By ARTHUR I. CYR
Former Vice President Al Gore’s renewed prominence as a result of winning two Oscars for “An Inconvenient Truth,” his documentary on global warming, is fueling extensive speculation about his political future — not too many years after he was regarded as not having one.
He has explicitly denied interest in running for president again. Such statements can be dismissed; his cinematic actions speak louder. Moreover, his current quips about being a “recovering politician” indicate that he is working very hard to develop a sense of humor.
Those who deny he can be nominated, however, are likewise to be dismissed by clear-seeing analysts whose view overcomes the pollution of political pontificators. A second run for the number one office would be very tough to mount, but not impossible.
Renominated defeated presidential candidates have been extremely unusual. Republican Thomas Dewey was picked again to run for president in 1948 after losing to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, but he was rightly regarded as a loyalist who sacrificed by running against three-time winner FDR in the midst of World War II. Also, incumbent President Harry Truman was viewed as already defeated, a major miscalculation.
Democrat Adlai Stevenson was renominated in 1956 to run a second time against President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Intense affection for Adlai was a major factor. Very cold calculation was also in play, however, as other contenders shied away from taking on the enormously popular Ike.
The true parallel with former Vice President Gore is another vice president who got another chance — Richard M. Nixon. Like Gore, Nixon lost a controversially close presidential race in 1960, waited out the next one, and then won the White House in 1968. He even surmounted a 1962 defeat for governor of California, punctuated by a disastrous “last press conference” fueled by public anger and self-pity.
Nixon provides instructive lessons should Gore decide to declare for the presidency, as he must to have a chance in 2008. First, controversy surrounding Gore’s documentary and wider environmental concerns may prove a very significant asset. Like Nixon’s anti-communism, the environment has been a consistent theme of Gore’s career.
The former president spent his last years prolifically writing books, making occasional speeches, and providing advice to a steady stream of ambitious young Republican visitors. When asked about the dangers of controversy, Nixon invariably responded that you should worry instead about being boring, because if the voters lose interest, you are finished. Controversy, by contrast, could be an asset.
Second, Nixon’s durability was directly linked to his constant cultivation of the grass roots. When intense controversy developed in 1952 over alleged misuse of funds, he countered with a highly emotional television address. Immediate enormous public support forced Eisenhower to embrace the young man who had forced his way on the ticket.
Third, after outmaneuvering and outthinking armies of enemies, and achieving the pinnacle of the White House, Nixon then proceeded with characteristic determination to destroy himself. His greatest enemy by far turned out to be the one within his own head.
Good luck to Al Gore. He should keep emphasizing the environment, including the one containing those essential political activists, and remember — especially in the intensely hot temperatures of politics — that not all the threats we face are external.
(Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” He can be reached at acyr(at)carthage.edu )