Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Notes on Gore

Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning. I remember the Democratic primaries of 1988, when Gore was test-piloting the Southern, centrist, Democratic Leadership Council strategy that Bill Clinton rode to victory four years later. I was a Dukakis supporter in '88, backing the Democratic front-runner as usual, although in hindsight I feel I ought to have supported Jesse Jackson and helped shake things up for once. I didn't care much for Gore that time around: he was pro-death penalty, anti-gun control, centrist enough to not be much of an alternative to the Republicans, I thought. How much has changed since then!
Today, though, so far as Presidential politics is concerned, Gore is Cincinnatus. In the early primary season of 2004 the Democrats turned their collective back on Al Gore. He was wooden, they said, unattractive, too scripted, and it was true by then that he had become palpably self-conscious. It was a political fate akin to John McCain's this time around, a well-credentialed candidate definitively rejected by the voters (although McCain's story has not yet been fully written). But since that time, Al Gore cannot run for president. As soon as he starts doing that, he immediately will be transformed into the same old Al Gore of yesteryear. That doesn't mean he can't be president. It means that in order to be nominated, he has to be equally definitively drafted by his party. Not a staged "drafting," it has to be that the rank and file is unquestionably begging him to do it. If that came to pass, he'd do it. He'd still like to be President. The problem for this scenario is named Hillary Clinton. She increasingly looks like the choice of the party (and there is talent on the bench behind her). Only an unexpected and catastrophic collapse of Hillary's campaign could create the conditions for a Gore nomination. He's still in the top two choices of this Clinton supporter. I'm unable to decide whether I'd prefer Clinton or Gore given the choice, maybe the Clintons are more president material (not exactly a compliment, but reason for voting). But it's not going to happen.
Meanwhile one argument came up on TV tonight that needs addressing. The idea was that since very little can actually be done about global warming, it doesn't make sense to invest lots of treasure in trying to do something about it. The first level of argument here is about the empirical accuracy of this, but I'll leave that to everybody else. Logical point: risk assessment involves calculating both probabilities and utilities. There is a difference between a one in a hundred chance of losing ten dollars and a one in a hundred chance of losing your life. If anything near the negative utilities of, say, sea-level rise due to global warming, or shortages of fresh water, is even possibly true, we have every reason to do everything we can. Parting shot: a certain glib conservative on MSNBC chided Democrats for "not being honest about the sacrifices involved." At least Democrats don't tell the people that they should never have to sacrifice anything, like the Bush Republicans. It's the vision thing.

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