Have you noticed the flood of publicity that has surrounded Vice-President Al Gore '69 in the past few weeks? Let's pray that it's no accident. Gore represents the Democrats' best hope for the Oval Office in 1996 and beyond.
A recent article in the New York Times touted Gore as the president's most trusted advisor, able to hold Bill Clinton riveted to his every word. Another earlier article spoke of the Gore family, waiting for the year 2000 and their favorite son's shining moment. They expected Clinton to ease through two terms and leave the door open for their man. But Gore's moment is coming soon--sooner than expected.
Clinton certainly could win in 1996. Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp and former Vice-President Dan Quayle have already stepped out of the presidential ring. Quayle's unwillingness to run probably quieted the hearts of several GOP boosters; the public had all but forgotten Cheney. Kemp, on the other hand, symbolized their rising hero in 1992.
Of the remainders in the Republicans' feeble team of candidates, many are marked by public distaste. Against the creeping slime of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) or the downright meanness of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kans.), Clinton could paint himself as the nice guy, the family friend. Against vacuous Gov. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) or inexperienced Gov. Christine Whitman (R-N.J.), Clinton could calmly dismantle their arguments in every debate. But who knows? As the president who lost Congress in 1994 and lost on health care, Clinton qualifies for `damaged goods' status.
Gore, on the other hand, has a pristine record by Washington's standards. When Republican dirt-mongers tried to unearth their usual graveyard crop of skeletons in closets, all they found were a few wooden looks and some smashed government ashtrays.
The Republicans have no single candidate who can beat Gore. He's shown his mettle in debates, especially against Ross Perot's demagoguery. Unlike all four Republican presidents since Eisenhower, Gore can put together a complete sentence off the cuff.
Gore's public image has only gotten better since he first ran for the top job in 1988. For once, the media will be able to put aside their mudslinging machines and focus on the issues that Gore knows so well. He's becoming known as a strong troubleshooter and forceful executive. As a fairly young but still seasoned Democrat, Gore presents a sharp contrast to the Republicans' aging cabal.
Gore has demographics going for him as well. He's a southerner with northeastern connections; a vice-presidential candidate from the Midwest could secure electoral victory beyond any doubt.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), the leader of the Democratic Party, will undoubtedly see the merits of a Gore campaign. Another relatively young but still senior politician, Dodd and Gore could found a new Democratic guard. If the Republicans' slashing of social programs accomplishes one thing, it will bring more Democrats to the polls in 1996. A nation sufficiently repulsed by two years of cruel regressivity will once again stand ready to embrace a new, liberal mandate.
No one can stand in Gore's way except Bill Clinton. The president should put political ambitions aside and let Gore do the best thing for the party and the nation. Why take chances, when Gore has such an easy road ahead? No Party contributors find him distasteful; his financial support will surely outweigh what Clinton drew from in 1992.
The Republicans' disorganization will surely be their ruin. Right now, they can run with Gramm or try to find a dark horse. No one even knows which party (if any) Gen. Colin Powell would join if he ran. Why bet on a party racked with instability and factional infighting?
Next year, the Democrats must present a unified front with Gore at the head. Little by Little, this country will realize that Al Gore is the person to lead it into the next millennium. Daniel Altman's column appears on alternate Mondays.