No conversation about the presidential campaign is complete these days until someone pops the burning question: Is Al Gore going to run?
My answer is always the same: He wants to, but shouldn't. It would be a loser for him and it might cost the Democratic Party the White House.
That Gore has the itch is obvious. He refuses to rule out a run and his return to Capitol Hill last week to talk about global warming looked like a campaign stop. His film "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar and his nomination for a Nobel Prize has supporters dreaming. Winning that prize would be a stick in George Bush's eye and would create a groundswell for his candidacy. He would vault to the head of the pack and win the nomination.
Dream on. In real life, Gore is more likely to be a spoiler than a winner, the Ralph Nader of 2008. The boomlet for Gore is not a sign of his strength; it is a reflection of the party's inability to make a commitment to anyone or anything.
Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are first and second in national party polls for good reason: Clinton has the track record, money, field operation and star power and Obama has the energy, charisma and freshness. It escapes me how Gore would be more attractive than either or both in a general election.
One poll had Gore at 14 percent, in third place, ahead of John Edwards. That seems pretty good for a guy not running, until you remember that 14 percent is about where Newt Gingrich is among Republicans, and nobody thinks he's going to be president.
The Gore Fantasy is an example of the Democratic ritual of eating their own, of indulging in bickering and second-guessing until defeat has been secured. The habit was on full display in Friday's House vote on ending the war in Iraq. Despite promises to bring the troops home and blistering attacks on the GOP "culture of corruption," Speaker Nancy Pelosi's team openly bought votes by promising tens of millions of dollars in wasteful subsidies for dairy farmers, spinach producers and peanut businesses. Hard-line liberals were fighting ultrahard-line liberals.
After all that, the bill, which continues war funding even as it requires withdrawal by September 2008, got the barest possible majority, 218 votes. It will not pass the Senate and, even if it does, Bush would veto it. That means Dems eventually will have to vote for a "clean" funding bill or be guilty of defunding our troops in battle. If Friday's vote was victory, it's hard to imagine what defeat would look like.
Gore, of course, knows all about close votes, having won the popular vote in 2000. But those who remember that fact alone are forgetting the rest of the story. He was a lousy candidate who should have won in a cakewalk. He was so bad he lost his home state of Tennessee.
Old doubts about his authenticity would surface, including that he paid for advice on dressing like an alpha male. Even his personal commitment to the environment is suspect, with his carbon-spewing lifestyle already the butt of late-night jokes. And despite his conviction that we face a global crisis, Gore hardly mentioned the subject six years ago because his handlers told him not to.
That's part of the Al Gore story, too, and it should wake up the dreamers about his chances of saving the party in 2008. Better he should stick to saving the planet.