Jewish World Review April 23, 2002 / 12 Iyar, 5762
John H. Fund
-- Democratic strategist Bob Shrum,
-- Democratic strategist Bob Shrum,
Al Gore made a dramatic return to the political stage this month. He doffed his suit jacket and then, while sweating through his dress shirt, delivered a passionate denunciation of the Republicans to Florida's Democratic Party convention in Orlando. Alluding to nearby Disney World, he thundered: "We are the party of Main Street USA; they are the party of the pirates of Enron."
The enthusiastic reception the delegates gave the former vice president will no doubt encourage him in a second run for the White House. What's not clear is if he can win the Democratic nomination against the opposition of so many of the party's leaders--not to mention the media.
Although published polls show him to be the frontrunner among Democratic primary voters--especially among the party's base of low-income and minority voters--he is clearly not a favorite of many party leaders. They blame him for an unfocused campaign, for his poor showing in the debates against George W. Bush, and of course for losing the election. Dennis Rivera, head of New York's powerful hospital workers union, flatly says that Mr. Gore shouldn't run. Rep. Corinne Brown of Florida claims Mr. Gore gave up too easily during the 2000 Florida ballot controversy: "He let [the Republicans] take it away from us."
That's an unfair accusation given Mr. Gore's five weeks of desperate legal maneuvering to overturn Mr. Bush's lead in the Sunshine State. Indeed, much of the carping about Mr. Gore's weakness is unfair. Polls show Bill Clinton's ethical problems soured many voters, especially blue-collar women, on Democrats. And Mr. Bush ran a savvy campaign, appealing to moderate voters by calling himself a "compassionate conservative." Many Democratic Party strategists weren't helpful either. They privately talked trash about the Gore campaign's shortcomings with reporters before the election. The resulting skeptical stories about Mr. Gore's political abilities persist to this day.
Mr. Gore is well aware of the hostility towards him, which is why he went out of his way to give an animated and spirited speech to Florida's Democrats. He succeeded. Gone was the stiff, robotic Al Gore who often hectored audiences in 2000. After his speech Mr. Gore remarked, "What is the Janis Joplin saying, 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose'? Maybe that's it." He had his fair share of zingers, including an attack on Republicans for endangering Social Security and criticizing his 2000 campaign proposal to create a "lockbox" for Social Security funds. "I won't say I told you so," he told a cheering crowd. "But if anyone is in the market for a 'never been used' lockbox, see me afterward."
He even answered critics who complain that he distanced himself from Bill Clinton, by embracing the administration's economic record. "I don't care what anybody says. I think Bill Clinton and I did a damn good job."
A half hour after Mr. Gore spoke, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina stepped to the podium. He's the favorite of many Democrats, for he comes without Clinton-Gore baggage. Mr. Edwards charmed the audience, but even a home-state newspaper, the Raleigh News and Observer, noted that "his warm embrace was soon overshadowed by the thunderous response Gore [had] received."
Mr. Edwards's speech scored points with a Clinton-like call to support middle-class workers "who play by the rules." But his vague policy proposals left many cold. He called for creating a public education system in which every child "can get as good an education as the richest person in America." Who isn't? But Mr. Edwards's suggestions on how to do that involved higher pay for teachers and smaller class sizes, ideas that have failed many times.
Several other possible Democratic presidential contenders addressed the Orlando convention--Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd of Connecticut--but none lit any fires. Democratic leaders worry that Mr. Gore's superior name identification could deliver him the nomination but then leave Democrats with a weak candidate in the general election. They recall that when Democrats nominated Walter Mondale in 1984, many voters identified as Jimmy Carter's vice president. Mr. Mondale won the District of Columbia and--barely--Minnesota.
Mr. Gore prefers to look back at the career of another former vice president, Richard Nixon. In 1960, Nixon lost a heartbreakingly close election to John F. Kennedy. Two years later he ran for governor of California and was trounced. But in the years after, he gamely campaigned for dozens of GOP candidates, building up political chits while improving his television skills. In 1968 he was elected president.
Mr. Gore hopes to repeat the Nixon model of political rehabilitation in only four years, and he's working hard to convince skeptical Democrats to take a second look at him. That's no doubt why the former vice president had the band play "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" as he left the stage in
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative