Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics | This week, Al Gore, the Lost Boy of American politics, turned up - at the head of the Democratic doves.

Speaking in San Francisco, the former vice president came out against war with Iraq. He wants to wait at least until the war on terrorism is won - in other words, forever.

Gore's speech was a reentry vehicle for 2004. He says he'll decide whether he's running in December. That's a yes. Christmastime puts pols in a giving mood, and they can think of no greater gift than themselves.

It is not a surprise that Gore wants another shot. It is a surprise that he evidently has decided to take it as the George McGovern of the Iraq war. Gore is a life-long hawk on the Middle East. He tried for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 as the candidate of the Scoop Jackson activists. He was one of the few Democratic senators who supported the Gulf War. During eight years as vice president, he did nothing to disappoint the New Republic wing of the party. San Francisco changed that.

What accounts for the new Gore? It's possible, of course, he has undergone a midlife conversion. He is not incapable of sincerity, although it is not his hallmark. It is also possible politics are involved.

Presidential primaries are decided by the party base. The Democratic hard core leans left, and Gore, who has forsworn polling and other such unworthy devices, may have a gut feeling (his only kind) that the true believers are looking for a beta male.

The idea is, first, to get the nomination. If the war is going badly, Gore can run as the I-told-you-so candidate. If it is going well, he can re-reposition himself and even try for some credit ("I was never against fighting Saddam, I just advocated measured steps. The administration took my advice. And it worked!")

President Bush reacted to Gore's turnaround with a shrug. Bush is putting his political chips on war. If he achieves a Middle East Pax Americana by November 2004, he will probably be unbeatable (I know about his father's defeat in 1992, but this is a much bigger deal than the Gulf War). If the U.S. is still fighting (a more likely scenario, given the open-ended definition of the war on terror), Bush can argue, like FDR, that you don't change horses in midstream. And if, improbably, the war is a disaster, it won't matter who the Democratic nominee is; Bush will be home on the range quicker than you can say Lyndon Baines Johnson.

But if Bush is blasť about Gore's shift to the left, his dovish Democratic rivals are not. John F. Kerry, the main peacenik candidate, is especially vulnerable. Expect to hear JFK-inspired whispers comparing Gore's sissified journalistic duty in Vietnam with Kerry's combat exploits.

Some pundits think Gore's shuffle will enable hawkish Joe Lieberman to capture the party center and win the nomination. But Lieberman's candidacy is all but dead. Running a Jewish, pro-Israel candidate during a Middle Eastern war is, from a Democratic perspective, taking diversity a step too far.

Of course, Gore could change his mind along with his shirt. But if he doesn't, there's an opening at the center of the Democratic Party and no serious wartime applicants. John Edwards of South Carolina is a personal-injury lawyer. Richard Gephardt lacks charisma. Tom Daschle is Tom Daschle.

What Clinton-Gore Democrats need is a smart, tough-minded, experienced leader. It won't, it appears, be Al Gore. But it might be a Clinton. After all, the party still has one left.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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