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Gore Wins the Norwegian Primary

by John Nichols

Having now won the Norwegian Primary, it is reasonable to ask why Al Gore would want to slog his way through the snows of New Hampshire.

But the inconvenient truth is that never has the man who might yet be president needed to more seriously consider his personal legacy -- not to mention the small matter of his potential to make the world anew -- than now.

There is, after all, the matter of the open space at the end of what is now the most remarkable resume of anyone seeking -- or considering seeking -- the presidency.

Let's review.

This is how Al Gore's resumé reads as of this morning:

Son of a great senator.

Harvard graduate, with honors.

Vietnam veteran.

Award-winning investigative journalist.

Congressman.

Senator.

Vice President.

Winner of the popular vote for President of the United States.

Best-selling author.

Environmental activist.

Academy Award winner.

And, now, Nobel Peace Prize winner -- he shares the prize with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- for "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

As resumés go, that is one for the top of the pile.

But it begs the question: Shouldn't a man who has gotten this far be thinking about how to finish the journey?

And isn't the last stop the Oval Office?

To think that Gore is not pondering these questions today would be absurd.

Of course, the former vice president says, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

No doubt about that.

But Gore cannot feign ignorance of his own "political issue." When he appeared in San Francisco on the eve of Friday morning's announcement, at a fundraising event for California Senator Barbara Boxer, the man of the hour tried to deliver an earnest address about climate change. But when he concluded his remarks, the crowd burst into chants of "Run Al Run!"

That message echoed the full-page ad that was placed by the burgeoning "Draft Gore for President" movement in the front section of Wednesday's New York Times. The advertisement bluntly suggested that the announced contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination lack Gore's "vision, standing in the world, and political courage" -- not just with regard to climate change, but in his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, his defenses of civil liberties and his advocacy for a renewed commitment to science and reason.

"There are times for politicians and times for heroes. America and the Earth need a hero right now," read the Draft Gore movement's open letter to the soon-to-be Nobel man. "Please rise to this challenge, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been."

Now, that's pressure. But it is a velvet grip in which the peace prize winner finds himself.

Al Gore has arrived at the point that most politicians can only imagine in their wildest dreams. The entire world is asking him to be not merely a candidate but an ecological -- not to mention, ideological -- savior. And there is simply no question that he is viable. In fact, he is more viable than he has ever been.

Can Gore resist? Probably.

Should he resist? Probably not.

Sure, it will be said that Gore can do more to address climate change as a private citizen. But no one who as been so close to the presidency as he will miss the point that the most powerful official on the planet has some sway in matters involving the planet.

The last serious presidential prospect to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Teddy Roosevelt, who got the award when he was serving as president in 1906. (The Norwegians were impressed that he had convinced Japanese and Russian representatives to come to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and that he had then gotten them to negotiate an end to a nasty little war they had been waging.)

Roosevelt exited the presidency in 1908 and almost immediately began to regret the decision. The peace prize was not enough to get Republicans to ditch his successor, the hapless William Howard Taft, and put Roosevelt at the head of their 1912 ticket. But TR did run the most successful third-party presidential campaign of the 20th century that year - as a "Bull Moose" Progressive.

Roosevelt never got over his belief that, had he just won the Republican nomination in 1912, he would again have been president. And, eight years later, at a point after the horrors of World War I when people were taking peace prizes rather more seriously, he was widely encouraged to make a run for the Republican nomination that probably would have secured him not just the party line but the presidency.

Roosevelt did not need much encouragement. Barely 60 -- the age Gore will turn next March -- the Rough Rider was ready for one more charge; indeed, family members and friends reported that he was raring to go.

Only the coronary embolism that did him in on January 6, 1919, was powerful enough to cure TR's case of presidency lust. And there is no reason to believe that Al Gore, a man who bid first for the presidency in 1988, considered running in 1992, spent eight years as an understudy, then bid again in 2000 - winning the Democratic nomination and the popular vote, but losing the job on a 5-4 technical call by the Supreme Court -- is any less inclined that Roosevelt was to give it another try.

There will be a lot of "fire-in-the-belly" talk over the next few days.

But Al Gore should not be worrying about checking his gut.

He should be thinking about the resume he has spent a lifetime preparing.

It is more impressive than ever.

Unfortunately, the suddenly more impressive character of Gore's resume only serves to emphasize that it remains incomplete.

A Nobel Prize for Peace is a fine honor. But take it from a man who won the presidency and the prize but could not leave the political arena.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better," Teddy Roosevelt said as he prepared another run for the White House. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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