In "A Streetcar Named Desire," character Blanche DuBois depended on the kindness of strangers. In the newly released film, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore depends on their forgetfulness.
Just 10 years ago, Gore told the Democratic National Convention that after his sister Nancy's needless death in 1984 from lung cancer, he committed himself "heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking." In his new film, Gore again dredges up his sister's death and how it led his once tobacco-growing family to turn away from tobacco.
After the DNC speech, reporters with memories intervened. America learned that contrary to his rhetoric, in 1988 Gore campaigned as a tobacco farmer who told his brethren that "all of my life," I hoed it, chopped it, shredded it, "put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it." The year his sister died, Gore helped the industry by fighting efforts to put the words "death" and "addiction" on cigarette-warning labels.
For years, Gore supported Big Tobacco in other ways. You could call the above "inconvenient" facts that you won't see in the movie.
Let me be clear: The problem with Gore is not that he is a hypocrite. The problem with Gore is that he has no idea he is not Lancelot. He has this scary ability to block out any facts that make him less than a perfect, selfless eco-hero, and in his need to present himself as the world's savior, he'll say anything no matter how hysterical.
There is a pattern here. In his book, "Earth in the Balance," written after he lost his first White House bid in 1988, Gore warned that the next generation might experience "a decade without a winter," that deforestation could create damage for "tens of millions of years" and that the automobile presented a cumulative global threat "more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever against likely to confront." (I'll write on the film's bad science in another column.)
Gore tells his movie audience that he was mystified that, after he sponsored congressional hearings on global warming, Washington did not instantly change how it addressed environmental issues.
Then, the film cuts to a personal vignette of loss, lest moviegoers notice that Gore himself did not change the Washington culture from the White House. After listening to Gore talk about his decades crusading on global warming, you might expect the movie to highlight his many achievements as vice president and designated chief nerd on the environment in the Clinton administration. Instead, the movie essentially airbrushes out Gore's eight years on Pennsylvania Avenue.
(Gore does refer to his role negotiating the Kyoto global warming pact in 1997. He does not mention that 95 senators, including John Kerry, had voted for a resolution that announced the Senate would reject any treaty that exempted developing nations but Gore agreed to exempt them anyway. So Clinton never dared to ask the Senate to ratify it.)
Here's another propaganda element. Average automobile fuel-efficiency hit a 19-year low under Clinton-Gore it was worse than under Ronald Reagan. President Bush has raised fuel standards more than Clinton-Gore. But Gore wants to lampoon the man who defeated him in 2000. So he shows his audience one of his trademark charts, this one comparing U.S. automobile fuel efficiency with other countries. The chart begins in the year 2002 it has to, because Bush performed better than Clinton-Gore.
The post-2000 Gore has changed one angle of his green message: In "Earth in the Balance," Gore warned that "sacrifice, struggle and a wrenching transformation of society" would be necessary to save the planet. Even if a "miraculous technology" was able to cut per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in half, he wrote, Washington still would have to raise taxes on gasoline, electricity and heating oil.
No more. In 2006, Gore tells moviegoers that, as dire as the situation may be, the changes needed to avert global warming would not be onerous, except maybe for some greedy corporations. His prescription, he argues, would be good for the economy, and create wealth and jobs. Sacrifice? Struggle? Wrenching transformation? Forget that. Fighting global warming will be good for your bottom line.