The Magazine

The Gore Curse

From the December 29, 2003 / January 5, 2004 issue: When he reemerged to support Dean, Dean should have run the other way.

Dec 29, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 16 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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IN RETROSPECT, it should have been apparent that once Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean and his antiwar platform, and made an impassioned speech excoriating the war and the president, something big would go right in Iraq for the president, and Gore's stock would go down. After all, the last time Al Gore made a well-planned-out plunge into the political maelstrom, it was also great news for George Bush. A little over a year ago, Gore blundered into the 2002 midterms, waving the bloody shirt of the Florida recount. Most of the people Gore stumped for lost; Bush pulled off a historic midterm victory. Gore then returned to his private endeavors. But not for too long.

In early December, perhaps tired of fiddling around with his liberal cable network, Gore emerged to bestow the kiss of death on his party's frontrunner. As Andrew Sullivan presciently joked, "If that doesn't stop the Dean campaign in its tracks, what will?"

Even before Saddam was captured, Gore had driven wedges along all of his party's fault lines, injected personal bitterness into policy differences, and given everyone connected with the other campaigns someone to hate besides Bush. Suddenly, the Democrats' fights had become the main story. Some Democrats were mad at Gore's dissing of Lieberman; others thought being stabbed in the back was too good for Lieberman; some wanted to stab him themselves. Some thought it was about Gore's hatred for Bill Clinton; some thought it was about Gore's hatred for Hillary Clinton; some thought it was the opening round of the 2008 showdown--assuming, of course, that Dean loses.

Dean was supposed to have gained from all this, but he had also been drawn into Gore's private drama, his great gaping wound from the 2000 recount, and his need to get back at his foes: At Bill Clinton, whose indiscretions he thinks with some reason cost him the White House. At Bush, who sits in the seat that Gore wanted. And of course at the war that has given Bush stature. This seems the main reason why Gore, a lifelong hawk till three years ago, has suddenly taken on pacifist feathers. Why did this DLC founder lurch to the far left so quickly? Because it's where the hate is, the dark steamy swamps of the anti-Bush fevers, where murmurs of "fraud," "cheat," and "moron" hold sway. It's where Gore can vent, and claim that it's policy. Which it may not be at all.

Nonetheless, for about five days, the bold move to cleave to the left wing of his party looked like a good move--for Gore. Then came Sunday morning, December 14, and it suddenly was revealed that Gore's move was as brilliant as plunging headlong into the stock market in late September 1929.

In this light, one may remember a few other things about Gore. Gore is the man who in 1996 made a tearful speech about the evil tobacco that had caused his sister's death from lung cancer, knowing that four years after her death he had made an emotional speech praising tobacco. He is a man who denied having voted pro-life, when there were votes on record for a bill to declare the fetus a person. He is the man who crafted the "no controlling legal authority" defense in the fund-raising scandal, and thought he had turned in a stellar performance. He is the man who thought it was a good idea to hire Naomi Wolf for $15,000 a month to dress him in earth tones, who showed his disdain for Bush in the first debate by sighing noisily, and who sealed his fate in the third debate by ignoring the counsel of all his advisers and roaming the stage and looming over Bush awkwardly. His seemingly congenital gracelessness was noted by the Washington Post in 2002, when he announced his decision not to run in 2004 without first having the courtesy to inform his advisers and counselors. He remains, in short, cursed by himself.

All in all, it was a terrible week for the pampered princes of the Democratic party, the ones who seem to believe they deserve to be president. At the start of the week, there was John F-word Kerry, who was in such a rage at the way he f--d up his campaign that he uncorked a screed at the president that would have destroyed all his chances, if only he had any. And then there was Gore, living out his sad fate as an intelligent man without a scintilla of political instinct or talent, thrashing his way through the national landscape, driving his party toward a dead end. The man who used to attack George W. Bush's "risky schemes" turns out to have a special role in history: He is God's "risky scheme" for the national Democrats, their very own Wile E. Coyote, always most pleased with himself just before things blow up in his face.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.