A long time ago, in the pre-blog era, I watched a TV debate on CNN between a newly minted U.S. Vice President and a quirky Texas businessman who, at one point during his extended 15 minutes of fame, was considered a serious presidential candidate. In the span of 90 minutes, Al Gore sold wavering Americans on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and snuffed out Ross Perot's political star. This was a major event 20 years ago. Weeks after the November debate in 1993, Congress ratified NAFTA and Perot, who by then was getting kookier by the day, never regained his footing, though he still won 8 percent of the popular vote when he ran for President again in 1996. This is ancient history, especially when we consider all that has transpired since then. But the Gore/Perot debate spectacle yielded notable moments, including this one-liner from Gore that a UK correspondent picked up on:
In one withering riposte, Mr Gore recalled his opponent's prediction three years ago that 40,000 Americans would die in the Gulf war, and that 100 banks would close if the Democrats won the presidency. 'The politics of negativism and fear only go so far,' he said.
This seems like the kind of advice that a present-day Al Gore and his fellow climate campaigners would do well to heed. In light of Gore's business riches and opulent lifestyle post-2000 (see this new Bloombergpiece), you also have to wonder if it's time that he recused himself from a cause he helped kickstart. New York magazine, in a current profile of Gore, paints an image of him puttering around in his Tennessee mansion when he's not on the Davos circuit. Let's recall, too, that Gore was recently put on the defensive for selling his cable network to a tiny oil-rich Mideast country. All this suggests that Gore might not be the best face for a climate movement that routinely calls on the world to curtail economic growth and downsize its consumptive ways. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Al Gore blazing a path to sustainability, so long as we can all follow in his lead.