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I Heart Al Gore

I Heart Al Gore


While listening to the former vice president discuss climate change in the backyard of a Los Angeles estate on a chilly Friday night, Advocate deputy editor Rachel Dowd suddenly realizes why the world is better off without Al Gore as president of the United States.

The evening of October 5, 2007, was unseasonably cold in Los Angeles, forcing the well-heeled crowd gathering in the backyard of Michael and Jena King's Pacific Palisades home to huddle under heat lamps. Paper lanterns swung wildly from the tree branches with every gust of ocean breeze; the lights of downtown twinkled in the distance like a Christmas village in Sweden. From time to time some brave soul would duck her head out from under the fiery halo to snatch a full glass of champagne or a crab cake. That a fund-raiser to benefit Oceana -- an organization dedicated to protecting the world's oceans and marine life from, among other things, overfishing -- would choose seafood as an appetizer is a discussion for another time. Nourishment staves off hypothermia.

Inside, clearly the smarter place to be, the flat-screen television above the mantle showed the Boston Red Sox in the early innings of their eventual win against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- a win which would propel the Sox to the American League Championship Series and, ultimately, to their second World Series title. Stick with me here: After an 86-year dry spell that had marked the team as "cursed" (or for those of us who grew up in the Nation, "godforsaken losers that'll break your heart year after year"), the Red Sox have finally unleashed the potential we always suspected they had. Much the same can be said about Al Gore, who two weeks after accepting the Partners Award at Oceana's chilly soiree would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm.

Let me start by saying that I never really knew what to make of Al Gore. The vice president is by definition something of an afterthought, but VP to Bill Clinton? You may as well be the wallpaper. And then there was the 2000 election, which was punctuated with Gore's strange claims to have invented the Internet, a painfully bad makeup job during at least one debate, and an awkward attempt at a passionate kiss with Tipper. Even so, I voted for him. I threw my fists in the air when the White House was handed over to a dimwit in his place. I've imagined -- innumerable times -- what this country might have been under his leadership. But seeing Al Gore take the microphone seven years later confirmed that he has hit his stride outside of politics, and that's no mistake.

Of course, it began with An Inconvenient Truth. Standing in those classrooms with his PowerPoint presentation, Al Gore taught the world to care about global warming, and in the process became his own man. Suddenly, he was a force: intelligent, charming, respectable, relaxed, someone you wanted to listen to. Without the pressure of poll numbers and party lines, he could focus on what he really wanted to do -- save the world.

While his speech in the Palisades was off-the-record, trust me, it would have made you want to ditch your car for a 10-speed and install wind turbines in your backyard too. But even more compelling than the words he spoke was the unchecked emotion behind them. My favorite moment was when he slammed his palm against the wooden lectern in frustration for the fight that has turned him into a modern-day Cassandra. The audience collectively quivered, for once not from the cold. Think for a minute how that would have been received if he were president. It would have been spliced from everything else he said that evening and thrown on YouTube, where the media would have picked it up and mocked it as something of a Howard Dean moment. As much as we cry that we want our politicians to be real, our continual derision says otherwise. Naturally, this is all assuming that President Gore, with all of the other concerns on his plate, would have actually had time to speak impassionedly about climate change.

Bottom line is, outside of the political petri dish, Al Gore can be himself and really change the world. Thankfully for us, he's doing just that.

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