I first posted this at www.davidcorn.com….
Al Gore for President?
Not really. But l recently attended a screening of his new film, An Inconvenient Truth. And as the film ran, I–and probably many in the crowd–couldn’t stop thinking this one thought: why wasn’t he like this in 2000? The documentary follows Gore as he travels the world giving a slide show on the reality and perilous consequences of global warming, and much of the film shows him presenting his laptop show-and-tell to what seems to be a hand-picked crowd in a space-age auditorium. On the screen, he comes across as passionate, smart, committed, self-deprecating, and funny–all in the right balance. But when the film shows Gore delivering the slide show to real audiences, he does seem a slight bit pedantic. It’s a distinction the movie does not emphasize–but a telling one. This guy had the potential to be a decent leader, but when it counted he could not pull it together. And this film is a painful reminder.
That is not the point of this engaging documentary. It is meant to be a wake-up call. And it does sound one damn big alarm bell. Halfway into it, my gut was clenched, as I despaired about the future of our beautiful blue and white orb. Professor Gore presents a tutorial that overwhelms with facts and graphics, including graphs, satellite imagery of the Earth, video footage from Antarctica, and fancy computer stimulations (such as a harrowing one showing how much of Beijing, New York City, Holland, and San Francisco would be flooded by rising sea levels). Gore makes the point over and over–and it does bear repeating–that there is no longer any debate over the science: global warming is happening, its causes are predominantly human-linked, and the results will be awful. Take that, Michael Crichton. And while Gore’s spiffy presentation–which includes a cartoon from Matt Groening’s Futurama (an animated Fox show that one of his daughters worked on)–is full of bad news, he does list all the first-steps that could be taken to lower global warming emissions quickly, if there were the political will to do so.
That political will does not yet exist–particularly within the current administration and Congress, as Gore notes (with various jabs) in the film. And Gore is honest about the overall failure of the political system to deal with this issue–and his own failure. He talks about his efforts within Congress over many years to turn global warming into a compelling legislative matter. “I feel as if I have failed to get this message across,” he says, explaining that he thought the story was so “compelling” that Congress would have to act. But it hasn’t. And he knows why: if a politician acknowledges the full ramifications of global warming then he or she has a “moral imperative” to address it. And that’s the tough part: telling Americans they have to change their energy-gorging ways. So they duck the issue. (One nifty graphic in the film shows that the United States is now responsible for about a quarter of all the global warming gasses being spewed into the atmosphere. Another chart noted that mileage standards for cars are much higher in China than the United States.)
After the film was over, Gore spoke to the crowd and took questions. He was much better than his performances in the 2000 presidential debates but not as engaging as he was in the film. One lesson: we all can use a good director. But the question I wanted to ask–alas, I was not called on–was this: why didn’t you give this slide show during the 2000 campaign? I’m not suggeting that a doomy hi-tech, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it presentation would have won him the election (though showing the computer stimulation depicting the bottom fifth of Florida state being subsumed by the sea might have helped him in that swing state). But at least it would have allowed Gore to show off his best side. I haven’t read Joe Klein’s new book, Politics Lost, but I’m told the section on Gore notes that at one point Gore’s aides, concerned about the authenticity gap issue, asked him what he really cared about and what he really wanted to talk about on the campaign trail. Global warming, he replied. His aides then proceeded to undermine his big global warming speech, making sure it did not receive much media attention. And Gore never broke loose from such restraints.
The point of my question was not to get Gore to admit he let Democrats–and himself–down (even if he did win a majority of the popular vote and lost the election due to a lousy Supreme Court decision). I wanted him to reflect on why–now that he is free from electoral politics (or so it seems)–he is able to fiercely throw himself into this crusade. What does that say about the political system’s apparent inability to handle such a grave threat and to accommodate a concerned crusader taking on a large and difficult challenge? In other words, can Gore convincingly say that we are not doomed by the limits of our political system (which, perhaps, mirror the limits of human nature–or, at least, American human nature)? These issues did not come up in the Q&A. But Gore did quip, “I don’t claim expertise in politics.” No comment.
The movie is strong and well-composed by director Davis Guggenheim. It is indeed, as the promo says, the most frightening film you’ll ever see, and it is cause-y. The team behind it–including Laurie David and Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender–do not hide their agenda: to scare folks into action. Will they succeed? I don’t know how much success one ex-pol with a slideshow can have. But it certainly cannot hurt if his message is echoed in theaters across the country. (It starts arriving in theaters on May 24.) And since this is a campaign, not merely a movie, Gore, Guggenheim and the producers want you to visit the film’s website. In the meantime, anyone who watches this no-happy-ending flick will have to hope that addressing Gore’s “inconvenient truth” is not a Mission Impossible.