The reports of his bearded demise were premature, it seems. Al Gore is back in vogue.
In truth, his potential political resurrection isn’t really a surprise to me (Nixon had nine lives, too). And, in truth, I don’t expect Gore-mania to sweep the country in a major way — but he might just make a comeback in the eyes of the media.
Here’s why: Timing is everything, and often the key to making a comeback is simply to wait your turn — and hope your opponents will fall out of favor. You will, in turn, look like the wiser alternative.
The "wait-things-out" strategy has worked for politicians of all stripes (both good and bad, by the way). The goal is to wait until the world turns around to your way of thinking. Think of Ronald Reagan at his ranch, just waiting until 1980 came around …
Once in a while — even when things are running relatively smooth (think 1992) — people want change. This is true, not only when it comes to ideas, but in terms of style. Voters, it seems, like to switch back-and-forth between political "styles." That’s why each president is usually (in some way) the opposite of his predecessor.
Often, this is arbitrary. It’s a matter of timing. For example, if FDR had been president when the stock market crashed, voters would have ousted him in favor of a leader more like Hoover (Hoover’s leadership style — not just his policy differences — would have been seen as "refreshing," the theory claims.)
But history didn’t work out that way. Hoover got blamed for the Depression, and voters looked for a man who was his opposite … FDR.
This is precisely the point Sabastian Mallaby makes in today’s Washington Post. But in this case, he is arguing that George Bush has made Al Gore more palatable:
"…President Bush and the congressional Republicans have created a Ross Perot moment: a hunger for a leader with diagrams and charts, for a nerd who lays out basic facts ignored by blinkered government. By their contempt for expert opinion on everything from Iraqi reconstruction to the cost of their tax cuts, Republicans have turned Diagram Gore into a hero."
Regardless of whether or not Gore is the alternative to Bush, I think it’s safe to say the public will look for someone who is, at least, stylistically quite different from Bush (this is good news for McCain).
This isn’t a knock on Bush. Eight years of the same leader is a long time for a generation who grew up on video games. We have a short attention span, and it may just be that we are applying it to our politicians, too.
It’s sort of like the Seinfeld episode where George does everything the opposite of the way he normally would — and it works! (Instead of tuna on wheat, it’s chicken salad on rye.) And, all of a sudden, he’s Mr. Popularity. Is Al Gore the chicken salad on rye to George’s tuna on wheat? Only time will tell.
But like I said, these things work in cycles. The other day I saw a car with an "I Miss Bill" bumper sticker, and it made me think: Everyone was sick of Bill, ten years ago. But today, he is rated more favorably (in many ways) than President Bush. It just goes to show you "the grass is always greener"…
Granted, there are many who have big policy differences with Bush, but that doesn’t account for the average American who doesn’t pay close attention to policy. Could Bush’s problem be that we’re bored with him?
This may sound like an unsophisticated analysis, but how much do you want to bet that in five or ten years, the public will be clamoring for another president who "talks like a normal person," "isn’t a policy wonk," and "isn’t into nuance"?
I can almost guarantee you it will happen.
But first, there will plenty of time for the wonks with graphs and charts. They’re coming. Watch out.