Yes, congrats and kudos and mazal tov to former Vice President Al Gore for his Nobel Peace Prize and his commitment.
But let us also recall that as he ran for president in 2000 he downplayed his environmentalism, his consultants thinking it not electorally sage to emphasize on the stump.
Such a stance allowed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader an opening, of course, likely taking thousands of key votes from Gore in key states such as Florida. (Ahem.)
I remember covering Gore in 2000, it wasn’t until the end of October, when the threat of Nader was apparent to all, that Gore gave a big speech on being green in Davenport, Iowa.
How it all played out is fascinating in retrospect.
"Now, I want to talk about the environment here today," Gore said standing on a fire truck with his jacket off.
"Now, look. Just today, we are seeing on television the new study that just comes out once ev’ry FAAAAHVE years where the scientific community around the world tells us what they’ve learned about this problem that these kids are gonna grow up with unless we do something and that’s the problem of global warming."
Gore was referring to a United Nations report on global warming, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the same group that shared his Nobel with him this year — that concluded it could get up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by the end of the century if greenhouse gases were not curtailed.
"We have a situation where the big polluters are supporting Gov. Bush and they are wanting to be in control of the environmental policy," Gore said, tearing into Texas’ environmental rankings.
You may not be able to believe this, but at the time the Bush campaign responded by claiming that Bush was actually more of an environmentalist than Gore.
"There are only two candidates in this race who support a mandatory reduction of emissions from older power plants — Gov. Bush and Ralph Nader," said then-Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett. "Environmental groups have harshly criticized Al Gore’s record on global warming and deforestation, while Gov. Bush has offered a plan that will help protect the endangered tropical forests of Latin and South America."
Bartlett was able to cite a harsh critique of Gore from September 1999 by the Friends of the Earth PAC when the group endorsed Gore’s then-opponent, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Calling Gore a "big disappointment," the organization "graded Gore on 16 areas of his signature issue, protection of the ozone layer" and awarded Gore a "D."
(Friends of the Earth said Gore was much better than Bush. "While we have had significant differences with the Clinton-Gore administration on some issues, there’s a Grand Canyon-sized gulf of leadership between Vice President Gore and Governor Bush on the environment. If Bush is elected it will do significant and irreversible harm to the global environment," a spokesman told me.)
In Gore’s speech he addressed global warming in the New Democrat shades that had aroused the wrath of Friends of the Earth.
He would perpetually describe a pending environmental apocalypse — and then propose solutions that would be easy and fun and no big deal at all! He would say "let’s pick the hard right over the easy wrong!" But then he wouldn’t describe anything hard at all.
"An’ I know a lotta people say that it looks like [global warming] is off in the future," Gore says. "But lemme tell you what this new study said … Unless we act, the average temperature is gonna go up 10 or 11 degrees. The storms will get stronger, the weather patterns will change. But it does not have to happen. And it won’t happen if we put our minds to solving this problem … Here is the good news. If we take the leadership role that these kids have a right to expect us to play, we can create millions of good, new, high-paying jobs by building the new cars and trucks … and technology to STOP the pollution and lift standards of living at the same time! ARE YA WITH ME?!"
"I laid out a plan this past summer that will create partnerships with the car companies and with the utilities and with the factories that will give tax breaks to get the new kind of technologies going," Gore says. "And we’ll lead the world in those technologies and all over the rest of the world, they’re wanting to buy these new kinds of technologies, and we’re the ones that ought to be making them and selling them to the rest of the world."
Gore deserves credit for his work, for his passion. For his Nobel Peace Prize!
But in 2000 the Al Gore who talked about what to do about the environment was one who, environmentalists said at the time, didn’t rear his head enough during the campaign. Who allowed a climate where the Bush campaign could even try to out-flank him on the Left. Who didn’t really give straight talk about the kinds of sacrifices necessary.
One wonders what today’s Gore would say about that Gore.
Perhaps more importantly, one wonders how the millions of voters who pulled the lever for Nader would have responded to the Gore of today.
What do you think?