Note: This was originally posted on Raising Kaine as a diary. But I think it also belongs back here on my own blog since it's actually more a national than just a Virginia-oriented post. So, Raising Kaine had it first, but I'm takin'it back here too. Also, I'll admit it's a cheap trick - I got home late and don't have time to do something more original - but I will tomorrow night, promise!
Lowell’s post the other day, on Raising Kaine (scroll part way down), about whether Al Gore would run for president in 2008 got me thinking. First, let me issue the standard disclaimer: It’s way too early to even be thinking about the 2008 presidential race – too early for speculation.
Having said that, I’m going to add, it’s what we junkies do. We speculate, hope, wish and dream long before it’s sensible to so. It’s the nature of the particular substance we choose to abuse. So, on with the speculation.
I’ll stand by what I said in the comment’s section of Lowell’s post. I don’t believe that Gore is going to run again, ever again. It’s wishful thinking to assume that he will. He’s already run for national office three times – most people forget or weren’t old enough to remember that the first time he ran for president was in ’88. He was an up and coming senator then who didn’t have a national reputation. He got favorable treatment in the press and nobody expected him to win, least of all him. Dukakis won the nomination and then got creamed in a landslide to Bush, Sr.
Gore, however, made a credible showing in ’88 and everybody understood that that race was for the name recognition. He would have been one of the frontrunners if he’d chosen to run in 1992. But none of the top tier wanted to risk challenging sitting President George HW Bush, who held a 90 percent approval rating at the time of the first primaries. So Bill Clinton, the long shot, won the Democratic nomination and made Gore his running mate.
The 2000 race was Gore’s second run for president, and I think his final one. Besides Gore’s inability to excite the base in 2002 (with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party being dissatisfied that he was too centrist), the press, for its own reasons, viciously vilified him. And his paid consultants seemed too busy arguing about which earth tones he should wear to let him define himself as a candidate.
When he lost that race, he discovered that there was life after elective office and it was fun. Gore had been the presumptive heir to his father’s legacy. Both Al, Sr., once a respected senator from Tennessee, and Gore’s mother, Pauline, had groomed their only son for presidential politics. But deep down I think that it was always an uneasy fit. Now that he’s discovered the freedom of being John Q. Public Citizen, he’s happy. He can finally say what he really believes without fear of the pollsters and the pundits. He never felt secure enough to do that before, which contributed mightily to the impression that he was stiff. He was. He ran for the Senate as a centrist Democrat from a conservative Southern state, Tennessee. Then he served as Vice President to the man who helped found, and once led, the Democratic Leadership Council – also a centrist organization. But Gore always was a Washington liberal at heart. Now he can finally admit to it. And so can Tipper.
I also don’t think that Hillary will run. She’s a realist and she’s already been in the White House. She knows her baggage. She knows her negatives. I do think she’s shrewd enough to leverage the interest in her candidacy into the role of an effective and influential participant in the nominating process. Through her fundraising ability and the loyal support she’s earned, she’ll definitely be a player in helping to shape the party and pick the candidate. But it won’t be her.
I also don’t think it’s going to be Mark Warner. If he runs, I’ll support him as a favorite son. There is the hometown pride. And I like him. But I think his advisers, who sold him a bill of goods that he shouldn’t run for the Senate, were dead wrong. The conventional wisdom was that governors win the White House and those who served in the Senate have too much baggage because of all the votes they’ve cast, the positions they’ve changed, and the compromises they’ve reached. Because of all that, they’re too vulnerable to the charge of flip-flopping. It’s the paper trail.
However, governors leave a paper trail too. They leave positions they’ve taken, vetoes they’ve cast, budgets they’ve submitted and all the speeches they’ve made, not to mention the compromises they’ve had to make to get legislation passed too. And of course their records.
Warner has a great record. He was arguably one of the most effective governors, not just in Virginia, but nationwide. However, the dynamics that created the conventional wisdom have changed mightily. And Warner doesn’t look ready for prime time. The reason is that the debacle in Iraq, the intelligence screw-ups, and the complexity of foreign affairs have all turned the conventional wisdom on its head.
A really good case can be made that we are in this mess in Iraq because Bush, another Southern governor, had no foreign policy experience. He listened to bad advice and couldn’t discern good and accurate intelligence from a con job. After Bush’s abysmal incompetence, next time a candidate is going to need more than just one term as the governor of a relatively modest Southern state.
Ironically, the model of the ideal candidate, in terms of resume, would be someone like former Florida senator Bob Graham. He was a successful governor in the 80s, when Florida was in an economic slump and he led it out of the doldrums. He proved to be an able administrator who could govern a state effectively. Then, in the Senate, he chaired the Foreign Relations committee. He was also a leading critic against going to war Iraq. He had the well- rounded resume that somebody running in 2008 is going to need. Unfortunately, he’s retired from elective office and probably just wants to enjoy his grandchildren. He’s entitled. So, don’t look for him to run again.
Somebody who looks promising to me is John Edwards. He has a credible shot at the nomination. He’s incredibly charismatic and anybody who tells you that that doesn’t matter is either very naïve about politics or is lying. His “two Americas” message will resonate even more this time because the middle class has lost even more ground while the wealthy have continued to increase their wealth. The arrogance and cronyism of the rich have grown astoundingly blatant. Meanwhile, the average American is fearful of losing his job, his wages are flat, and he’s losing his pension and health care coverage.
Yet Edwards has more than an angry message. He has an optimistic vision. He doesn’t just whip up anger and demagoguery. Instead he appeals to what’s best in America, our idealism and ability to dream about being a better America for all.
And he now has the foreign affairs gravitas that he lacked a few years ago. I heard him on one of the Sunday morning talk shows a few weeks ago. He had come out against the war in Iraq and he was asked to explain why he had voted for it in the Senate. He came right out and said that he had been wrong. He also said that, at the time, his vote was based on information that we all now know was inaccurate. But he insisted that it had been his mistake and that he had a moral obligation to take responsibility for it. That’s not a flip-flop, folks. That’s having the integrity to be willing to be held accountable for his errors. However, he also strikes me as a man who learns from his mistakes and who doesn’t repeat them. So because he was lied to once, I doubt he’ll be as credulous again.
Now, I’m going to go way out on a limb and pick a real long shot. And one that completely reverses everything I just said about the new dynamic not favoring governors. The one governor, if he indeed wins the governor’s race in 2006, who might make an interesting run for the presidency, is Elliot Spitzer from New York.
I know, I know, it’s crazy. But I’ve been talking to relatives in states as diverse as Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and New York and one thing that comes across is that Spitzer is identified in the public mind with combating corporate crime and special interests. He’s viewed as the fighting prosecutor who is not afraid to take on the biggest boys. And most of the white-collar crime that he prosecutes is incredibly complex. To unwind the schemes, plots, and creative accounting designs takes an analytical mind; so even though he’s slim on foreign policy experience, he could still use that same incisive intellect to cut through the bullshit if he was given bad foreign intelligence. This is a man who has dealt with crooks and liars before. He could probably take on ourNSA, DIA, CIA and FBI and figure out who was lying and who was giving him good solid evidence before he acted.
And I think he fits the fighting populist mold that may be popular in 2008. Again it’s part of the new dynamic. People are angry about the ground they’ve lost. They are looking for somebody to fight for their interests.
But again, that’s a major long shot and not without pitfalls. He still has to win in New York and he may not even want to make a run for national office only two years after that election. To do so could also get him pegged an opportunist fast. And of course, by 2008, that dynamic could change yet again.
And of course, in the end, I could be completely wrong and Gore could run. I don’t think he’d want to. I think the press would dog him again. But the truth is he’d make a great president. He’s had the experience in the White House, he knows the foreign policy terrain and he could put together a good domestic program that would bring jobs back and get our economy going and not just for the wealthiest one percent. In fact, if he just brought former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin back, I’d follow Gore through fire and over a cliff.
As I said in the comments section of Lowell’s post, if I see Peter Knight signing on to a Gore campaign, I’m so outta here to help.