Al Gore, just like the planet, is getting hotter by the hour these days.
There he is at SXSW, rubbing elbows with tech elites, hipsters, and the commerce secretary. There he is, svelte and poised and proclaiming his new optimism to The New York Times. There he is in Vox, where Ezra Klein is trying to draft him into the 2016 presidential race. He's even popping up in conversations between Bill Kristol and Paul Begala. (If you feel compelled to check a calendar after that last one, I swear it really is 2015 and not 1995.)
It's not bad for a dude who peaked at 10 p.m. on November 7, 2000. Sure, he's had some good moments—notably the Nobel Peace Prize—but he's also had some not-so-good moments, and it's strange to see him getting so many headlines now. But what's behind this Gorenaissance? This reinvi-Gore-ation? This renew-Al? One way to think through the question is to think about what constituencies might benefit.
1. Al Gore: It's obvious, but important. Gore might not be the most natural of politicians, but he's been doing it for decades and was born into the business. He has to enjoy the attention, and getting the spotlight allows him to draw attention to his political causes—notably climate change—and to his surprisingly lucrative business interests. But that hasn't changed anytime recently—so it's not enough to explain what's happening now.
2. Vegans: Yes, Al Gore is a vegan these days. (Livestock cultivation is terrible for the environment.) Bill Clinton is an almost-vegan. What's going on with the Clinton administration alums, anyway? But André 3000 was a vegan, too, and despite the vegan lobby's best efforts, Outkast isn't what it used to be. So we can rule that out.
3. The Climate-Change Community: Quick—name a prominent global-warming activist who's not Al Gore. Tom Steyer? Bill McKibben? It's hard to argue they compete with the former vice president. Even with An Inconvenient Truth nearly a decade in the past, he remains the most visible figurehead for the movement. While there are some signs of positive change for activists, like new rules implemented by the Obama administration, it's never enough when you see global catastrophe on the horizon. As Gore's friend Reed Hundt told The Times, "nobody wants that job," but Gore is the incumbent and can't give it up until someone else takes it from him. And his new message of hope—rooted in the sinking cost of renewable energy—is more palatable than proclamations of doom.
4. Climate-Change Skeptics: It's important for a movement to have a leader, but it's also important for the opposition to have a villain. For climate-change skeptics, Gore's name remains a potent (if nonsensical) punchline. Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, is a ringleader of this group. (He's the one who held a snowball up on the Senate floor as proof that climate change isn't happening.) The Oklahoma Republican is delighted to be able to make statements like, "Al Gore’s immense wealth is largely due to his shameless and incessant promotion of the liberal global warming agenda."
5. A Strange Coalition of Democrats: But why the calls for a third Gore run for the White House? For one thing, more Democrats are starting to get worried about Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Some of them think that Clinton is in serious trouble from her email scandal, or that she's simply not prepared to run a real campaign for president. (If the rap on Clinton is that she's a candidate of the past and is too out of practice, it's hard to imagine Gore is the answer.) Others simply think she, and the party, would benefit from having a contested primary rather than a coronation.
And Gore appeals to a strange, wide swath of the party. He has links to the moderate Democratic Leadership Council types who brought Bill Clinton to office. More recently, he's built strong ties with the party's progressive wing. But he's also a wealthy businessman, wealthier than Mitt Romney, able to speak the language of commerce. Ezra Klein suggests he could shift the focus of a campaign away from income inequality and toward the environment. And joke all you want about "inventing the Internet," Gore has remained engaged in tech issues, from his 2013 book to SXSW.
6. The Media: Who might benefit the most from a Gorenaissance? Think about it: Reporters are bored to death with the prospect of covering another Clinton candidacy. They're terrified of the famous Clinton aggression toward the media. (Marin Cogan gets inside the psychology of the Hillary beat in a great piece this week.) They prefer to cover a contest rather than an anointment, because a heated primary provides opportunities for conflict, gaffes, excitement. And they have a unique ability to turn a few scattered Gore appearances into a certifiable boomlet.
There's a healthy irony to the press puffing Gore up, which is that without their antipathy, he might have been president already. As Brendan Nyhan notes, the press became convinced early in the 2000 campaign that Gore was wooden and authentic, trapping him in an impossible situation where every action he took was portrayed through that lens, as evidence of its veracity.
But then again, that was so long ago! Perhaps reporters and Gore alike are willing to let bygones be bygones—or, more to the point, let bygones be presidential candidates.
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