Shoulda Coulda, Woulda: '08

Gore has something going for him that Senator Hillary Clinton can't touch: nothing is more satisfying to the American soul than a bona-fide comeback.
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"And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it's time for me to go."

Those were the last words I heard publicly spoken by Al Gore. They came at the end of his December 13, 2000 speech conceding defeat to George W. Bush. In the intervening six years . . . well you know what's happened.

But here's something you may not know, I suspect even Al Gore doesn't know. During this "Wilderness Period," (as Time magazine will no doubt put it,) as Gore rebuilt his wounded political ego and spent more time with his family, he has been quietly enfolded into a complex historical narrative. He may think he's finished with it, but it may not be finished with him. This is no small turn of events. Long-term historical narratives are immune to the pressures of politics, shrug when big money attempts to impose happy endings, and even two campaign buses full of Bob Shrum's and James Carville's can't distort it.

So here's one wild prediction: Al Gore will be the Democratic nominee for the 2008 Presidential election. Will he win? Only Madam Blavatsky can know for sure. But he has something going for him that Senator Hillary Clinton can't touch: nothing is more satisfying to the American soul than a bona-fide comeback. In fact the comeback is one of the great stories of all-time. In Homer's epic story, Ulysses literally comes back to reclaim hearth and home. Churchill is considered great because of his comebacks. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Assistant Secretary of the Navy before he contracts polio and comes back to become one of our most inspiring presidents. Americans don't just like comebacks, they're part of our national identity. They testify to a latent character that says, "Sure, I got dinged, but I don't have a glass jaw. There's more to me than meets the eye." Just ask Tony Bennett or the Boston Red Sox or the man whose 20th century comeback changed the lives of millions of people, Alcoholics Anonymous' Bill W.

The second thing Al Gore doesn't know he has going for him is even more rarefied: Because of the way the narrative has spun itself out, for the first time in modern politics he will be able to run on the S-C-W platform. This is the Shoulda Coulda, Woulda position that whispers in polite but firm tones into the many ears of the national psyche, "If you'd voted for me, we wouldn't be in this mess." It's a powerful unspoken reminder that exists behind every campaign speech, every bumper sticker, and every blog posting. More than one indicator suggests that by 2008 the S-W-C platform will only be gaining in momentum.

A month ago I found myself in a taxicab on the way to the airport after a scientific conference. One of my fellow passengers had been on Gore's Vice Presidential staff. I ran my theory, which was just starting to percolate, past him. He laughed like a barking seal. "Not a chance," said the political insider. I had the impression he spoke to Gore on a regular basis. "You have to understand, he doesn't want to run."

But every once in awhile, through no particular artifice or plan, the narrative outstrips your best intentions. Perhaps it's a cruel joke, or maybe the narrative knows things, deep things, that you don't know, maybe you don't want to know. So don't expect Al Gore to suddenly swerve to the left or right, but keep an eye out for the signals. They're out there. And they're blinking.

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