An Oscar For His Second Act

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now, somebody ought to make a movie about Al Gore. I would call it "An Uncomplaining Life."

The movie would be about a man who did not quit, who came off the canvas after a painfully close election -- he won the popular vote, after all -- who accepted defeat graciously and tried to unite the nation, who returned to the consuming passion of his earlier days, the environment, and spoke endlessly on the topic, almost always for free, who starred in a documentary based on his speech and who Sunday night, before a billion or so people, won an Academy Award for his effort. This may or may not be a stepping stone to the presidency, but Gore gives us all a lesson on how to live one's life.

It's a joke, isn't it? I mean, it was Gore who was universally seen as the flawed man, uncomfortable in his own skin and, therefore, in this TV age, incapable of uniting the nation. He was caricatured by some of my colleagues as a serial exaggerator, a fibber, a pretender -- the guy who invented the Internet, who was the model for the novel (and movie) "Love Story," who applied one too many coats of passion to that kiss he delivered to his wife, Tipper, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. There were so many reasons not to vote for him -- none, in retrospect, much good.

Now it is his jaunty, frat-boy opponent who cannot unite the country. Now it is the towel-snapper, the rancher who does not ride horses, the decider who decides wrongly and whose approval ratings are like the temperature of a dead man. Now it is George W. Bush that the nation does not trust or believe -- and this has and will cost us plenty. What if Bush is right about Iran? What if the Iranians are really helping to kill Americans in Iraq? Whatever you may think of the Iraq war, it is impermissible for anyone to kill Americans and yet it may be happening and may continue because the president is widely disbelieved. Gore could not have gotten us into this.

Gore would not have taken the United States to war in Iraq. He would have finished the job in Afghanistan -- it was al-Qaeda and its Taliban enablers who were responsible for the attacks on us on Sept. 11, 2001, not Saddam Hussein, no matter how vile he might have been. Gore would not have dealt with the Iranians and the North Koreans in such a juvenile fashion -- axis of evil, after all -- and all over the world, wherever you and I went, we would not detect such anger toward America. The last time I saw Gore was at a screening of his now-acclaimed movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." I wrote at the time that, on paper at least, he was the near-perfect Democratic presidential candidate -- right on the war, above all. This observation, hardly original with me, is being echoed elsewhere, and it would be impossible for Gore to ignore it. Jimmy Carter said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he thought Gore ought to run and had told Gore so insistently. "He almost told me the last time I called, 'Don't call me anymore,' " Carter said. What Gore told me was something similar: "I think there are other ways to serve."

We'll see. After all, Gore -- the son of a senator himself -- was raised for the presidency. But for the moment at least, he is showing all the irritating signs of a man at peace with himself. He abandoned Washington for Nashville. He has made a bundle in his investments, and he has set out to show that there is life after a failed candidacy, a purposeful life in which a man can do some good. His movie and his speeches are -- to paraphrase what Clausewitz said about war -- a continuation of politics by other means. He cannot make war but he can still make a difference.

I know -- and so does Gore -- that all this will change if he enters the race. Maybe that ol' devil of uncertainty will come creeping out of his skin, and maybe he will become shrill, and maybe he will somehow throw his voice so that it seems to be coming from outside his body. But the woman I love tells me that life is a series of little lives, and no one has proved the truth of this better than Gore. With an Oscar in his fist and triumph on his face, Al Gore is a man you can tell your kid about. That, maybe, is even better than being president.

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