Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2003 / 17 Kislev 5764
Going for the political heavy hitters: Can Gore's new pal survive the veep's endorsement?
Al Gore will not be ignored.
With his endorsement of Howard Dean, the former vice president moved from political Siberia to the Democratic Party's power center.
He has made several "major" addresses, as his staff calls them, over the past couple of years, but none rattled the political landscape or raised startling questions like this one did. Why now? Why Dean? Why not his former running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut? Does Gore really think Dean has a prayer? Has Gore gone completely nuts?
The answer appears to be six words: Gore wants to be a player. If Dean wins the nomination and presidency, Gore will be seen as a kingmaker who helped put him there with a well-timed endorsement.
If Dean loses either one, Gore still will be remembered as the fellow who shifted the national conversation with one little speech in Harlem, a status that can help him to become a major contender to run himself in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Gore's endorsement, coming on top of important endorsements from Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and two major unions, shows Dean is reaching beyond his maverick, largely Internet-generated base to impress some party insiders.
The endorsement also strikes a blow to Dean's rivals, particularly Lieberman, whom Gore curiously did not find the time to notify of his endorsement decision before announcing it. "I won't talk about Al Gore's sense of loyalty," said Lieberman, obviously disappointed when asked about it on NBC. With that, ol' Joe showed more respect for his ol' pal Al than his ol' pal showed for him.
But Gore seems to have bigger fish to worry about. His single-minded robo-candidate vision seems to be locked like a radar-guided missile on another agenda: building a new base in the party to compete with power exerted by Bill and Hillary Clinton and their friends, including Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Yes, Dean gains by hooking up with Gore, but so does Gore. By endorsing Dean, Gore helps quicken Dean's followers into a full-blown faction, rivaling the Clinton insiders.
In this way, we see leading Democrats reverting back to their historical propensity for factional infighting. (Republicans, by contrast, show a remarkable talent for keeping their bare-knuckle smackdowns in-house).
A similar maverick uprising in the Democratic Party's 1972 convention, partly led by a young Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, unseated the Illinois delegation led by the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Democratic Party outsiders that year gave the nomination to Sen. George McGovern, who subsequently lost almost every state that November.
Ironically, many of those idealistic mavericks from 1972 are today's pragmatic insiders who have been trying to find any alternative to Dean, who they dread will be another McGovern--too extreme to be elected.
Gore may well remember that those same insiders urged him not to run this year, despite polls that have showed him to be more popular than the Democratic candidates who are running. To heck with the party regulars who don't want Dean, Gore might well be saying; They didn't want me to run either.
Now, standing next to Dean, Gore seems to give stature and receive it. Voters looking for a maverick outsider might easily forget that Gore used to be the ultimate Washington insider, a senator who was the son of a senator.
And Gore, the techno gadget freak, must be impressed with how well Dean's new-wave campaign machine rides on the cutting edge of technologies adapted to populist politics. Dean's ability to draw crowds, organize local campaigns and raise funds has broken all expectations by his use of the device Gore once inaccurately claimed to have invented, the Internet.
The only problem with this scenario is that it reveals how little of Dean's campaign has been about the nuts-and-bolts issues and how much of it has been about opposing "Bush's war." Dean spells out that opposition in crowd-pleasing generalities, but offers little detail as to how he would withdraw the U.S. from Iraq and what the consequences might be for that region or America's image worldwide. So far, Dean has not had to offer details. Ironically, like Richard Nixon in 1968, Dean only has to promise to withdraw America with honor and that's enough red meat for his hard-core supporters.
With that in mind, Dean does run a risk by linking himself too closely to party insiders like Al Gore. Dean's maverick supporters might seriously question the ability of insiders like Gore to remain loyal to something larger than themselves--something like ideals. They might even mention as an example of Gore's fidelity his heave-ho farewell to Joe Lieberman.
Ah, and you wonder why so many people hate politics.
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