My Ex

It's been years since I thought about my ex-boyfriend Norman Porter, but he crossed my mind as I watched the Al Gore movie this week. The Al Gore movie is good, but it's really (as Gore is the first to admit, cheerfully) a speech. It's got that thunketa-thunketa thing, just like Al, and just like Norman. It's not on a par with some of the great recent documentaries like Capturing the Friedmans or My Architect; it's more like the best possible version of those sixteen-millimeter documentaries we watched in fourth grade that were called things like Our Friend the Honeybee.

What sets the Gore movie apart is not the way it's made, or even the power of its material about global warming, but the reaction of the audience. The audience -- which is to say, us, us liberals, us on the left -- is mortified. Deeply mortified. Icecaps melt, lakes dry up, there are hurricanes and heatwaves, but as you watch, what really goes through your head are the number of Americans and Iraqis who are dead because Gore isn't President, and the realization that we're in some way to blame.

Al Gore doesn't make it to the top three reasons on my list of Who's To Blame -- Bill Clinton, Ralph Nader and Karl Rove are way ahead of him. But Gore's on the list, he and Bob Schrum and the rest of his advisors. There was triangulation. There was caution. There was the third debate. There was bad makeup. We cared about those things, we said so aloud, we were disappointed in his candidacy, we stood by and watched the Republicans steal the Presidency from him and on some level we behaved as if it somehow proved that the system worked.

When you see Gore in this movie, rolling his suitcase through airports, carrying his Apple computer under his arm, Willy Loman with a PowerPoint presentation, graceful, charming, at ease in his skin, it's impossible not to feel guilty and stupid and superficial. He's a chapter in Lives of the Saints that we played a role in because we didn't do everything we could have. He has his little jokes -- "I'm Al Gore and I used to be your next president" -- and they're disarming, but there's no imagining what it's like to be him, to know that you won, to know that you somehow blew it, to know that you were robbed, to know that every time you open the paper to read about yourself you'll discover all over again that you're stiff -- or, at best, not as stiff as you used to be.

Last week was Al Gore's week to be canonized, but I couldn't help thinking not of religion but of old Norman: Gore has become the ex-boyfriend who's starting to look good after forty bad dates with other guys. He's gained a little weight, but who hasn't? He's still unexciting, but excitement turns out to be overrated. He's not great in bed, but the last guy you slept with who was great in bed never called. What's more, he's on the board of Google, he was in on the IPO, so now he even has a little money. He's starting to look like the man of your dreams, the man who has nothing to lose. There's a little voice telling you that once he has something to lose, he'll go back to his old habits and blow it all over again, but you're not listening because you're desperate: you need to find a guy to marry. After all, time is running out.