We had one dominant reaction to the film; we were deeply struck, once again, by Gores amazing erudition. We say again because that was our reaction a few week ago when we re-read parts of Earth in the Balance for a HOWLER post. As it happens, we first met Gore when we were both seventeen, a pair of scrub-cheeked college freshmen; we were part of an eight-man roommate group with Al for the next three years. But despite having known Gore down through the years, we were struck, when we read through his book again, by the amazing amount of knowledge it contained. Indeed, we quizzed another roommate about it: What part of Al explains that truly amazing amount of knowledge? How and why did the laid-back, sane, balanced kid we both knew develop this astounding erudition?
Last night, we thought we saw our question answered in the more personal parts of the filmthe parts where Al sets aside facts and figures and explains why his topic matters. In parts of the film which we thought were too brief, we sit beside the Caney Fork River on the Gores Tennessee farm (You know? The farm that doesnt exist? The farm which proved that Gore was delusional?) and Al Gore, speaking directly and quietly, tells us why he loves that river, the river he swam in as a child. For ourselves, we thought we finally understood something about Gore as we watched those fleeting passages: No one acquires that much erudition unless he deeply and massively cares. Al Gore cares about these topicsabout the stewardship of that small river. For us, An Inconvenient Truth finally made that come clear.
Does Al Gore plan to run for president? After the film, we ate free food with another ex-roommate and his former wifeand she made a perceptive comment. Who knows? she asked at one point. Maybe Al will end up doing more for the world with this film (and with his remarkable, globe-trotting slide show) than he ever could have managed as president. Will Al run for president? We have no idea. But we walked away from last evenings session with a peculiar image in our headthe album cover of Nashville Skyline, the album where Dylan began to describe the experience of being personally happy. Do we remember the back of that album correctly? (Or are we possibly thinking of the later New Morning?) We seem to recall Dylan on the top of a hill, taking in a glorious morning. Last night, as we drove away, we thought wed seen Al on that very same hill. The Lilliputians who have endlessly mocked him will leave him alone if he stays on that rampart. And yesin the projects which follow An Inconvenient Truth, Gore may end up doing much more for the world than heor anyone elseever could manage as president.
Early in the film, Al says something like this: Over the years, Ive tried very hard to tell this story. But it really seems that Ive failed. He goes on to describe the way we humans sometimes tend to avoid solving problems: An astonishing number of people go straight from denial to despair, without pausing on the intermediate step of saying, We can do something about it. Our take: The more Al invites us to sit by that river, the better the chance hell succeed in the end. Al has a great deal to offer the world. That astounding erudition is just the skin. Inside, theres a very good soula soul which once swam in that small river, the river we all see in this film.
FOR THE RECORD: For the record, Queen Noor was present too. As always, the AP has the story.
UNFORTUNATE TRANSITION: Now, we return to our own long-term story-telling disasterto The Most Futile Story Ever Told.
BLIND TO SCRIPT: A perfect moment. Tuesday evening, Keith Olbermann was interviewing Jonathan Alter about the chance that Gore might run. One of Olbermanns questions started like this. It could have produced such a moment!
OLBERMANN (5/16/06): Does every misstep that this administration takes...make another Gore presidential campaign that much more feasible?Thats how Olbermanns question beganand sadly, thats how his question ended. In reply, Alterpretty much the brightest and fairest of major punditsoffered this wet-blanket answer:
ALTER (continuing directly): I think it does. But he has a lot that is stacked against him and that might actually prevent him from running. It`s not clear that he`syou know, that he`s definitely going for it. He`s hired Roy Neil, who`s a well-known political strategist who used to work for him, which is a sign that he`s at least thinking about it. If you see him losing a lot of weight, Keith, it will be another sign that he`s thinking even more seriously about it. But I don`t think that you can have this same kind of second act that we saw in the 1960s when Nixon came back. My sense is if you look at the polls, for instance, in that CBS/New York Times poll, Gore was actually below Bush, as was John Kerry. It`s not clear people want him back.After making the requisite comment about Gores weight, Alter said a run was unlikely. You cant have second acts any more, after all. And by the waythat explains why so many pundits are saying that McCain cant run in 08! After all, McCain also ran in 2000 and lost. Theres just no way he could try it again. Almost every big pundit has said it!
For ourselves, we also think a run by Gore would be hard. But our reasons are different from Altersa point well note in a moment or two. First, wed like to imagine a better worlda world where broadcasters have the first clue. In that barely imaginable universe, heres the question Keith would have asked about that future Gore run:
ALTERNATE OLBERMANN QUESTION: Does every misstep that this administration takes...make another Gore presidential campaign that much more feasible? After all, Gore made a prophetic speech in September 2002, arguing against going into Iraq. That speech reads like pure prophecy now. Doesnt Gore now have the perfect profile on this most significant issue? Couldnt Gore run for president saying, Hey voters! Listen up! I was right on Iraq?That would be an obvious question in that barely-imaginable universethe universe where broadcasters have the first clue. Where theyd even follow up with a second question, a question much like this:
ALTERNATE OLBERMANN FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: And by the way, couldnt Gore run for president saying I was right on a whole string of major issues? On Saturday Night Live, he joked about the price of gas. But wasnt he also right, way back in 1992, when he wrote that we needed to move beyond internal combustion? And doesnt he get to say I was right as we start to confront global warming? Wouldnt this guy have a whole string of issues on which he could say, I was right? And wouldnt that make a great platform?Yes, those questions are obvious too. But no, we dont live in that alternate universe; instead, were stuck here, with the actual Olbermann. And so, on Tuesday evenings Countdown, we saw a Standard Segment on Gore a segment in which a scripted broadcaster opened by mocking this major Democrat, who has been right on a whole string of issues. Gores string of good judgments never got mentioned at any point in this lengthy segment. Sadly but trulyweve all been here beforeOlbermann opened his segment like this:
OLBERMANN (5/16/08): Not to get to astrophysical on you, but string theory poses an explanation for the existence of everything in which an individual sub-atomic particle is shared by a bunch of different universes. Same tiniest sized piece of matter and it`s in our universe and somebody else`s and maybe somebody elses, et cetera. Kind of like a cosmic time-share.Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Al Gore has always been such a boreand now, amazingly, he gets an ovation! Later, Olbermann marveled at the fact that Gore was so funny on Saturday Night Live. Olbermann worked off tired, belittling scriptsmuch as Sean Hannity might have done. In our universe, this is the treatment Big Democrats geteven when theyve been right all along.
Our third story in the Countdown: We may have the first proofits name is Al Gore. It appears that we may have been visited by an Al Gore string that has spent most of its time in another universe and is now, just now, emerging into ours.
Firstly theres his new movieits about the dangers of global warmingtitled An Inconvenient Truth, and soon to play at the Cannes Film Festival. The Al Gore we had previously known in our universe was not Mr. Excitement. The movie this other Al Gore made was such a triumph it received standing ovations when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Could Olbermann possibly be more worthless? For an even more perfect example, try to believe what eventually happened when he started to pose his third question to Alter:
OLBERMANN: You said that we don`t necessarily have the same kind of second acts in American politics that we, that Richard Nixon took advantage of. But what, the 2008 electionif Al Gore ran in 2008 as the Democratic nominee, there would seem to be two groups that would have an opportunity to get a do-over...Omigod! Our analysts sat up in their chairs! Surely, Keith was going to say it! Given that lead-in, here was the obvious question for Alterthe question we assumed Keith would ask:
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OLBERMANN QUESTION: If Al Gore ran in 2008 as the Democratic nominee, there would seem to be two groups that would have an opportunity to get a do-over. One, of course, Jonathan, would be your own press corps. You guys hounded Gore during Campaign 2000, inventing a long string of attacks on his character which everyone pretty much now concedes were unfair. Invented the Internetwhich Gore never saidwas just one of many, as everyone knows. Wouldnt you guys get a chance for a do-overa chance to report a bit more fairly about Al Gore as a candidate?If you lived in that parallel world, thats what Olbermann would have said. But Olbermann isalas!quite standard. Oh sure, he throws you bones about Joe Wilsonbones in which he asks David Shuster to treat you like a bunch of rubes. But, at heart, hes a man of his cohort. Result? Sadly, here was Olbermanns actual question about those possible do-overs:
ACTUAL OLBERMANN QUESTION: If Al Gore ran in 2008 as the Democratic nominee, there would seem to be two groups that would have an opportunity to get a do-over, one being the voting public who Im sure asked now would probably choose the other way around, if they were actually given a choice. But the second one would be Al Gore, who could possibly run a campaign based on Al Gore rather than 5,000 different advisors, correct?Of course! The public could get a do-over, Keith saidand maybe Gore could even do better! Translation: People like Olbermann never break faith with the people who pay them their millions. By light-years, the most remarkable conduct in Campaign 2000 was the gross misconduct of the press corps itself. But people like Olbermann never say that! Olbermann is pure Standard Issueand you are the people he plays with.
Why couldnt Olbermann ask the obvious? Why couldnt the great man ask if the press corps couldnt do better? First, he probably doesnt understand the subject. But second, Olbermann follows Chris Matthews on MSNBCand Matthews was cables greatest offender in the press corps two-year War Against Gore. Any discussion of press conduct would have to turn to Matthews quite quicklyso Olbermann will never prompt that discussion. Instead, he and Alter told the Standard Story: Al Gore failed to reach the White House because he ran such a lousy campaign. Theyve said it over and over againbecause it obscures what actually happened. Tuesday, we heard it one more timeas we got played for pure fools.
Keith and Jonathan had the prime scripts. Al Gore is just so-o-o boringand Al Gore ran a lousy campaign! And in the process, we never heard that alternate story. Al Gore has been right all along, on a range of major issues. But Olbermann knew that its not in the script. He knew that hes paid not to say it.
RIGHT FROM THE SCRIPT: Just so youll know where your narratives come from, keep that last Olbermann question in mind as we scan the first exchange between Keith and Jonathan. Remember: Alter is as bright and as fair as it gets among Big Major Pundits:
OLBERMANN: OK, parallel universe Al Gore, or same Al Gore running again, or simply Al Gore simply trying to hype his film? Pick one of the above.As a candidate, Gore was too stiffand he wouldnt talk about global warming! And, of course, he turned himself over to all those advisers. (5000! Keiths line, see above).
ALTER: Well, I`d say it`s all three of the above, possibly. But, you know, Al Gore has always been a pretty funny guy, funnier than Bill Clinton off-camera. He didnt write that [Saturday Night Live] script obviously, but he`s had a pretty good sense of humor. It was just that the stiff Al Gore that we all know got in the way of 2000. It was awkward; he didnt talk about global warming. I remember interviewing him shortly before the election and trying to get him talk about global warming and he wouldnt do it because he thought, apparently, that it would cost him Michigan or some other states. So, now he is trying to make up for lost time and make what can really only be described as a Nixon-style comeback.
But readers, where do your narratives come from? In these cases, Olbermann and Alter were channeling several passages from Politics Lost, Joe Kleins definingly foolish new book. For the record, heres Kleins version of that global-warming riff. At this point, Klein is driving home his major themeAl Gore was slavishly devoted to all his dumb-ass consultants:
KLEIN (pages 20-21): In early 2003, I had dinner with several of the consultants who had advised Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign. I asked them why Gore, a passionate environmentalist, he had spent so little time and energy talking about the environment during the campaign.This passage, of course, is designed to show us how brilliant and wise Joe Klein isand how dumb those consultants were. Indeed, Alter and Klein both complain that Gore didnt talk about global warming/the environment enough; both say that this strategy was designed in part to win Michigan. We cant specifically vouch for that, but we can specifically vouch for thisas Klein notes, Gore did win Michigan and Pennsylvania, a pair of make-or-break states. And by the waywhy did Michigan hang in the balance as the campaign planned its strategy concerning environmental matters? Duh! Because the RNC was running demagogic ads in the state, ads which played on that phony old themeAl Gore wants to abolish the car. (Example: Al Gore may see the car as our enemy, but in Michigan, it's our jobs," Lee Iacocca said in a series of 30-second spots.) Why might the Gore campaign have been wary about discussing the environment? Because of these demagogic attacks, absurd attacks which went on for years with little challenge from the press corpsfrom people who were, by contrast, endlessly concerned with the accuracy of Gores one remark, in 1997, about the movie Love Story. (The remark was accuratebut the press corps pretended otherwise, and pretended that it deeply mattered.) Did Joe Klein ever alert the public that this RNC campaign was pure nonsense? Surely, the question answers itself. But today, we see Standard Pundits shaking their heads about the Gore campaigns caution. They speculate that more discussion of this topic would have helpedand fail to say why it might have hurt. Could Gore have lost Michigan and Pennsylvania if he pushed the environment more? Of courseand then all hope would have been lost. Under the circumstances, the campaigns caution about global warming may have been a brilliant strategy. But that just isnt part of the script, and you arent allowed to know it.
Because we told him not to, the consultants said. Why? I asked. Because it wasnt going to help him win. He wanted to talk about the environment, said Tad Devine, a partner in the consulting firm of Shrum, Devine and Donilon, and I said to him, Look, you can do that, but youre not going to win a single electoral vote more than you now have. If you want to win Michigan and western Pennsylvania, here are the issues that really matterthis is what you should talk about.
Gore won Michigan and Pennsylvania, but lost an election he should have wonand he lost it on intangibles, on qualities that were difficult to quantify. He lost because he seemed stiff, phony, and uncomfortable in public....I asked Devine if he'd considered the possibility that Gore might have been a warmer, more credible and inspiring candidate if he'd been permitted to talk about the things, like the environment, that he'd really wanted to talk about.
Thats an interesting thought, Devine said.
By the way: Did Gore lose an election he should have won because he seemed stiff, phony? Actually, Gore failed to reach the White House because the press corps called him a liar for two solid years. But so what? Standard Themes are still being recited as pundits tell their Standard Stories. But these themes all serve one key purposethey stop us from considering the most striking conduct of Campaign 2000, the amazing performance of the mainstream press corps. They made a demon out of Gore; now, they make a saint of McCain. This is how our White House elections get decidedand we Dems have to learn to discuss this.