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Daily Howler: We thought we learned something new about Gore as we watched his astounding new film
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NEW MORNING! We thought we learned something new about Gore as we watched his astounding new film: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 18, 2006

NEW MORNING: It’s the law. It simply isn’t an “east coast premiere” unless the whole HOWLER staff is present. And so, no analyst left behind, we motored down to DC last night to take in Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Truth. (Director: Davis Guggenheim.)

We had one dominant reaction to the film; we were deeply struck, once again, by Gore’s 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 film–the 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 doesn’t 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 topics–about 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 wife–and 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 evening’s session with a peculiar image in our head–the 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 we’d 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 yes–in the projects which follow An Inconvenient Truth, Gore may end up doing much more for the world than he–or anyone else–ever could manage as president.

Early in the film, Al says something like this: Over the years, I’ve tried very hard to tell this story. But it really seems that I’ve 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 he’ll succeed in the end. Al has a great deal to offer the world. That astounding erudition is just the skin. Inside, there’s a very good soul–a 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 disaster–to 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 Olbermann’s 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?
That’s how Olbermann’s question began–and sadly, that’s how his question ended. In reply, Alter–pretty much the brightest and fairest of major pundits–offered 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`s–you 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 Gore’s weight, Alter said a run was unlikely. You can’t have second acts any more, after all. And by the way–that explains why so many pundits are saying that McCain can’t run in 08! After all, McCain also ran in 2000 and lost. There’s 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 Alter’s–a point we’ll note in a moment or two. First, we’d like to imagine a better world–a world where broadcasters have the first clue. In that barely imaginable universe, here’s 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. Doesn’t Gore now have the perfect profile on this most significant issue? Couldn’t Gore run for president saying, “Hey voters! Listen up! I was right on Iraq?”
That would be an obvious question in that barely-imaginable universe–the universe where broadcasters have the first clue. Where they’d even follow up with a second question, a question much like this:
ALTERNATE OLBERMANN FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: And by the way, couldn’t 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 wasn’t he also right, way back in 1992, when he wrote that we needed to move beyond internal combustion? And doesn’t he get to say “I was right” as we start to confront global warming? Wouldn’t this guy have a whole string of issues on which he could say, “I was right?” And wouldn’t that make a great platform?
Yes, those questions are obvious too. But no, we don’t live in that alternate universe; instead, we’re stuck here, with the actual Olbermann. And so, on Tuesday evening’s 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. Gore’s string of good judgments never got mentioned at any point in this lengthy segment. Sadly but truly–we’ve all been here before–Olbermann 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 else’s, et cetera. Kind of like a cosmic time-share.

Our third story in the Countdown: We may have the first proof–its 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 there’s his new movie–it’s about the dangers of global warming–titled 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.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Al Gore has always been such a bore–and 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 scripts–much as Sean Hannity might have done. In our universe, this is the treatment Big Democrats get–even when they’ve been right all along.

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 election–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...
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 Alter–the 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 Internet”–which Gore never said–was just one of many, as everyone knows. Wouldn’t you guys get a chance for a do-over–a chance to report a bit more fairly about Al Gore as a candidate?
If you lived in that parallel world, that’s what Olbermann would have said. But Olbermann is–alas!–quite standard. Oh sure, he throws you bones about Joe Wilson–bones in which he asks David Shuster to treat you like a bunch of rubes. But, at heart, he’s a man of his cohort. Result? Sadly, here was Olbermann’s 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 I’m 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 said–and 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 Issue–and you are the people he plays with.

Why couldn’t Olbermann ask the obvious? Why couldn’t the great man ask if the press corps couldn’t do better? First, he probably doesn’t understand the subject. But second, Olbermann follows Chris Matthews on MSNBC–and Matthews was cable’s greatest offender in the press corps’ two-year War Against Gore. Any discussion of press conduct would have to turn to Matthews quite quickly–so 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. They’ve said it over and over again–because it obscures what actually happened. Tuesday, we heard it one more time–as we got played for pure fools.

Keith and Jonathan had the prime scripts. Al Gore is just so-o-o boring–and 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 it’s not in the script. He knew that he’s paid not to say it.

RIGHT FROM THE SCRIPT: Just so you’ll 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.

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 didn’t 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 didn’t talk about global warming. I remember interviewing him shortly before the election and trying to get him talk about global warming and he wouldn’t 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.

As a candidate, Gore was too stiff–and he wouldn’t talk about global warming! And, of course, he turned himself over to all those advisers. (5000! Keith’s line, see above).

But readers, where do your narratives come from? In these cases, Olbermann and Alter were channeling several passages from Politics Lost, Joe Klein’s definingly foolish new book. For the record, here’s Klein’s version of that global-warming riff. At this point, Klein is driving home his major theme–Al 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.

Because we told him not to, the consultants said. Why? I asked. Because it wasn’t 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 you’re 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 matter–this is what you should talk about.’”

Gore won Michigan and Pennsylvania, but lost an election he should have won–and 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.

“That’s an interesting thought,” Devine said.

This passage, of course, is designed to show us how brilliant and wise Joe Klein is–and how dumb those consultants were. Indeed, Alter and Klein both complain that Gore didn’t talk about global warming/the environment enough; both say that this strategy was designed in part to win Michigan. We can’t specifically vouch for that, but we can specifically vouch for this–as Klein notes, Gore did win Michigan and Pennsylvania, a pair of make-or-break states. And by the way–why 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 theme–Al 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 corps–from people who were, by contrast, endlessly concerned with the accuracy of Gore’s one remark, in 1997, about the movie Love Story. (The remark was accurate–but 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 campaign’s caution. They speculate that more discussion of this topic would have helped–and fail to say why it might have hurt. Could Gore have lost Michigan and Pennsylvania if he pushed the environment more? Of course–and then all hope would have been lost. Under the circumstances, the campaign’s caution about global warming may have been a brilliant strategy. But that just isn’t part of the script, and you aren’t allowed to know it.

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 purpose–they 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 decided–and we Dems have to learn to discuss this.