There has always been something strangely fascinating to me about Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.
Maybe it’s those stern Superman looks that make him seem resentful that we woke him up to save Gotham. Or the Jekyll and Hyde lector-hector duality in his persona. Perhaps it’s his improbable ascendancy to Nobel Laureate through less-than-fastidious science. Or the breathtaking hypocrisy of his personal carbon footprint. Maybe it’s just the alleged release of his second chakra in a Portland hotel room.
Whatever it is, and whatever quirks and contradictions I’ve observed, nothing prepared me for the rogue wave of hubris that crashed onto the talk show shores last week as Al Gore, rising like Poseidon from the sea, graced us with his latest global treatise, a 592-page tome entitled simply “The Future.”
Now honestly, even Edward Gibbon limited his immortal history to the specific decline and fall of the Roman Empire. And it’s hard to imagine those industrious chroniclers of Western civilization, Will and Ariel Durant, embarking on a quixotic compendium to explain “The Past.”
Then again, the restraints common to common men have little hold over the latter-day Prometheus who launched the Internet age and set the Tesla of Tantrums, Keith Olbermann, on the glide path to oblivion, two advances for humankind that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
And, like all great authors, Gore doesn’t answer, nor even acknowledge, the Lilliputian critics who would try to tie or tear him down with their mean-spirited fact checking. This resolute, impenetrable leader whom Mark Shields once quipped was “a heartbeat away from the vice presidency” does not suffer fools or jesters any more than Hemingway did the editors of the Harvard Lampoon.
That is, until Gore was ambushed last Tuesday night by America’s jester-in-chief, David Letterman.
Learning nothing from admirer Matt Lauer, who uncharacteristically confronted him the day before on the sale of his Current TV network to the fossil fuel barons of Qatar who own Al-Jazeera — for a cool $500 million — Gore sought what he thought, I’m sure, was a safe haven — the hipster hustings of the left-leaning “Late Show.”
After all, Letterman had long ago jettisoned any pretense of equal opportunity when directing his comedic slings and arrows, and had become a staunch henchman for the liberal agenda night after night during the presidential campaign.
What Gore got was a Letterman who, while respectful, was obviously irritated beyond the bounds of partisanship, and emboldened enough by the safety in numbers and margins of election victories to accuse a progressive icon like Gore of blatant hypocrisy and subsequent damage to the brand.
Even though he laced his scolding with humor — at one point exposing the fact that Gore didn’t even know what the words “Al-Jazeera” meant — it was a stunning departure for those who follow Letterman.
For disciples of Gore, his reaction was truly an embarrassment, or should have been. It was basically no reaction at all, except to wriggle out of tough questions as quickly as possible and return, unrepentant, to his book-promoting talking points.
Letterman, Lauer, and later Jon Stewart tried to elicit some kind of admission from Gore that what he was doing was in some way — any way — hypocritical.
Lauer even quoted an excerpt from “The Future,” in which Gore voiced outrage that “virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal, and gas companies.” When pressed about how he himself could accept a half-billion dollars for his television network from one of these same oil and gas conglomerates when they, according to Gore, are the Great Satan threatening the integrity of broadcast journalism, he said matter-of-factly: “I get the criticism. I just disagree with it.”
Without further explanation, Gore went right back to how many journalism honors Al-Jazeera — the oil and gas state-sponsored network — had been awarded.
It was surreal. And ugly. And even uglier was Gore’s complete indifference to criticism, and seeming disregard for any negative impact this would have on his party, not to mention his leftist legacy. He acted like the calculating, compromised, money-worshipping “Learjet liberal” he has become.
And that’s a shame for his progressive cause.
For me, of course, as a conservative, it’s a breath of fresh air, another glimmer of hope that perhaps — with a little help from some unlikely friends — the national playing field will be leveled again, and maybe even in time for the 2014 midterm elections.
I’m still not sure what our Republican formula for winning will be, but at least I’ve seen the Democratic formula for turning off the American electorate with political hypocrisy.
And that’s an “AlGorithm” we can do without!
Timothy Philen is the author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a tightly knit collection of essays on post-modern American culture.