Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who Created the Phony Al Gore Boomlet?

By Stuart Rothenberg

I’m just now recovering from the most recent frenzy about a possible Al Gore presidential bid in 2008, and I’m hopeful that we’ll still have another few months before we get our next “Is Al Gore changing his mind and running for president in 2008?” boomlet.

But another round of Gore presidential speculation is about as likely as the next “Inside Edition” piece on Britney Spears or the next Larry King interview with Bob Woodward. In other words, it’s inevitable.

The question for today is not whether the former vice president will run, or whether he should run, or whether he might actually win if he were to run. I don’t know if he will run, but if he does, it would be a bonanza for columnists and comedians.

People who know Gore, or know people who know Gore, all tell me that the former vice president would like the Democratic nomination handed to him, but that he isn’t prepared to commit himself to do the things over the next 17 months that he would have to do to win it.

That leaves me wondering about how and why we had to suffer through another round of stories about Gore possibly running for president without an explicit sign from Gore himself that he was considering a 2008 bid, or even that he was open to considering another campaign.

Democratic insiders suggest that some of the buzz came from Gore’s allies — from Hollywood liberals who were turned on by the Gore they saw in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and from people with a financial interest in it.

Talk of a White House run by Gore generated publicity for his movie, and that surely boosted the audience for the film. Given that, it figures that some public relations genius concluded that marketing a Gore presidential bid would be an effective way of marketing Gore’s movie.

But most veterans of Democratic politics who know Gore strongly doubt that he masterminded an effort to get people buzzing about another White House bid.

“Al Gore has been very disciplined about not making news beyond the movie. He has passed up opportunities to make news about himself,” insisted one veteran Democrat who’s close to Gore.

When I’ve seen Gore on talk shows recently (and he seems to have hit almost every one), he seems genuinely interested in promoting his film and talking about global warming, not in talking about himself or national or Democratic politics.

So if the Gore drumbeat didn’t come from the former vice president, who started it and kept it going? The answer is the liberal Web logs, some of which already have embraced him as their preferred candidate for ’08, as well as many in the national media.

There is and, and there is an “Al Gore for President Petition” at On Daily Kos, one of the premier liberal Democratic Web sites, a straw poll of 11,000 voters showed 68 percent of respondents saying they would support Gore — far, far ahead of the runner-ups, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) at 15 percent and retired Gen. Wesley Clark at 4 percent.

Democratic liberals suddenly are in love with Gore. And so is the media, which always falls in love with whomever and whatever it can’t have.

One veteran Democrat called the Gore presidential flurry an example of “the Joe DiMaggio syndrome.”

“I’ve seen it for 25 years: It’s always the person who isn’t in the race who people long for. It’s why people are also talking about [Sen.] Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president. And the Gore-for-president scenario is the precursor to the ‘brokered convention scenario’ that we will hear about soon,” said the astute observer.

Journalists, talking heads and sympathetic bloggers simply are finding the Gore scenarios too good to pass up.

There is the “Gore was really right” storyline, and the “Gore is the one Democrat who can stop Hillary [Rodham] Clinton (D-N.Y.) from winning the nomination” storyline. Then there is the “Al Gore and Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton” storyline (not to mention the “Al Gore and Tipper Gore and Hillary Clinton” storyline).

“The media anointed Hillary the frontrunner and now they want a story and a fight, and Gore is the easiest thing for them to imagine,” one media-savvy Democratic operative argued.

Of course, ultimately, there is the “comeback kid” storyline. No matter how embattled, discredited and even disgraced a person is — from former Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to one-time junk bond king Michael Milken — journalists and readers seem enamored with stories of people who have rebounded from defeats. A Gore ’08 bid would be a perfect made-for-TV script.

We probably won’t ever know how Gore would have done in 2008, since he is unlikely to become a candidate. But that won’t stop liberals from romanticizing about how much better off we all would be if he were to be inaugurated, or how a Gore victory in ’08 would be a wonderful payback to President Bush. And journalists are unlikely to cross off Gore permanently from their presidential lists, if only because a Gore run would have so many entertaining storylines.

The former vice president has become a celebrity, and in the current celebrity-obsessed culture, that means he’ll continue to receive plenty of media attention — regardless of whether he wants it and whether his plans and prospects merit it.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 26, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.