None of the Above
It is now over two months since I first heard a well-informed, well-connected conservative offer it as his private opinion that the next president of the United States will be Al Gore. I have since heard the same thing from three or four other insider types. I'm starting to think that President Gore is getting to be conventional wisdom. At the time I first heard it, though, I was shocked.
Me: "You can't possibly be serious. Gore is long past his sell-by date."
He: "No more than Nixon in '68. A narrow loss — which some said was actually a win, scotched by hanky-panky — then eight years in the wilderness, then the comeback — see?"
Me: "That's just meaningless patterns. Al Gore the new Nixon? So what are you telling me — that Hillary is Nelson Rockefeller?"
Etc., etc. Well, I'd been caught by surprise.
However, the more I thought about it, the less improbable President Gore seemed. I am now at the point where it seems less improbable than President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.
President McCain? President Giuliani? President Romney? President Thompson? Yeah, well. As one of my NRO colleagues has correctly observed: the GOP could run the Risen Christ as a candidate in '08, but if the Iraq/Afghanistan war has not been brought to some satisfactory conclusion, or to well within sight of such, by voting day, we shall lose.
If you are hoping for such a conclusion, as several other of my colleagues are, good luck to you. I can't share that optimism. Nothing I see out of the Middle East suggests to me that we are driving the events there. Far too many of the actual drivers — the jihadists and their enablers in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia — retain enough initiative to turn to dust anything we might accomplish. Second-order unknowns — political events in Pakistan, Turkey, Palestine — add a further layer of uncertainty, a layer very little of which is colored red, white, and blue.
Given a few years, we might be able to pull something off, but nobody thinks we're going to be given those years. The Surge? Petraeus himself only gave it a 25 percent chance of success when he got the mission, and generals are obliged to be optimistic about such things. Al Qaeda being chased out of Anbar Province? They'll regroup elsewhere. The Iraqi politicians getting their act together? Right.
If my pessimism is justified — and come on: in the long dark watches of the night, you know it is — the only set of candidates worth our scrutiny are the Democrats. For a Republican to win in '08, he's going to have to be a credibly anti-war Republican. That narrows the field down to Chuck Hagel and Ron Paul. See what I mean?
But (I hear you cry) Mrs. Clinton has amassed oodles of money and is storming ahead in the polls, Obama is the media's darling, John Edwards or Bill Richardson would look just fine as supporting actors on a Democratic ticket. It's all setting up nicely for them What are you dragging in Al Gore for, Derb? As a registered Republican and a National Review contributor, don't you hate the guy's guts?
Sure I do, but I'm making odds here, with the cold eye of analysis. Why am I dragging in Al Gore? Because:
- Hillary Clinton's poll numbers have a "hard ceiling" (a glass one, possibly), above which they will not go. Too many people implacably dislike her; too many others are turned off by her chilly personality, or recall the shenanegins of her Arkansas days, or (especially among feminists) resent that our country's first credible female presidential candidate got there not by her own unaided abilities, á la Margaret Thatcher, but from having been carried to prominence in her husband's baggage train.
- The war might well turn so unpopular that even the semi-repudiated sort-of support Hillary gave to it will lose her critical numbers of voters.
- Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton may be too much for even the most dedicated supporters of dynastic politics to swallow.
- The prejudice against electing Senators to the presidency needs a stronger candidate that Mrs. Clinton (or Mr. Obama) to overcome it. Of the last 14 Presidents, and counting Gerry Ford as an accident, there have been 6 Vice Presidents, 4 Governors, one General, one former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and one Senator. Hmm.
- Barack Obama's pose as a de-racialized, not-too-black, no-chip-on-shoulder, "If only they could all be like him" (that was John Wayne, speaking of Nat King Cole) African American is already starting to falter. I'm thinking of that 60 Minutes interview, the scrutiny Obama's wacky white-hating Chicago mentor-pastor is beginning to get, and the slowly rising number — it's getting close to half a dozen by now, I think — of commentators who have actually read his "Story of Race and Inheritance."
- The Dinkins effect. When David Dinkins, an African American, ran for Mayor of New York City, he won. He didn't win by anything like the margin the pollsters were predicting, though, and Dinkins's win left those pollsters scratching their heads. Where had the missing Dinkins voters gone? The common conclusion of the pollsters was that race is such a charged issue in the U.S.A. that people will lie about their intentions to vote for a black candidate all the way to the voting booth. You never heard of the Dinkins Effect? Believe me, the Democratic Party bosses have. (It gets a mention in Freakonomics.)
And if you think Al Gore's nutty preoccupation with what he calls "the climate crisis" is going to turn people off, you're not paying attention. Global warming is not just a new fad for liberals and the liberal-inclined; it's also a welcome refuge from the previous fad, "diversity," just as that previous fad is starting to grow fungus and smell bad.
The Left always needs a Grand Cause, and global warming is a perfect fit for the liberal mentality. It allows you to feel good without actually inconveniencing yourself overmuch, demands massive new government powers and corresponding taxation, is open-ended enough to, in theory, go on forever, makes capitalism look bad, and offers endless opportunities to feel warm throbs of guilt while gazing on pictures of poor, dark people suffering pitiably in remote places.
Al knew all that before you did. He's a smart cookie. He has a fine presidential jaw, massive celebrity support, full campaign experience, tens of millions of aggrieved supporters who feel they were swindled out of their last shot at a Gore presidency, and the ability to swiftly gin up lotsa cash.
Dum dum da-dum dah de-deedle-dardle dum dum [That's "Hail to the Chief."] Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next president of the United States: Al Gore!