Historians will someday ask why the United States entered a century of enormous challenges under the stewardship of a man who was so manifestly unsuited to high office -- and why he prevailed over a man whose judgment, experience and courage were so clearly superior. False images and phony stories created by the media will certainly figure in their answers.
Those historians may also wonder why the better man declined to seek the presidency again -- even after many of his detractors had been forced to confess that the rejection they helped engineer was a mistake of enormous proportions. They may wonder why he passed up the opportunity to redress the injustice done to him and done to his country and his planet, which is clearly of such great concern to him.
The answer may be found, of all places, in the Note, that snarky weblog on the ABC News site, which often betrays the true emotions roiling the minds of mainstream journalists. Said the Note, in explaining the recent spate of positive coverage of the old press nemesis: "Basically, the political press wants to tempt Al Gore into the race, and then they will destroy him as a flip-flopping, exaggerating, stiff loser. And Gore knows this."
Conason (and The Note) are certainly right about how the political press would behave if Gore announced his candidacy. The fact that Gore was right (a lonely position at the time) on two of the most important issues to face America, present and future--Iraq, and global warming--will be forgotten overnight. By the next morning, before you could say "dinner party at Sally Quinn's," they would be dragging it all up again: The Internet. Love Story. The Kiss. The Alpha Male. The Wardrobe. The Humorlessness. The Environment. The Beard. They would continue exactly--exactly!--where they left off in January 2001, without dropping a beat.
And note that we're not talking here about the GOP, the conservative media echo chamber, and Fox News, whose attacks are a given and will simply be part of business as usual. We're talking about the Times, the Post, the networks, CNN, MSNBC--all the respectable sources.
This time around, of course, they would distance themselves. They would not report, "Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet" (that would be so 1990s, darling!). Instead, they would report, "Al Gore, ridiculed by his opponents during his 2000 presidential bid as having claimed to have invented the Internet, announced his candidacy for president today."
See the difference? One is a hatchet job; the other is just good meat-and-potatoes journalism.
The only question is whether Gore knows it. I think he does--how could he not?--and has made his decision accordingly.
Our loss. Win or lose, a 2008 election season with Al Gore in it would probably be better for the country than the one we'll have without him.