I am occasionally asked why it is that so many Europeans display reflexive anti-Americanism, and I force myself to choose from a salad of possible answers. One of these is the resentment that I can remember feeling myself when I lived in England in the 1970s: the sheer brute fact that American voters who knew nothing about Europe (and cared less) could pick a president who had more clout than any of our elected prime ministers could exert. America could change our economic climate by means of the Federal Reserve, could use bases in Britain to forward its policies in Asia or the Middle East, and all the rest of it. Americans could also choose a complete crook like Richard Nixon, or a complete moron like Jimmy Carter, and we still had to watch our local politicians genuflect to the so-called Atlantic alliance.
Nowadays, this bothers me slightly less than it used to do. (George Bush at his worst is preferable to Gerhard Schröder or Jacques Chirac—politicians who put their own countries in pawn to Putin and the Chinese and the Saudis.) But I can still feel the old pang gnawing away. And I can still sense the European instinct for revenge or, to phrase it another way, for the chance to influence U.S. politics in return. One of the ways in which this influence can be exerted is the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. (And not just the peace prize, either; the so-called "prize" for literature has been awarded quite openly to figures who earned their reputations as enemies of the American imperium, just as the laurels bestowed on Jimmy Carter were accompanied by explicit remarks from Scandinavia to the effect that this might put a spoke in Bush's wheel.)
On Oct. 12, we shall hear again from Oslo, and I will be very surprised indeed if the peace prize is not awarded to Albert Gore Jr. (Don't ask what a campaign against global warming has done for "peace"; that would be like asking what Mother Teresa or Henry Kissinger had ever done to reduce global conflict. The impression is the main thing.)
So, and if I am right, the former vice president will then complete a year in which An Inconvenient Truth has been awarded an Oscar and he has authored a best seller. Roll it round your tongue again: an Oscar, a best seller, and a Nobel Prize in the space of 12 months or so. Not bad. And meanwhile, the field of Democratic candidates looks—how shall one put it?—a trifle etiolated. Sen. Clinton may have succeeded in getting people to call her "Hillary" and to have made them feel resigned to her front-runnership, but what kind of achievement is that? Sen. Obama cannot possibly believe, and doesn't even act as if he believes, that he can be elected president of the United States next year. John Edwards is a good man who is in politics for good reasons, but there is something about his populism that doesn't quite—what's the word?—translate.
Apart from the awards, not only could Gore claim that he had been a fairly effective senator and a reasonably competent vice president, he could also present himself in zeitgeist terms as the candidate who was on the right side of the two great overarching questions: the climate crisis and the war in Mesopotamia. Should I add that, whether or not he really won the Electoral College in 2000, he did manage to collect the majority of the popular vote? Several people, some of them well-informed, have been saying to me that Gore will wait until the Nobel committee's announcement before he makes up his mind. Should he make up his mind to run, he could alter the entire equation.
Should he make up his mind not to run, he would retrospectively abolish all the credit he has acquired so far. It would mean in effect that he never had the stuff to do the job and that those who worked and voted for him were wasting their time. Given his age and his stature, can he really want that to be the conclusion that history draws?
I am only guessing here, but I think that when Gore wakes up early and upset, he isn't whimpering about the time that the Supreme Court finally ruled against him in 2000. He is whimpering about the time in 1992 when he left the field open to Bill Clinton, a man he secretly despised. Can he really stand to watch yet another Clinton walk away with a nomination that could have been, or could still be, his? To move, then, from a consideration of elevated politics to a reflection upon the baser motives, we have to ask if Gore can possibly be content to be a "citizen" when he could still be a contender.
This consideration might be in his mind already. (It would be astonishing if it were not.) And of course it's been noticed that he coyly refuses to make a Sherman declaration about the possibility or otherwise of a run. That's ordinary—and annoying. What isn't ordinary is the possibility that a boring and cynical election process might be given a jolt and that the current brokers and managers of the Democratic Party might be given a jolt as well.
I remind you that Gore was once a stern advocate of the removal of Saddam Hussein, and that in office he might well not be the coward or apologist that the MoveOn.org crowd is still hoping to nominate. One has the very slight sense that he contains some unexpended political energy and has acquired some dearly bought political experience. At any rate, nothing could be worse than the present dreary political routine, and if it takes a Scandinavian kick-start to alter the odds, then for once one can hope that the heirs of Alfred Nobel will have a more explosive and catalytic effect than they had intended.
TODAY IN SLATE
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Smash and Grab
Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?