Long before the presidential race began heating up earlier this year, it already seemed the world had forgotten about Al Gore, the man I and millions of others continue to believe is the democratically elected president of the US. A long but exceptional New Yorker profile this week by editor David Denby reminded me of the these buried (because of the countless Bush-related atrocities since the 2000 election/coup) but never forgotten memories. Ironically, Al Gore seems almost happier today than at any point in his life. Perhaps for the first time, he's free of the burden of aspiring to become president. He's also getting rich, although not in the value-compromising way Dick Cheney and others have done.
There's a passage in Denby's article when Gore, queried about the media and the public sphere, in one 28-minute talk at his kitchen table references the following:
"German philosopher Jurgen Habermas...the brain imaging center at New York University; 'The Alphabet Versus the Goddess' by Leonard Schlain; 'Broca's Brain' by Carl Sagan, an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about the decline of reading in America; the lack of research on the relation between the brain and television--'There is just nothing on the dendrite level about watching televison'; Gutenbertg and the rise of print; the sovereign rule of reason in the Enlightenment; individualsim--'a term first used by de Tocqueville to describe America in the eighteen-thirties'; Thomas Paine; Benjamin Franklin...Samuel Morse...the sinking of the Titanic; David Sarnoff; the agricultural origin of the term 'broadcast'; 'the nineteen visual centers of the brain'; an article on 'flow' in Scientific American; the 'orienting reflex' in vertebrates; the poignancy and 'ultimate failure' of political demonstrations as a means of engaging the aforementioned public sphere...and, finally, Gore's own 1969 Harvard thesis on the effect of television on the Presidency and the rise, at about that time, of image over print as a means of transmitting news."
And roughly half (or slightly less than that) of the American voters picked...who? At a certain point I feel that my indignation and disappointment about the 2000 election is directed not at George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, or Ralph Nader. It's at the people with "W 2004" stickers on their SUVs. I can even understand voting for Bush four years ago. He sounded a lot more moderate than he turned out to be; Gore correctly argues, I think, that Bush is not unintelligent but on the other hand not strong enough to stand up to the right-wingers who have hijacked his presidency and left sane people in the administration like Colin Powell mere figureheads at best. But what it's hard to come to terms with is those middle-class Americans who look at the last four years and say to themselves, "Okay, foreign policy: check. Economy: great. Environment: uh-huh. Relationship with the rich and big-business: right-on." It must come down to the fact that there have so far not been any successful major terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda on American soil since September 11.
We are clearly living in an age and culture of fear, and it's sad to see people succumb to it. To be fair, I've been guilty of that myself sometimes. I really thought the Apocalypse was just around the corner after the Trade Center attack. But at a certain point in politics I think you just have to force yourself to be optimistic. Unless you're rich with a lot of potential tax payments to protect from the government or religious and moralistic enough to believe that things like gay marriage and abortion should be banned, what is there to give Bush your vote?
Despite that impressive intellectual display (something I'm admittedly almost always a sucker for), Al Gore certainly has his faults. The entertaining personality he shows offstage and off camera transforms into a wooden public figure. I also really think he made a mistake distancing himself from Clinton in the campaign four years ago. Gore actually took Clinton's infidelity seriously enough that he couldn't see clearly what a partisan witch hunt the impeachment was. But for me and so many people in light of these last 4 years (or more specifically the three years since 9/11 as of the day after tomorrow), Gore represents, and probably always will, the what-if of all what-ifs.