If Al Gore is not really planning to throw his hat in the ring for president in 2008, he's doing an excellent imitation of someone who is.
The former Vice President officially has discouraged the notion that he will run again. But, he is a man on a mission that's beginning to bear more than a passing resemblance to a national political crusade that, with a little tweaking here and there, could be transformed overnight into a weapons-grade presidential campaign.
On the road, he sounds almost like he's on the stump. He escalated his critiques of the Bush administration earlier this year, for example, by accusing President Bush's domestic eavesdropping of violating the law.
"I'm Al Gore and I used to be the next president of the United States," he says. Hint, hint.
Now, the former future president's slide talks on the gathering global warming crisis have been turned into a critically praised documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," that opens in theaters May 24. If this were the launching pad for a 2008 presidential bid, which Gore insists it is not, his timing could hardly be better. If ever there was a time for the author of "Earth in the Balance," Gore's powerful 1992 book on global warming and other environmental threats, to say, "I tried to warn you," this is it.
Gore's book drew ridicule from the elder George H.W. Bush, who called Gore "Ozone Man" in 1992, and from the younger Bush in their 2000 race, who admitted without embarrassment that he'd never read it — as if the book did not have enough pictures for the former Texas oil man to color.
Today, with the evening news carrying poignant photos of rising gas prices and polar bears drowning amid crumbling glaciers, and Republican congressional leaders proposing a laughable $100 rebate check to compensate taxpayers for higher gasoline prices, Gore's push for fuel efficiency and environmental protection sounds right on time.
Even Bush celebrated his love for hydrogen cars on Earth Day, in sharp contrast to his usual passion for fossil fuels. This is the same president, let's remember, who watered down the Environmental Protection Agency, put the brakes on the Clinton administration's push for fuel-efficient cars, and scoffed at the Kyoto treaty on global warming that Gore helped to negotiate as Vice President.
Now, with his approval ratings falling to 32 percent in some polls and with regular unleaded gasoline soaring past $3 a gallon in many areas, the President's speech rhetoric is turning as green as Kermit the Frog.
Ozone Al is way ahead of Bush in addressing global warming. "It will shake you to your core," says the movie's Web page. Yes, those before-and-after photos of fading snows on Kilimanjaro over the past 30 years are not special effects, folks. This is real.
The 10 hottest years ever measured occurred in the last 14 years, "with 2005 the hottest of all," Gore declares on the preview's sound track. Record temperatures helped make 2005 the year with the most major hurricanes on record, and even more catastrophic storms are expected. In another decade, there will be no more of the fabled snows of Kilimanjaro. Gore asks us to think of the thousands of refugees uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, then imagine 100 million refugees uprooted by the melting of the polar ice cap.
Yes, despite the nattering nabobs of anti-Al negativism, there is no longer much dispute that global warming exists. The only argument centers on how quickly it is going to cause more devastation and how much of it is human-caused. That's a debate Gore has been itching to have, and his side is looking more prescient by the day and too credible to be ignored.
And what better place to have that debate than a presidential campaign? Sure, Gore's not running. Not yet. But he has a ready-made base of strong support from MoveOn.org and Howard Dean's army of feisty volunteers. Both tap him into the left's richest vein of fund-raising and volunteer-activating outside of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) political and fundraising juggernaut. She's way out ahead in the polls and in fundraising, at present, but if the significant number of Democrats who doubt that Clinton can win the White House need to coalesce around someone else, Gore is well-positioned to be wooed. And his movie hasn't even been released yet.
None of this means Gore is going to run, of course. But, if I were Hillary Clinton, I'd be looking over my shoulder right about now.