Last year it was about the candidates. This year it’s the climate.
Former Vice President Al Gore made a surprise appearance Saturday at the Netroots Nation conference, a gathering of nearly 2,000 left-leaning bloggers and political organizers. He urged the activists to mobilize for global climate protection by amplifying his call to generate all the nation’s electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal in 10 years.
At last year’s conference, formerly called YearlyKos, seven Democratic presidential candidates — including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, now the presumptive nominee — vied for the support of the bloggers, whose political influence has grown exponentially since they emerged as a significant factor in presidential politics during former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s White House campaign five years ago.
Having locked up the Democratic nomination, Obama skipped this year’s conference, but his deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, talked about the campaign’s strategy to portray Obama as the leader of a new political movement rather than a traditional candidate.
Gore, who joined Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her session at the convention, praised the bloggers as being at the forefront of reclaiming American democracy.
"Thank you for the movement that you have created," Gore said. "I can’t tell you how important I think it is that you continue what you are doing."
Much of Pelosi’s time at the convention was spent speaking out for an end to the war and for Obama’s election.
"The end could be in sight," she said to cheers. "This will not happen without the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States."
Gore said the seriousness of the climate problem is related to the economic and security crises of U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Recent Republican calls to battle rising oil prices with more drilling are "absurd" and a bit like curing a hangover with another drink, he said.
"Oh, let’s just try to go back for more," Gore said facetiously. "When you’re in a hole, stop digging."
Gore said he is trying to enlist 10 million grassroots environmental activists and asked the online organizers for help. Pelosi said she supports that effort and is working with evangelical activists on the common goals of protecting the environment and helping the poor.
"The economics of renewables are becoming very attractive," Gore said.
Gore downplayed the suggestion that he might accept a position in the next president’s Cabinet, but he left the option open.
"I don’t think that’s the best thing for me to do. I could be wrong," he said.
Pelosi was asked by an audience member why American troops are having to beg for care packages from home that contain basics like toothpaste, tampons and protein bars. She said she would look into why that is happening, but she said it’s indicative of other needs veterans have that must be better addressed once they come home.