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Can Al Gore Be Trusted?

Jeff Cohen

This is a repint of a vintage 2006 CommonDreams column exploring an Al Gore presidential candidacy and the old Gore vs. the new Gore.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

The wise old Chinese proverb on who is to blame for repeat gullibility was famously mangled by our Embarrasser in Chief: "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you," Bush stammered, with that deer-in-the-headlights look. "Fool me -- you can't get fooled again!" The video of that golden Bushism can bring down the house on The Daily Show.

But these words of wisdom are no laughing matter when applied to the man who defeated Bush in the 2000 election: Al Gore.

Many solid progressives want Gore to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008. A recent AlterNet reader survey (in which Noam Chomsky won the MVP for "Most Valuable Progressive") showed Gore way in front of the pack -- with Russ Feingold second and corporate media "front-runner" Hillary Clinton way back.

If Gore does run in 2008, big questions will nag: Didn't he fool a lot of us once before? Can we trust him?

Don't misunderstand (or mis-underestimate) me: I'd love to see Gore run.

Like many progressives, I've grown to appreciate the new Gore. Beginning in 2002 when leading Democrats had lost their voices, a reborn Gore spoke out loudly against Bush policies (and irritated mainstream pundits) through a series of speeches on Iraq, foreign policy, economics and the assault on our precious Constitutional freedoms.

Gore broke with former allies in the party establishment, worked closely with grassroots groups like MoveOn and endorsed the upstart Howard Dean in the primaries. He even spoke haltingly in favor of single-payer national health insurance.

His global warming movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" is not just a box office sensation. Gore is turning it into a broad organizing drive to build a national consensus on climate change -- a campaign that has earned supportive words from Ralph Nader. The documentary shows Gore to be a serious and passionate advocate, whose commitment to change begins from an understanding of facts and consequences. In other words, the opposite of the current White House resident.

If this new Gore were to run for president, I would do everything I could to help him vanquish the Republicans.

But doubts still persist. Because I remember the old Gore.

I remember a politician whose words on the environment were not matched by later actions; a politician whose foreign policy views were often militarist and whose economic views were often corporatist.

I remember Vice President Gore -- despite having written the environmental manifesto "Earth in the Balance," which highlighted the impact of auto emissions -- as the Clinton administration's leader in a "partnership" with Detroit auto makers that failed to increase fuel efficiency standards one inch in eight years.

I remember a vice president who was the administration's go-to-guy in promoting corporate-oriented trade deals like NAFTA, with their obvious negative impacts on the global environment and on workers' rights. (Asked recently about NAFTA by Larry King, Gore's position seems to have changed very little.)

I remember a vice president who played a lead role in pushing through the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 that predictably led to the worst media conglomeration in our nation's history, and helped fortify the media empires of folks like Murdoch, Clear Channel and Sinclair.

And I remember a presidential candidate in 2000 emptied of progressive principles by Beltway consultants so afraid of the American people and democracy that they believe a Democrat must win largely through stealth. A candidate who chose as his campaign chair William Daley, the NAFTA campaign czar despised by labor unions. And as his running-mate Joe Lieberman, who aided Bush's side in the Florida fight.

In his documentary, Gore seems to relish a biting quote from the fearless progressive advocate, Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding." The Sinclair comment is pungently anti-corporate, anti-careerist. When I watched the movie, I felt I was seeing the new Gore critiquing the old Gore.

So the question remains: If Gore runs for president again, which Gore will we get? And if he makes it to the White House (or even gets close), can we be sure that the new Gore won't revert into the old?

In 2002, Gore parted with some old Beltway buddies. Today, new grassroots forces and information/fundraising technologies may be strong enough -- stronger than when Dean nearly won the nomination -- to allow the new Gore to flourish and win the White House without the backing of old-line media, timid consultants and corporate funders.

If Gore were to choose a grassroots/netroots path over the Beltway bandit approach, it could be an inspiring campaign that would infuriate the same pundit elite that went apoplectic over Dean's primary campaign.

Here's an inconvenient truth: Progressives have few options for 2008. A high priority for some is stopping pro-war, corporate Democrat Hillary Clinton -- the preferred candidate of many in the media. Days ago, conservative Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Clinton.

Many progressives have a message for Al: Get into the presidential race... but free of the old corporatist baggage.

And don't make fools of us again.


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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