As Al Gore Stands on the Receiving End of the World's Acclaim, Americans Count the Days Until the End of the Bush Presidency
So many mis-steps along the way
"Where can you run ,if there is no world of your own?
And you know that no one will ever miss you when you're finally gone."
-- "A Sign of the Ages" by Gil Scot-Heron
Earlier this month, as Al Gore tactfully strode to the podium at a press conference to acknowledge his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, some observers may have reminded themselves about the harsh attitude held by many Americans about the ex-vice President in the immediate aftermath of 911. After that event, for many Americans, any of Gore's perceived strengths became almost instantly irrelevant.
Meanwhile, prior to the attacks, the presidency of George W. Bush was itself, rapidly becoming irrelevant. So, when Bush made his cinematically dramatic "bullhorn" appearance on the "pile" of World Trade Center wreckage, his near-dormant presidency seemed to have caught its stride. Bush, exhibiting buoyancy often evident in someone who had FINALLY found a cause, raised his bullhorn and resolutely warned that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
It was also during that period, that an often-heard refrain: "Thank God, George Bush is president," became an almost national sigh of relief. Even some Gore voters -- doubtlessly swayed toward Bush by the wholly warranted perception of the cerebral Gore as a measured policy wonk -- voiced that sentiment. Under the circumstances, it was no time for sapiently deep thinkers. Thus, it was Bush's perceived "tough-talking Texan" aura, not some genteel Beltway establishment persona, that clicked with a public thoroughly convinced that this president was the "right man at the right time."
A series of daily tracking polls focusing on Bush's performance by Zogby International, illustrate this. They were taken during the first two weeks of October, 2001, which, somewhat ironically, falls within the same period as this year's announcement that Gore would win a Nobel Prize. Back then, 89 percent of Americans polled gave a positive rating to Bush's response to the attacks and 74 percent said that they had confidence in Bush's ability to handle the continuing crisis. Meanwhile, his overall approval rating registering a vibrant 80 percent, peaked at 92 percent on October 9 and 10, 2001, which still stands as the highest approval rating ever for a U.S. president.
Today, however, while Bush's approval rating, at around 30 percent, is submerged to just above Nixonian/Watergate-era depths of 24 percent, it is the formerly maligned Gore who is now being celebrated -- repeatedly. Some may allow this celebration to elicit an urge to characterize Gore's Nobel achievement as his long overdue public vindication. In succumbing to that urge, however, one runs the risk of ignoring the fact that by Gore having won the popular vote in 2000, the need for vindication is rendered moot.
Certainly post-911, whatever remained of the public's tolerance for Gore's cerebral approach seemed to crumble under the sheer weight of the naked vengeance on the minds of many Americans. Yet, scarcely a few months earlier, by popular vote, America had narrowly voiced itself in the affirmative for Gore. Despite this, the honor of sitting in the Oval Office would eventually go to Bush through judicial fiat. That being the case, one would expect that the benefactor of a rather dubious legal interpretation would be the one who needs vindication.
In truth, rather than a Gore vindication, it seems logical to define the enlightened blowback from the substantially increased awareness produced through his aggressive eco-activism, as Gore's applied rejoinder to the call by the "thank God Bush is president" chorus. His adroit response, illustrated through the acclaim he has earned for his most recent efforts seems to be: "Here's an example of the kind of thinking America needs in its presidents."
A Reign of Error
So it is that nearly seven years later, the juxtaposed fates of the two former contenders reveal the stark reversal of fortune experienced by both. Today, with Gore's ascendant arc contrasted by Bush's abiding fall, this turnabout – thoroughly inspired by the individual deeds of both -- is all but complete. And the contrast couldn't be clearer. Anti-global warming crusader Al Gore seems intent on saving the planet, while George W. Bush, the tough-talking, chest-thumping, self-proclaimed "war president," appears hell-bent on its destruction.
Indeed, it remains to be seen whether America's experience with the almost stridently anti-intellectual Bush, will have led it to discover that choosing a president based on how well a candidate registers on the "who would I rather have a beer with" scale, is a dangerously low standard indeed.