Let me stipulate: Al Gore is the deserved winner of the Nobel Prize, just as his film documentary on the subject, An Inconvenient Truth, had previously merited the Academy Award it got. Gore's unstinting campaign to alert the nation — nay, the world — about the perils of global warming has been his finest hour.
Equally praiseworthy are the political points the former Tennessee senator and vice president has publicly made since his Supreme Court-assisted defeat for the presidency in 2000. An early critic of the Iraq War, Gore accurately foresaw the extent of the debacle, and he has been eloquent and on point concerning the ongoing erosion of Americans' Constitutional liberties.
Having materialized as a veritable tribune of the people, even an oracle, should Gore not, then, seek again the presidency which, so many think, he was unfairly deprived of?
The answer is no. As Gore himself has noted, such a course would prove divisive and perhaps destructive to his current cause. It would also necessitate his moving away from a position of unquestioned moral authority into the murky untruthiness of politics — a world which, despite his scaling its heights, Gore may never have been ideally suited for.
A current myth has it that, in 2000, a wicked establishment press made the decision to waylay Gore, mischaracterizing as lies his essentially accurate statements about his own past and otherwise finding fault relentlessly. So dedicated did the establishment press become to the downfall of Gore that its members perversely embraced the patently undeserving George W. Bush, who was regarded as an acceptably hail-fellow-well-met alternative to the goody two-shoes Gore.
Or so goes the story.
The truth is not much prettier but is, well, different. In fact, the media animosity toward Gore (and that part was certainly real) was probably born not in indulgence toward good-ole-frat-boy Bush but in solicitude toward the honest if plodding Bill Bradley, the recently retired New Jersey senator who was Gore's Democratic primary opponent. The unfortunate Bradley was being gleefully attacked by Gore as often and as gratuitously as Gore himself later was by an unforgiving media.
When Bradley and Gore tangled in a debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in October 1999, ABC's Jake Tapper, then with Salon, was watching the affair via closed-circuit TV in a nearby media room. He remembered it this way: "The reporters were hissing Gore, and that's the only time I've ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event." Time's Eric Pooley: "Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd."
Gore had been mauling the preternaturally docile Bradley fore and aft, on everything from the New Jerseyan's alleged indifference to disaster aid for Iowa flood victims (The New York Times: "Mr. Gore's accusation was false and unfair. Mr. Bradley supported the 1993 legislation that provided $4.8 billion in emergency flood relief for farmers ...") to his racial positions. (Campaign chroniclers James W. Caesar and Andrew Busch: "Bradley landed few clean blows and even took some unfair blows from Gore, who charged before [a] mostly black audience that 'racial profiling' of blacks by the police 'practically began' in Bradley's New Jersey.")
The Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zúniga recalled the Gore campaign's "blatantly unfair" attacks on Bradley, as did The Nation's David Corn, who found Bradley "more progressive ... less irritating [and] sincere in his desire for political reform," while Gore's campaign "bends, manipulates, dodges, or obliterates the truth."
Said Newsday: "Gore effectively criticized former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley for proposing an expensive health care reform, for being too liberal, and being out of touch with ordinary voters ... [H]is aggressive tactics worked."
And the Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported Bradley's responses to Gore in that Dartmouth debate: "'Attack, attack, attack, every day, the people are fed up with it ... You're the elephant of negative advertising ... Why should we believe you'll tell th e truth as president if you won't tell the truth as a candidate?'" And, to bring us full cycle, Milbank segued into this: "In the WMUR press room, my colleagues laugh derisively at Gore's offensives. ..."
That feeling, fair or not, was the likely cause of the media animosity and not any imagined bonhomie of Bush's. The gallant Gore has at length found — and become — his better angel. He should, we should, leave well enough alone.
Jackson Baker is a Flyer senior editor.