country in this condition—and without any survival insurance at that—I would not have taken such good care of myself. Polio/PPS, heart attack/disease, skin cancer, GERD, heartbreaks, motorcycle crashes post 70 (mph and age) . . . enough already. Mother nature gives the test first and then the lessons. Survivors may retest if they so choose. She has been very kind to me. Perhaps something in my distant childhood? Mother is testing America now. Some of the lessons are apparent already . . . prolly more at 11.

Devil-in-drag cult christianity? Don't worry about it. Take a couple Tums or PeptoBismol and be patient. Islam? Poor sports. What did our great leaders expect? But what about metastasizing fundamentalist cult capitalism? Pull the covers over your head and pray for that great gettin' up morning.

Is there a leader out there who has a spine of excalibur and is a master of the Tao? Who knows? Does the Shadow know? And if there is, why would such a person bother? Whatever, we may survive, maybe even wiser, fate willing.

Not Al, bless he sole. There are already plenty of clowns in the center of the tent.

Frank Lee - 10/15/2007

Mr. Troy's article makes it sound like he doesn't know that Mr. Gore WON more votes than bush in the 2000 election.

Maybe global warming has had an effect on Mr. Troy's memory.

Like so many right-wingers (and progressives, too), Mr. Troy omits mention of the crucial role played by the corporate media in demonizing Mr. Gore during the 2000 campaign (and continuing even until the present time).

If bush had been subjected to similar treatment by the corporate media, he might well have spent the past six years in his lawyer's office and in courthouses all over Texas and elsewhere.