Friday, October 12, 2007

All eyes on the prize

By J. Kingston Pierce

Yesterday’s big news was that British novelist Doris Lessing has won the 2007 Novel Prize in Literature. Will today bring word that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore--applauded by many, but chided by some for his courageous stand against global warming--has captured this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? If so, he will be the 20th individual U.S. recipient, and only the second veep (after Charles G. Dawes in 1925) to receive that honor, which has previously gone to Theodore Roosevelt, George Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, Jimmy Carter, and others.

The 59-year-old Gore--whose 2006 documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, picked up an Academy Award earlier this year--is widely considered the front-runner for this honor. However, he may be in close contention with Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari, who Reuters explains “helped broker a 2005 peace deal between Indonesia and its Aceh province to end 30 years of conflict and is U.N. special envoy on Kosovo--a task where he faces stiff resistance from Serbia and Russia.” The outcome depends on whether the Nobel committee again extends the definition of what it considers means toward peace. If it does, this race may not be close.

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope wrote yesterday in Salon: “Regardless of the outcome [of today’s Nobel announcement], Gore is, quite simply, the indispensable player in the drama of mankind’s encounter with the possibility of destroying the climatic balance within which our civilization emerged and developed.” Not only did the onetime U.S. senator from Tennessee come to see early on how “carbon emissions are slowly causing the planet to overheat” (Gore initiated congressional hearings on the subject way back in the 1970s), but, writes Pope:

He recognized, too, that the incredibly hard task of turning around the world’s energy economy would become impossible if we waited for global warming to announce its presence, stage left, with alarum and hautboys as Shakespeare might have scripted.

So for years he accepted the thankless role of Cassandra, the Greek prophet no one would heed. But unlike Cassandra he did not sit by to watch fateful tragedy unfold. Once, when I was particularly frustrated by challenges I faced in my job at the Sierra Club, Gore heard me out and replied: “Never, ever give up.” That would seem to be his motto, as reflected in the thousands of speeches he has delivered, the Live Earth concert he built from scratch, the naysaying he has endured, the movement he inspired.

Pope goes on to suggest that Gore’s odds of winning the Nobel might be helped by recent precedents. “In 2004,” Pope observes, “the Nobel Peace Prize went to Kenyan environmentalist
Wangari Maathai. She is not a general or president. She was founder of the grass-roots Green Belt Movement, which planted more than 30 million trees across the country, providing jobs, power and education to women in the process. In the Nobel committee’s words upon awarding that prize: ‘Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment.’” The Nobel committee may view Gore similarly, suggests the Sierra Club exec, “as someone who has spent much of his career staving off conflicts by uniting strange bedfellows behind the common cause of protecting humanity’s only home.” Pope concludes:

In the 20th century peace was something to be achieved after the horrifying bloodletting of world war began. In the 21st century, although the world faces a new era of turmoil, peace ultimately must be about identifying and resolving the sources of conflict before battles break out. That’s why no one deserves the Nobel Peace Prize more than Al Gore.

Predictably, there are many right-wingers, including
a rapidly shrinking contingent of George W. Bush supporters, who don’t want to see Gore take home the Nobel Peace Prize, and thereby enhance his rock star status. They still hold a vicious grudge against him for winning more votes in the 2000 presidential race than their Connecticut cowboy. On Wednesday, the conservative New York Sun newspaper editorialized in favor of General David Petraeus as an alternative. Its endorsement of Bush’s strongest recent advocate for the seemingly endless and deadly war on Iraq is rather petulant (the paper remarks, for instance, that “It is true that General Petraeus doesn’t seem to hate President Bush, which in recent years has seemed to be one of the pre-requisites for winning the prize”), and it is predicated on a pretty bizarre belief that Petraeus is trying to “save the nation of Iraq” by furthering a conflict that has already killed an estimated 1,084,379 Iraqis and left their country vulnerable to a worsening civil war and terrorist encroachment from outside its borders.

Republicans may also fear that his winning the Nobel Peace Prize might encourage Gore to run for president again. The former VP is one of the few Americans with the name recognition to leap into the 2008 presidential contest this late in the game, after raising less money than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and still come out on top--points mentioned in my psychoanalyst friend Trip Quillman’s op-ed piece last May in The Seattle Times. National polls taken earlier this month show Al Gore in third place among Democratic contenders, behind just Clinton and Obama. Even though Gore has said on more than one occasion that he has no intention of running for office in the future, a group calling itself Draft Gore purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times yesterday, encouraging Bill Clinton’s former No. 2 to step up to the campaigning plate once more and swing for the fences. “You say you have fallen out of love with politics, and you have every reason to feel that way,” the group says to Gore in that “open letter” advertisement. “But we know you have not fallen out of love with your country. And your country needs you now--as do your party and the planet you are fighting so hard to save.”

In all likelihood, a Gore candidacy would spell trouble for what seems, at this point anyway, like the inevitability of Hillary Clinton capturing the Democratic presidential nomination next summer. His prominent and repeated denunciations of Bush’s Iraq war and expansion of power sit very well with Democrats and others, who worry that the present White House is shredding the U.S. Constitution for its own dictatorial ends, and are leery of the dynastic fragrance of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton succession in the Oval Office. The GOP should be even more concerned about running the robotic Mitt Romney, the say-anything-to-win Rudy Giuliani, or Fred “Dumb as Hell” Thompson against a man committed to saving the earth for all mankind. The GOP nomination in 2008 is fluid at this stage of the game, because Republican’ts don’t much like any of the 10 white males still vying for their votes. Even Giuliani, running hard on his record of looking less incompetent than Bush did on September 11, 2001, is trailing Clinton by a long shot, and according to a new Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll, his support is much wider than it is deep. (Clinton, on the other hand, has strong support among her Democratic backers.) Just imagine how poorly Giuliani would stack up against the principled Gore.

Now, none of this suggests that I think Gore will run. Or that he should. I take him at his word when he says that he has no interest in making another try for the presidency. And in fact, if he’s so committed to ending global warming, he can probably do more good as a private citizen with a Nobel Prize in his pocket than he could as the American chief executive--a position that would necessarily force him to focus on more than melting icecaps, dying polar bears, and the catastrophic future flooding of coastal cities. When asked, in the wake of that Draft Gore ad, whether he could be persuaded to make a comeback bid for the White House, Gore spokesperson Kalee Kreider said, “Vice President Gore truly appreciates the sentiment and the feeling behind the ad, but as a private citizen his efforts are going behind a campaign of a different kind. The vast majority of his energy right now is going into educating people about the climate crisis and trying to get that issue to a tipping point.”

So Clinton and Giuliani can probably stop sweating the chances of Gore entering the 2008 race. But look out, Martti Ahtisaari. You’re up against a heavyweight.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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