by Jeremy Young | 10/12/2007 09:14:00 PM
In case you haven't heard, Al Gore's won the Nobel Peace Prize. In case you haven't heard, a lot of people want him to run for President. In case you haven't heard, I'm one of those people.

Here's why it's not going to happen. And no, it's not because of this guy's pathetic historical argument.

More than any other historical politician, Gore has always reminded me of Adlai Stevenson. Both were scions of patrician political families (Gore's father was a longtime Senator from Tennessee; Stevenson's grandfather was Vice President under Grover Cleveland); both were viewed as out-of-touch intellectuals (the term "egghead" was popularized during Stevenson's 1952 and 1956 runs); both were visionaries in a particular category of political analysis in ways that were only realized after their political years (Stevenson in foreign policy, Gore in environmental policy); both had unexpectedly large popular followings that they were perennially unable to connect with on a personal level.

In 1960, Stevenson had been the Democratic Presidential nominee in the two previous election cycles, and he announced that he wouldn't be seeking the nomination again that year. The field he left behind bore a striking resemblance to today's Democratic crop: a hotshot young Senator (John Kennedy), a political powerhouse from the South (Lyndon Johnson), a couple of less-popular Senators (Hubert Humphrey, Wayne Morse), and a former Cabinet official (Stuart Symington). Yet the rank and the file of the Democratic Party were dissatisfied with this field: the top two candidates, Kennedy and Johnson, were viewed as potentially unelectable (as a Catholic and a Southerner, respectively), and the rest of the field was very, very weak. (I mean, seriously. Stuart Symington for President?)

I'm not going to tell the rest of this story very well, since I don't have my copy of Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960 with me; but understand that I'm basically retelling how he tells the story. As Stevenson continued to give front-porch speeches on political subjects as diverse as the Cold War and the primary system, all the while insisting that he had no desire to run for President, reporters thronged to hear him speak, and the common people lapped up his every word. In that day and age, when the major party nominations were largely decided at the conventions, this was the equivalent of a potent draft campaign.

At the convention in Los Angeles, which both Kennedy and Johnson hoped to dominate, firebrand Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who would make his own Presidential run in 1968, stood and delivered a powerful oration nominating Stevenson for President. I highly recommend esperanto41's excellent piece on this event, which he lived through as an 18-year-old volunteer for Stevenson. (He's also got a link to McCarthy's bullhorn of a speech, which is well worth a read.) As someone present at the convention, he remembers what happened next: the convention organizers, who had neglected to bolt the doors of the hall once the convention started, were stunned to discover that it was now filled with tens of thousands of ordinary Los Angelenos who had literally walked in off the streets and were now spontaneously chanting "Stevenson, Stevenson, Stevenson!" in an endless mantra.

Unlike Gore, Stevenson didn't have an Oscar, an Emmy, or a Nobel Peace Prize to his credit, but tens of thousands of chanting Americans in the convention hall were shockingly effective at turning him overnight into a serious candidate for the 1960 nomination. Stevenson, who wasn't really even expecting to be placed in nomination, wasn't at the convention, but when the chanting had gone on for hours and completely disrupted the convention, he was informed that he'd better start thinking about whether he wanted to run for President again. And despite his protestations to the contrary, Stevenson did in fact want the nomination so bad he could taste it.

So he placed a call to the man who had been his floor manager at the 1952 and 1956 conventions, Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago -- and Daley told him he was already backing Kennedy and nothing could change his mind. And as Theodore White tells it, that was that; without a solid state organization or an experienced floor manager, Stevenson hadn't a chance at the nomination for all the public support in the world.

Today, of course, individual state organizations mean a lot less to a Presidential candidate's chances, and convention floor managers are essentially nonexistent. But the basic plan is the same: if there is a candidate in the race with fantastic organization and a solid public persona, no candidate without both those attributes is going to be able to beat them. Right now, there is such a candidate: Hillary Clinton. Chris Bowers, as he so often does, absolutely nails it:

Gore has long been thinking about running, but the main calculation is whether he, or anyone else, can defeat Hillary Clinton. If he grows convinced that no one can beat Clinton for the nomination, then he won't run. If he is convinced that either Edwards or Obama can defeat Clinton, then he won't run. However, if he is convinced that he can defeat Clinton, but that Edwards and Obama cannot, then he will run.

With all due respect to John Nichols, who is a smart guy, it's not enough that Gore would instantly become the anti-Clinton candidate in the race; he'd have to transform the field so much that Clinton would be the anti-Gore candidate. A good comparison would be if Hillary Clinton had suddenly jumped into the 2004 Presidential field in September of 2003, when Howard Dean was at the apex of his run. Clinton wouldn't simply have become the anti-Dean candidate; she would have become the instant frontrunner, with Dean shunted to the sidelines and everyone else essentially out of the race. In a weaker field, Gore might well be able to pull this off. But with Clinton in the race, Gore would simply become one of a field of heavyweights, just as Stevenson was unable to dominate a field with Kennedy and Johnson in it. Given how little time he would have to raise money and organize a ground game, Gore wouldn't be able to triumph in such a race. His Nobel acceptance speech would certainly be worth lots of free publicity, but enough to counter Hillary's $80 million? I don't think so.

A vainer man might well run anyway, hoping for an unexpected break to materialize, but to his credit, Gore is thinking of something much more important. His climate change initiative would be crippled by his reentrance into partisan politics, as people would see it as a political stepping-stone for him rather than as a timeless and critical issue. This would be more than compensated for if Gore became President and could actually make policy on climate change, but Gore knows that's not going to happen unless Hillary falters, and he also know she isn't going to. He's seen the Clinton political machine, and he knows the strategy: play it safe, keep it smooth, don't make any mistakes. Sure, Bill Clinton had to play the Comeback Kid innumerable times, but frankly that's just because he couldn't keep it in his pants. Hillary doesn't have that problem, and she's not going to give Gore an opening.

So Gore's not going to run for President, no matter how hard we try to draft him. He knows the votes just aren't there, and the stakes are far too high to take the risk. It's not an act of cowardice on his part; it's an act of humility, of strong character. It may not be the action one expects of a politician, but it is most definitely the action of a statesman.



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Blogger Gordon Taylor on 10/13/2007 2:20 AM:

Yeah, this seems to me to be right on the money. If he does run, people will look at him in a totally different way. And the bloom will be gone.

"Hillary doesn't have that problem, and she's not going to give Gore an opening."



Blogger Jeremy Young on 10/13/2007 3:07 AM:

Honestly, it wouldn't even be enough for him to win -- he'd have to win it in a walk so that he wouldn't be tarnished by partisan politics. I'm thinking Eisenhower's two terms, or FDR in 1932.

And while he could easily do that in the general, it's just not going to happen for him in the primary.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 10/13/2007 3:07 AM:

Following this analysis, it seems like Hilary Clinton still has a problem. As the "second-eldest statesman" (Jimmy Carter being older, and Bill Clinton being already committed, and not as statesman-like) in the party, Gore's nod would mean a huge amount to any of Hilary's competitors, but not very much to her, nor would she be likely to get it. So she needs to keep Gore from endorsing anyone like Obama or Edwards, without seeming like she's trying to attack the brightest star outside of the race.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 10/13/2007 3:21 AM:

Honestly, though, having been there when Gore endorsed last time -- and he wasn't this big a celebrity then, but he was definitely beloved by some segments of the party, including the activists -- the endorsement didn't do all that much. I mean, we Dean activists really thought the Gore endorsement, coming just a month before Iowa, absolutely sealed the deal for Dean, when in reality it didn't result in the mobilization of really any resources for him -- Harkin's endorsement actually meant more.

If Gore endorsed, say, Richardson, that would make a splash, but mostly on the basis of increased name recognition and fundraising. Those other guys aren't going to benefit from what Gore could give them. Frankly, I think Gore may very well be planning to endorse Hillary and use his endorsement as leverage to get her help on climate change. Remember that Bill Clinton was probably the most environmentalist President in history -- and that wasn't just because of Gore, but his own interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt. I think Gore still sees the Clintons very much as allies, and would see no reason to burn bridges with them as he did with Lieberman in 2004.


Blogger GreyHawk on 10/13/2007 5:49 AM:


Interesting new changes; sorry it's taken me so long to check 'em out.

With regard to the theme "History of the future," I was wondering if you'd find my piece Through the Eyes of a Child -- Children's Day to be of any use...? You're welcome to post it in its entirety (with attribution back to the original on ePM) if you like.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 10/13/2007 6:33 AM:

GreyHawk, that's an excellent piece, but I won't be posting work here by non-frontpage authors. This is no longer a community site, and as such, doing so would kind of defeat the purpose.


Blogger Mentarch on 10/13/2007 3:15 PM:

I would also hope that Mr. Gore runs - however, the current realities of the toxic environment of politics these days mean that the same will happen as it happened back in 2000.

The outlook is bleak indeed ...


Blogger Jeremy Young on 10/13/2007 8:27 PM:

Mentarch, you're absolutely right -- any political system that would tear down a great statesman like Al Gore is messed up indeed.