We Need Another Candidate for President

A wise old friend, my wife Melinda, and I were discussing the upcoming U.S. presidential election recently. Our friend pointed out the dearth of Democratic candidates, and -- with all due respect -- the possible weaknesses of Hillary Clinton's campaign, once the Republican contender has been chosen. We need another qualified candidate, she argued.

Viewed from outside. the mood of our country seems to be a closed and fearful one. What else can explain the attraction of a Donald Trump? In any other time, his candidacy would have been laughed off the stage. Although it seems improbable that he will end up as the candidate of his party, the mere fact that he has been setting the tone for the Republican campaign is worrisome. So far (and it is very late), the Democrats have only three serious candidates. Besides Mrs. Clinton, there is the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, and the former governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley.

Each has strengths. Mrs. Clinton has by far the greatest experience of government, obviously. Mr. Sanders has raised twice the amount of money than Barack Obama did in 2008, all from voters, and nothing from PACs. Mr. O'Malley released serious, detailed proposals months ahead of his two rivals, who have not been above cherry-picking his ideas.

And each has weaknesses. Mrs. Clinton has a long list of issues that Republicans could throw at her, and like Jeb Bush, has the drag of family dynasty. Mr. Sanders will be 75 years old at the 2017 inauguration, and the label of "socialist" is still lethal. Mr. O'Malley has name recognition issues, and his debate performances have been disappointing.

The American people deserve to hear from another Democratic candidate, one who would have clear credentials to serve as president (which all the Republicans, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush, lack), name recognition, and a forward-looking platform. And who has won elections.

So far, I was following our wise friend's argument. What she was saying made sense. But whom she could have in mind who met all these criteria, I asked.

"Al Gore," she replied, rather tentatively.

At first, I was surprised, then skeptical, but soon I saw the reasonableness of the conclusion. Mr. Gore, at 67, can still credibly run. He still has a household name, tremendous political and government experience including eight years as vice-president, and he won the popular election in the 2000 presidential election by a half-million votes. (He was denied the presidency by a technicality, through the Electoral College. Anyone remember "hanging chads"? ) Since then he has devoted himself to a number of important causes, mainly around climate change. Gore's 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, has arguably done more to galvanize action on the environment than anything since Rachel Carson's 1962 book, A Silent Spring. With the COP21 climate change agreement in Paris two weeks ago, the world is entering a new phase of concerted action, which Mr. Gore understands better than any of the current candidates in either party.

Just having him in the mix could change the content and tenor of the election. One other aspect is that, in the event that he would be the Democratic candidate, the fall campaign might be less divisive than a Clinton candidacy. America is currently poised for a presidential election that will leave deep scars on our national psyche, which is already seriously wounded. We need healing. We need new confidence in our democracy.

Every other nation used to compare its form of government to ours, as the gold standard for how to run a country. No more. Our foreign policy disasters, the inability of Congress to fulfil its legislative role, the outright purchasing of elections after the terrible Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the literally daily occurrence of mass shootings in the U.S., and yes, the popularity of candidates like Trump and Ted Cruz, all have contributed to lower America in the eyes of the world.

We still routinely call ourselves "the greatest nation in the world." I grew up believing it. I still do. But we must elect a leader in 2016 who will begin to bring us back from the brink.

Draft Al Gore!