Editor's note: This is the second in a series of pieces examining public figures named "Al." Last week we deconstructed Al Sharpton. Next week, Al-Jazeera.
Confession time: I like the new Al Gore. You probably know the one I'm talking about. He's the guy who stumbles into the public eye from time to time, looking occasionally like John the Baptist after a 40-day locust binge, to endorse a long shot presidential candidate, to pound the podium and scream or just to show off a new style. (Note to Al: Beardless is better.)
Yes, this Al Gore is widely disclaimed in the mainstream media echo chamber as a crazy candidate-killer who didn't even have the courtesy to call Joe Lieberman before endorsing a non-whiny, decently liberal guy for president. In some circles, he's ridiculed as a pariah with a far-left following, a washed-up loser who couldn't even carry his home state in 2000.
And to varying degrees, these charges ring true. The left, which had once scorned him, likes him a lot these days. No, he didn't endorse Lieberman and probably didn't try too hard to give the guy a heads-up. (Hey, he doesn't work on Saturdays, what does he expect?) And yeah, the Gore of 2004 is slightly unpredictable, spicy and at times legitimately funny.
In short, the contemporary Al Gore is the antithesis of Gorebot 2000. Authentic. Try this on for size: "That's what [George Bush] is doingusing the war, using division, fostering fear, dividing us as a people. And I know that in today's modern political climate saying things like this drives the pollsters up the wall; I don't care."
Hardly sounds like the Omega male whose earth tones and focus-grouped rhetoric drove voters up the walland away from his campaignfour years ago. No, the Al Gore who showed up Thursday in Hillsboro Village to address the Music Row Democrats was biggerwider, actuallybadder and uncut. He even brought a sense of humor, following his canned, "I am Al Gore; I used to be the next president of the United States," with a well deadpanned, "I don't find that particularly funny." The audience did.
Of course, Gore was preaching to the choir at the dimly lit, red-curtained Belcourt Theater event. And what a choir it was: mostly music industry types, including a few celebs, but also a sprinkling of state Democratic big shots. Dress was jeans and whatever weird shirts songwriters wear, although there were a few coats and ties to be seen. Cell phones rang four times during Gore's 50-minute speech, but they didn't faze old Al. And most bizarrely, some folks munched on popcorn the whole time.
In his fairly extemporaneous remarkshe had only a small piece of paper in front of himGore warmed people up to him with well-delivered self-deprecation before launching into at times fiery presidential deprecation. His opening litany came fast, once the first round of humor was out of the way. "I think [Bill Clinton] and I did a pretty damn good job," he said, to immediate applause. Then he continued over the ovation, with increasing volume and intensity: "On health care! The environment! Civil liberties! Foreign policy! And the military!" On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner! And Blitzen! YEEEARGH!
But no, there was no Howard Dean-style scream here. Just a man with nothing to lose. In fact, it was pretty remarkable how relaxed he and Tipper seemed at the event. Dressed in pink pants and a blue sweater, Tipper seemed quite comfortable in all regards. She often nodded in agreement, laughed warmheartedly when appropriate and even did a little unsolicited coaching at points in the speech she felt strongly about. (She particularly wanted to make sure he mentioned the innocent Iraqi casualties of war, which he did.)
After the speechactually, just after some guy from Fleming's Steakhouse gave her a business card and told her to call him "to catch up," which she politely (and seemingly insincerely) agreed to doI asked Tipper if theirs wasn't a genuinely warm relationship, and if they functioned as a political team of sorts. Yes, she agreed, they're a team, but she wasn't about to upstage her man. "He doesn't need any coaching from me," she said.
That's a refreshing thought, to be honest. Al Gore that doesn't needor wantcoaching because he got too much of it last time around. And at Thursday's event he didn't deliver the kind of rehearsed stumping points made by a well-coached pol; instead he mounted insightful critiques about fear and democracy, foreign relations and moral authority, rhetoric and reality, politics and policy. How many other politicians talk in more than sound bites about shared culpability in the Abu Ghraib scandal? Or the use of marketing language to sell a bogus war to the American people? Or the way pointing out gross economic inequality isn't "class warfare?"
Al talks about this stuff. Not in a sleep-inducing John Kerry way but in a quotable, down-homey John Edwards way. That's not to say he's a master oratoranother Al, Sharpton, wins that awardbut it is to say Gore's got something to say, and he seems comfortable saying itparticularly in cowboy boots, which he sported to the Belcourt.
Four years after I couldn't stomach a vote for Al Gore, I'm proud to call him a Democrat again. (Whether I'm proud to call myself one may be another story.) So when he preaches to the choir, count me among their number.
Or as someoneI think it was Kathy Matteaput it quite vocally yesterday, right after Al said he didn't care what the pollsters have to say: "Amen!"
It was a revival indeed.