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Sam Smith: Getting Reacquainted With Al Gore


Getting Reacquainted With Al Gore

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SAM SMITH - Al Gore's remarkable speech on Bush's illegal wiretapping - combined with his earlier criticisms of the Iraq war and his longstanding attention to the dangers of climate change - make him the only major Democratic figure, save Russ Feingold, worth the attention of the decent and democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Once you give him that attention, however, you are left with the problem that Al Gore isn't always your friend, hasn't always taken the positions he takes today, and can't be relied upon to do right in the future. In other words, traits of your average politician.

From a literary standpoint, however, Gore is about the only interesting major Democratic politician around, in part because his compromises and failures in judgment seem not - as with the Clintons - based simply on cold, cruel calculation but are the errant result of the clash between clear perception and the miasma of ambition, honest assessment and easier articulations, a moral heart and amoral muscles.

Al Gore could have grabbed a piece of greatness, but often took what seemed the easy and clever way out. . . which repeatedly turned out to be no such thing, perhaps because the conflicts within himself could produce neither efficient cynicism nor charismatic nobility.

The causes may have included being the son of a senator, living like Eloise in a Washington hotel as a young man, going to St. Alban's prep school where the future capital elite was trained in pompous and sometimes pathological certainty, and periodically visiting the strikingly different ecology of Tennessee.

No matter. He's back. He's says he's not running, but such statements don't count until the year in question. He's only done a couple of things right lately, but that easily puts him at the head of the Democratic pack.

For progressives, Gore presents an interesting problem because regardless of whether one would choose to vote for him, his success at this time will have an effect on the success of all of us. Certainly, as the following suggests, there is plenty to concern one about Gore. You may find things that alternately please or annoy you or that you just shrug off. But if Gore becomes a prophetic voice of a revived America - failed and flawed as the sound may be - we will all be better off. For the moment, we should enjoy the resonance of anyone with that many microphones in front of him saying the right thing for a change.

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