Christopher Hitchens speculates in this Slate article on the chances that Al Gore may yet make a run for president in 2008. At the heart of the speculation is the idea that Gore looks like getting a Nobel Peace Prize next month.
So, and if I am right, the former vice president will then complete a year in which An Inconvenient Truth has been awarded an Oscar and he has authored a best seller. Roll it round your tongue again: an Oscar, a best seller, and a Nobel Prize in the space of 12 months or so. Not bad. And meanwhile, the field of Democratic candidates looks—how shall one put it?—a trifle etiolated.
I happen to like the 50 cent word ‘etiolated’ but it’s linked to a dictionary in the original because it is pretty obscure. Anemic will do as a substitute and it makes the point that by making the campaign for president longer we are seeing the early runners wear themselves out. They are suffering from overexposure which creates an opportunity for ‘late’ entrants to be perceived as potential winners – at least initially. This has already happened on the Republican side with Giuliani, McCain and Romney battling for a year and after months of speculation Fred Thompson entering the race. Its too soon to say how that will turn out, but the clear precondition for Thompson’s run was the lack of a candidate who really appealed to conservatives.
I think the Democratic race is a little different. We already have candidates running to the left of Hillary and they have not been able to get in front of her. I don’t think Gore is the candidate to stop her. There will always be people who for one reason or another don’t like Hillary, but she represents the center of the Democratic party and is the natural inheritor of the work Bill Clinton did on developing a genuinely new post Reagan politics for the Democratic party. Tony Blair took that process further in the UK and I think Hillary wants to do the same in the US. This work of creating a neo-left still has a long way to go and the argument between the left and center within the party will take some time to work itself out. David Brooks in his latest NY Times Op Ed The Center Holds believes the center is winning:
Clinton has established this lead by repudiating the netroots theory of politics. As the journalist Matt Bai makes clear in his superb book, “The Argument,” the netroots emerged in part in rebellion against Clintonian politics. They wanted bold colors and slashing attacks. They didn’t want their politicians catering to what Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos calls “the mythical middle.”
But Clinton has relied on Mark Penn, the epitome of the sort of consultant the netroots reject, and Penn’s approach has been entirely vindicated by the results so far.
In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.
While I hope the center is holding, the Democratic party is still long way from building that new consensus. In particular, it is all over the place on national security and the war in Iraq, and the uncertainty that generates is the Republican presidential candidate’s biggest asset. I agree with Hitchens the chance to run is still available if Gore wants to take it up, but I think there he will be perceived as more of a single issue candidate now because of his environmental advocacy. I believe Gore’s best chance was 2004 when Bush was vulnerable and all those ‘Redefeat Bush’ bumper stickers would have really energized the Democrats in a way Kerry never could.