West Wing The Al Gore Factor

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President Al Gore could have a noticeable impact on the presidential election campaign in the United States. Suddenly the candidates are discovering their green sides -- even the Republicans.

By Gabor Steingart in Washington

The Nobel Peace Prize has fueled speculation that Al Gore may run for president again.

The Nobel Peace Prize has fueled speculation that Al Gore may run for president again.

If envy is the highest form of human recognition, Al Gore can't complain. The response from the White House to the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award Gore the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was understated, to say the least. There was no comment from US President George W. Bush, nor from his press secretary, Dana Perino. The White House eventually sent its deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto, to face the cameras. "Obviously, it's an important recognition," said Fratto. Referring to the president, he added, "Of course he's happy for Vice President Gore."

Such terse responses will likely do the conservatives more harm than good. Indeed, the political aftershocks of the award will be considerable. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an avowed anti-Bush activist only weeks before the official start of an election year could produce a tectonic shift in the already unstable US political landscape.

Shortly after losing the 2000 presidential election to Bush, the Cassandra-like Gore began traveling the country with his angry and sometimes shrill message. He even shocked some members of his own party with his seeming eccentricity. Gore's criticism went well beyond the hole in the ozone layer. He railed against the media's thirst for sensationalism, repeatedly criticized the hypocrisies of a democracy which is heavily influenced by lobbyists and chastised the administration for its lies throughout the Iraq war. But unlike his predecessor in Troy, this modern-day Cassandra has now been named an honorary citizen of the world.

The Triple-Action Gore Factor

The effect of this recognition is so powerful that one could easily call it the Gore factor. It acts primarily in three directions. First, Gore will have an influence on his own party. The Democrats have long debated how radical their break with the Bush era should be if they win the White House in 2008. Gore will only heat up this debate even further.

Unlike Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, Gore doesn't need to call himself an "agent of change." He already is one. The others have advisors, but Gore has his own message: that it will take more than a few adjustments and corrections to save the climate. Instead, Gore is pushing for a real new beginning. His advisor, Michael Feldman, says that the freshly minted Nobel laureate is determined "to change the political climate in America."

Even without an official title in the party hierarchy, Gore could find himself leading a Democratic counter-revolution. He will also play an important role in the party's nomination of its presidential candidate. Donna Brazile, his former campaign manager, is convinced that Gore "can play kingmaker."

The Gore factor is also making itself felt among conservatives, by driving a wedge between Bush and his party. The president is now more or less on his own with his climate policy. After long denying the problem, Bush was eventually forced, by overwhelming scientific evidence, to at least partly recognize that human activity plays a role in climate change. His most recent approach has been to circumvent the United Nations, and the climate protection treaty it will debate in Bali, through separate talks with some of the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Leading Republicans, recognizing that many voters are increasingly dismayed by this disdain for the environment and the UN, have been seeking to align themselves with the new mood for some time now. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, for example, said last Friday that climate policy is one of his key concerns.


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