DETROIT — Finally.
That’s what one couldn’t help thinking on seeing Al Gore last night as he stood above the iceless rink of Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president of the United States. A year and a half had passed since Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had begun the primary process via the Net. All that while, there were those who not-so-secretly pined for the former vice president — and almost-president — to step down from his role of Oscar- and Grammy- and Noble Prize-winning statesman and re-enter the political arena to unify a Democratic Party growing increasingly fractured over the long, spirited primary season. Others were waiting for Gore, a man, one might argue, at the height of his popularity, to weigh in, to tell the Democratic Party whom he felt should be the nominee.
Instead he waited. He waited for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his niece Caroline — despite pressure from former President Bill Clinton — to throw their support, and the lasting power of Camelot, to Obama. He waited for former House Minority leader Tom Daschle and the man who tried to unseat the man who narrowly defeated Gore, Sen. John Kerry, to give the Illinois senator his support. He waited for George S. McGovern and Jimmy Carter; for former Democratic presidential and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. And when long-time Clinton ally Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico stopped his own presidential bid and bore the full wrath of the Clinton campaign to support Obama, Gore waited still.
The question remains: why? As we all know, since the 2000 election, the Gores and Clintons have maintained a steely cold distance — with supporters of each blaming the other for Gore’s slim and controversial loss to George W. Bush. Those in the Clinton camp argued that Gore used the president and his popularity too little, too late in his campaign. Gore disciples fired back that the Monica Lewinsky scandal left Clinton a tarnished symbol, one who couldn’t be used with a split electorate.
Did Gore wait out of whatever remained of the respect he had for his former running mate? Did he consider himself above the fray? A man who couldn’t be bothered?
That’s a shame. In many ways this campaign was Gore’s election. The causes he championed, particularly when it came to the environment, have moved beyond Democratic Party politics to become issues the entire nation cares about. Eight years ago, who could imagine the presumed nominee for the Republican nomination would be talking about the threat of greenhouse gasses and alternative energy?
What role Gore can play in this historic, terribly close race seems unclear. Hell, we’re just gonna have to wait.