Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that has been bestowed on many without merit: For example, Yasir Arafat, charlatan and killer, and Rigoberta Menchú, simple populist fraud. But this award, voted by five members of the Norwegian parliament, does not bear any such onus. In one sense, it is an election by the democratic elite of a mature free society, acting soberly and seriously in behalf of the concrete interests of mankind. But unlike most Nobel Peace Prizes, this one also carries the endorsement of the vox populi; Gore is cheered wherever he speaks and deepens the understanding of those who listen. He is an international hero without any of the pretenses of heroism.
Could one have conceived of a different winner this year? I dare say not.
Of course, the Nobel is a different proposition than a popular election. But it would be instructive to examine the two elections which Al Gore lost in his life. The first was when he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. This was a generation ago, and a great proportion of the American population was not yet born or not yet sentient. The second such election is well-remembered. George Bush--a shallow personage, indifferent to his own ignorance but endowed with unquenchable ambitions in a party whose highest judicial appointments were altogether flexible with the party's long-time constitutional principles--entered the White House without a popular plurality and through a Supreme Court swindle.
Of those who recall the 1988 campaign of Mike Dukakis against George Bush, père, the image that stands out is the small governor wearing a helmet in a tank. Not many people would look big sitting in a parapet. But somehow this photograph of Mike became a metaphor for who he was. The truth is he was a very little man, and I don't mean size. The nominee was the party at its human worst, a person without passion, without vision, without charm, without an idea that did not bore, without breadth or breath. Dukakis had not been different during the primaries when the other major contenders were Gore and the man who might arguably be seen as the father of hip-hop, words without meaning, Jesse Jackson.
Dukakis was the candidate of the "Massachusetts miracle," a micro-managed economy that on the morrow of the election turned out to be nothing less than a disaster for just the people Democrats are supposed to represent. The election was a disaster for these folk, as the victor was the aforementioned papa of the present president, philosophically and temperamentally committed to the rule of the traditional elites. (It was their last time in power.) Of course, Jesse Jackson hadn't a chance to win the nomination, though millions voted for the charlatan.
The nominating process in the Democratic Party is a suicidal operation. There are the deeply sober Democrats, lugubrious, almost morbid, certainly joyless. They were for Dukakis from the get-go. New Hampshire and Iowa are their states. Then there are the irresponsible ideologists who would vote for any loudmouth as long as he spoke the language of resentment. Gore was cornered by these two camps in 1988, although he had already begun to carve out a vision of America that in the twenty years since has come to seem prescient. Maybe he was too young. But Gore, already then, made the case against Saddam Hussein, who was being armed and otherwise aided by James Baker and the president he served. Baker is a nasty cynic, and it's not surprising that he favored Saddam. The Iraqis would not be restive under him. The restive ones would be murdered. Baker will go to his maker with their blood on his c.v.
There's no great point in rehashing the 2000 campaign. Except to say that early in the primary season the Vice President was also in a clinch with a lackluster opponent, who appeared more than a bit Olympian towards the electorate but appealing to their dreary instincts. Bill Bradley faded away soon enough. But the true believers would emerge soon enough. Ralph Nader is a man of the far-left, the far-far left. This was established by TNR in early 2000 (PDFs). The point of one of these articles was the Nader was also supported by a supporter of the radical right, Roger Milliken, whose business, one of the largest textile manufacturers in the country, depended for its unseemly profitability on protectionist economic policies. This was the alliance forged by Nader and Milliken. But many thousands of left-wing voters were more concerned with ideological purity than pragmatic governance and actually threw the election to Bush.
Gore nursed his wounds for a while. And then put himself into a disciplined work regimen--some rewarding private business, mostly the environmental project--that has quite literally changed the intellectual and moral atmosphere of global politics and the global economy. His book, his film, his endless lecture tours almost everywhere, the well-deserved Nobel: they all reflect his popularity and the esteem in which people hold him. Wherever one goes, ordinary people and not so ordinary people, moderate Republicans who know that their party is no longer really theirs, many Democrats who admit to guilt over their razzing of Gore during 2000, even the smarmy press, know that here is a person who earned their loyalty. They would give it if he ran again. Will he? The smart money says he won't. I'm not so sure. But then I believed he'd win the nomination in 1988.
Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.
By Martin Peretz