I’m in communication with my brother, who leans almost as far to the right as I do to the left. It’s a very interesting conversation, and one comment he’s made seemed to me worthy of public discussion. He’d expressed disdain for Al Gore and I’d asked why. Central in his response was the observation that Gore was a “professional politician.”
That set me to thinking. I’m currently reading Gore’s 1992 book, Earth In The Balance, and he doesn’t–or didn’t then, I guess–strike me as a politician: obviously he was, though. He currently holds no office, of course, and claims he isn’t interested in running again. He’s doing considerably better than I as an environmental writer (Nobel Prize and all), which is decidedly what I think of myself as being. Shouldn’t that count for something?
But there is a “draft Gore” movement out there and, as far as I know, the only thing Gore has done to discourage it, besides say he wasn’t interested, is eat some more ice cream. But, in today’s political environment, what could be more sincere or effective?
I have to say, though, that, like my brother, I’m not sure whether Gore’s a pro politician or not. I flirted with politics for a while in college. At San Jose State College (its name then) I was elected Freshmen Representative to the Student Council, was the Vice Chairman of that body, my mentor was a leading member of S.P.U.R., the only student political organization, and I probably would have been President of the Associated Students, some 12,000 strong at the time, within three years had I just won my election to the Sophomore Representative position. For those who don’t know how it works, it’s exactly this kind of start (minus the defeat) that puts a great many real politicians on the road to the center of power. Most of those who don’t start with big money, for sure.
I’ve been tempted by politics numerous times since. But let me tell you, being defeated in an election stings. Stings as is very hard to understand until it happens to you. And especially so when your opponent is so clearly inferior. The guy who beat me, Fred Best, had nothing going for him except his name and the fact he was a member of a fraternity and I was not, which was a big advantage in those days and probably remains so today. It stung so much I questioned American values like I’d never done before, quit politics almost overnight, changed educational goals, switched schools, and lived the life I have.
I’ve checked Gore’s resume and, sure enough, he’d never been defeated until George W. did it in 2000, unless you count the presidential nomination in 1988–and that clearly wasn’t the same thing at all. That Bush was an inferior is so obvious to me I can’t see how a mere difference in political philosophy of the observer could warrant an opposite opinion, but, then, that’s got to be one of those places my brother and I may well disagree. But certainly it felt that way to Gore.
Additional self-chastisement on Gore’s part would surely come from the fact that the decision to not contest the election must still leave unresolved questions in his mind. “Should I have risked tearing the country apart?” “Did I underestimate the extent to which the nation was already torn, and how far the neo-cons would be willing to continue tearing it apart to maintain control once they got it?” “If I’d thought of the possibility of an Osama Bin Laden getting away with murder, or of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed for no reason in Iraq, would I have fought to the last breath?” “If my vision of the Earth’s future under a neo-con environmental policy is even nearly correct, did I do right by backing down?” “Do I really have good political instincts, or was it just the ‘silver spoon’ and ‘Jr.’ that got me where I was?” “What about international American prestige?” “Torture?–Oh, God, let’s not think about torture!”
All these many years after leaving it behind, there’s still a pull toward politics for me. That’s despite the fact I’m very glad I got out of it when I did, for I’ve come to see how very corrupting that profession is. Fortunately, I’ve seen it from afar by watching others destroyed as real people by it, without my having to suffer the compromises to my own beliefs that the job extracts from everyone who chooses it. I think it way too much to suggest Gore isn’t attracted by the allure of the White House. That said, it remains to be seen if he returns to the political arena or not.
Lot’s of us never go back after that kind of sting. And I’ve just read the section in The Balance that makes it clear Gore’s view of politics has always been sophisticated and contains a realistic assessment of its dangers (start of chapter 9, Self Stewardship, for those who have the book).
I certainly hope he doesn’t return to the cesspool that politics is, for he has something far more important–a cause. Part of the appeal of politics is the power to promote a cause that comes with high office, but I suspect Gore will recognize that the downside is worse: with such a position also comes responsibilities to thousands of other causes, each diluting your ability to pursue the one. And, when the final analysis of relative importance is made, based on Earth In The Balance and An Inconvenient Truth, I expect Gore to conclude, as have I, that nothing compares. And, of course, unless and until he returns, the charge of his being a “professional politician” is as hollow as GW’s skull.
(Oh, that wasn’t really true or probably even fair, despite the catty weight thing fired at Gore earlier. But it was so much fun I couldn’t bring myself to edit it. Hope Dick doesn’t shoot me in the face for it. If I just disappear, though, someone raise a stink, okay?)
P.S.: Since last entry a reader posted an interesting comment on the blog having pertinence to the election season . Let’s keep those comments coming! (I’ll be responding to her `soon, but it would be very good to hear what readers think first). Thanks to both she (Kathleen) and Barbara for taking the time to help make the blog a living entity.