Gore Delivers a Boost -- To Obama and a Pet Cause

Al Gore's speech touched on a favorite topic, climate change, saying Barack Obama is prepared to address
Al Gore's speech touched on a favorite topic, climate change, saying Barack Obama is prepared to address "a planetary emergency." (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 28 -- In the past three decades, Al Gore has come to the Democratic National Convention in many roles -- as an ambitious young senator, a vice presidential candidate, a vice president and a presidential nominee. On the last night of the 2008 convention, he came as a Nobel Prize-winning proselytizer against the perils of climate change, linking Barack Obama's candidacy to his own cause of the past decade.

With an allusion to his prize-winning documentary on climate change, he argued in a speech at Invesco Field at Mile High on Thursday that Obama, unlike Sen. John McCain, is prepared to address the issue that Gore called a "planetary emergency."

"His experience," Gore said, "has taught him something that career politicians often overlook: that inconvenient truths must be acknowledged if we are to have wise governance."

Gore said the race between McCain and Obama is as close as it is "because the forces of the status quo are desperately afraid of the change" Obama represents.

At a convention that witnessed the remarkable drama of both Hillary and Bill Clinton forcefully endorsing Obama and, in essence, passing the party's baton to someone who was not on the stage until four years ago, the former vice president's role fits less neatly into the narrative.

Gore was Clinton's vice president, but furious over the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, he made less use of the president on the campaign trail in 2000 than many had expected, further cooling their relationship. His loss to George W. Bush despite a popular-vote plurality represented a totemic and devastating "what might have been" moment for Democrats. Thursday night, Gore returned to it, listing all the ways in which, he argued, the country would have fared better under his leadership.

But since the loss, he has reinvented himself as a world spokesman warning about climate change. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and won an Oscar for his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Gore remained neutral in this year's Democratic nomination battle, and as the contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton dragged on, his name was often invoked as someone who could broker a resolution between them. He endorsed Obama after he had captured the nomination, appearing with him in June.

"He's said many times that [the primary battle] was historic and exciting . . . and that in the end result it would be good for the Democratic Party, that it would energize a lot of people and bring a lot of new people out," said Michael Feldman, a political consultant with the Glover Park Group in the District and a longtime Gore adviser. "He expected all along that this would resolve itself elegantly and organically -- and it did."

Carol M. Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration and a close Gore associate, described his frame of mind in similar terms. "I think he's very happy with where we are. We have a nominee, a spectacular nominee, and he's going to do everything he can to see him elected," she said.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the campaign wanted Gore in as prominent a spot as possible.

"We think Gore can deliver a compelling message on both the economy and foreign policy as relates to energy," Plouffe said. "He's a messenger. There are a lot of elected officials that voters don't readily accept information from, and he's one that they do. They think that he's got credibility. He has some credibility because a lot of voters believe that if he were elected, the last eight years would have been different."

Plouffe refused to say whether Gore had been considered as Obama's running mate. Some Democrats speculate that Obama, if he wins, could appoint Gore to a new position, of climate change czar.

But Feldman said Gore appears to think he is having the most impact in his current role outside government, which includes giving speeches, working on several green energy investment ventures, and leading a new initiative to have the United States producing all its electricity from renewable and noncarbon sources within 10 years. That goal has been derided by many Republicans and is far more ambitious even than the aggressive target laid out by Obama.

"What he has said is that he is not interested in serving in a future administration but that he hasn't ruled out public office, and that if he ran for office again it would probably be for president. He hasn't said, 'Under no circumstance will I serve the country again,' " Feldman said. "He has found a very unique role and platform as a kind of public-private citizen, able to harness resources creatively to make a huge impact on the climate crisis."

Browner agreed. "He obviously is a very influential person with [Obama], and he'll continue to be that, but [Obama] will make the decision as to who joins his administration," she said. "What Al is passionate about is the issue of climate change . . . and my guess is the most effective place for him is using his talent for speaking out about the issue, raising concern and inspiring people to take action."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company