May 25th, 2006

VDB Likes Al Gore — So Sue Us

by Philip Baruth

Watched a segment of Al Gore’s this afternoon, the interview timed to coincide with the release of An Inconvenient Truth, of course.

And the man is good.

bush, in raft, in denial

Maybe it’s just VDB, but Gore comes across with an authority that we feel in no other candidate — none of the fecklessness of Reid and Pelosi. You have the sense that Gore is a force to be reckoned with, that he means business.

And you feel for him, to put it mildly. As VDB has argued recently, that feeling may make all the difference.

To come at that feeling another way, here’s a piece written not long after Gore threw in the towel on the 2000 election. The title speaks for itself.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #56: Big Lost Al

The calls always come late at night, long after the witching hour, after the bars have closed in Toledo and White Sands and Pheonix and Barstow, all the time zones on the left side of the United States of America.

And when they come, these calls, the ringing phone sounds like a blue-tick hound that’s stepped on a nail — a wounded yelp of a ring, a sound shot through with injury and injustice.

And when I hear that sound, I know that the man cradling the receiver on the other end of the four-and-a-half-thousand-mile-long fiber optic filament attached to my telephone is Albert Gore, Jr.

He took losing the Presidential Election of 2000 hard, very hard.

For McGovern and Mondale and for Michael Dukakis, it was hard, but it was easy — they each lost by so much that they could tell themselves nothing would have helped. Their rejection by the voters was total and conclusive.

But Al knows different. Al knows that anything and everything could have helped.

If Elian Gonzales hadn’t washed up on the Florida coast on Thanksgiving day of all days. If Elian had washed up on Groundhog day, or Boxing Day.

If Al’s makeup in the first debate had borne a stronger resemblance to human flesh.

bush, tinyYou couldn’t make up a complete bowling team with the number of voters who preferred Bush to Al Gore in Florida, and this knowledge has taken its toll.

Somewhere in the down-time after Christmas, those shapeless days
before New Years, Al crept out of the house one night without a word to his sleeping wife and children. From the garage he rolled a big Harley Davidson, purchased secretly the week before on Ebay.

The bike is not one of the new Harleys built for doctors and architects and weekend warriors, no custom sportster or Electra Glide. The bike Al mounted in late December was a classic sixties Dreamliner, a truly powerful beast, chopped down low and fitted with handle bars like a massive chrome divining rod.

Al has not gone in search of himself, he has gone in search of
everyone else.

Unthinkingly, reflexively, he is returning to all of the spots he covered or failed to cover on the campaign trail, idling the big hog along through the crowds in Harvard Square and down the Strip in Reno, searching the faces.

The strict campaign diet is gone, replaced by a vague self-loathing that leads him to eat and eat and eat, and to eat all of the worst foods that America sells in all of the places close to the road. He lives on Little Debbie cakes and fried clam rolls, slushies and micro-wave burritos.

From his fighting weight of 215 in November, Al has ballooned in less than three months to 294 pounds. His face is now padded with unshaven flesh, the cheekbones and the hunky chin nearly buried. And although it’s far too small for him to button, Al never takes off a sleeveless Harley vest he won playing nine-ball with a punch-drunk ex-con in Bakersfield.

He is out there, Albert Gore Jr., big lost Al, and it tears at my heart when I hear the eighteen-wheelers screaming by the streaky windows of his little payphone, or when I hear him scrambling to deposit more coins when the operator breaks in our conversations.

He calls me when he can’t stand the chorus of his own thoughts anymore. And he calls me when the headline from a USA Today box leaps out at him as he exits a Dennys:
Bush Reverses Stance on Carbon Dioxide; Bush Sets Aside Regulations on Arsenic in Drinking Water; Bush to Pull Out of Global Warming Treaty.

“Why,” he’ll whisper to me over the phone, and I’ll sit in my
darkened house, long past four in the morning, and I’ll search my mind but come up with nothing.

“I don’t know, Al,” I’ll say. “Nobody knows.” And then I’ll hear a siren and a scream off in the distance, and I’ll say, “Al, are you okay out there?”

There’ll be a pause, and Al will come back on the line.

“I’m okay,” he tells me, but there’s never any conviction to it. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” he’ll whisper then.

And that’s when I want to tell him that I do, that these last few weeks with George W. Bush have taught me exactly who ex-Vice President Albert Gore Jr. really is, but that’s when the line always just suddenly goes dead.

[This piece aired previously on Vermont Public Radio.]