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The Man Who Would Save the Earth

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is a rather unique hybrid vehicle, as it’s in large part an earth science lecture with a campaign biopic running through it. As a primer on global warming, it succeeds quite clearly, and most frighteningly, in showing that the earth is now totally “out of balance.” If Greenland melts down, all of us here in New York City may be swimming with the fishes. The remedies the film offers are plenty, although the primary one seems to be “elect Al Gore in 2008, before it’s too late… .” On this score, there are—Dare I say it? Of course I will—some “inconvenient truths” that the picture leaves out.

The portrayal of Gore in the film is of a dedicated public servant who’s been nothing if not consistent in his commitment to environmentalism. On these issues, that may be true, but such an image conceals the shifting nature of Gore’s politics. Until the aftermath of the 2000 fiasco, in which the Supreme Court crowned George Bush as president, Gore placed himself squarely on the center-right of the Democratic Party. During his run for president in 1988, Gore memorably donned his Army jacket and traveled around New York City with right-wing Democrat Ed Koch, shamelessly pandering to the city’s Reagan Democrats. Through the Clinton years, one of Gore’s main roles was to help sell NAFTA, which among other results has produced an environmental disaster along the Mexican border.

As for Gore’s actual campaign in 2000, the less said about it, the better. Among other lowlights, he “triangulated” on the Elian Gonzalez issue, and chose the ridiculously reactionary Joe Lieberman as his running mate. The campaign was so uninspiring that Gore couldn’t even win debates with George W. Bush, let alone his home state. Since 2000, Gore has finally taken to heart Dan Quayle’s advice in 1992: “Lighten up, Al.” And the new Al—outspoken critic of the Bush administration on the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, Kyoto, and many other issues; as well as two-time host of Saturday Night Live and traveling lecturer—is winning over both popular audiences and leading opinion makers. As the new flick shows, Al’s got Hollywood backing, and the New Yorker also seems to be in his camp (Hillary, meanwhile, has the New York Times on lockdown).

But if (and when) he does throw his hat into the ring, which Al will step forward? The triangulating stiff, or the thoughtful man of principle with a self-deprecating touch? Politicians, like the earth’s ecosystem, can indeed change. But as Gore’s film shows, the future isn’t exactly predictable. We can only hope that our political debate evolves by 2008, before it is indeed too late.

—T. Hamm


Theodore Hamm


The Brooklyn Rail

JUN 2006

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