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May 16, 2006


What Alter said is that there are no second acts any more. He said that the times have changed since Nixon made his comeback. How have the times changed? Alter didn't say. So, he's not being inconsistent with the FDR story. He's just being vague as to why that same story wouldn't play today.

For my money, this country needs a second act from Al Gore. Even if you're no great Gore fan (as I am), it's important for the country to see what could and should have been in 2000. A successful Gore restoration government will be the thing that Democrats can point to for the next several decades whenever someone tries to claim that a Republican Administration is the best choice for America.

If you want to talk about a more recent analogous second act, think Richard Nixon 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966 and ultimately 1968.

1960 - he lost a squeaker to JFK, some say, and not without reason, in a cheated race.
1962 - Nixon ran for governor of California...and lost. Can't kick him around any more.
1964 - sat it out really.
1966 - Nixon worked the country for many congressional Republican candidates, getting them elected and developing political goodwill and support.
1968 - in the midst of turmoil and the realization that the nation had stumbled into a messy and lengthy, costly war, Nixon pulls out the squeaker (George Wallace nearly forced the thing into the House of Representatives).

Now Al Gore:
2000 - "Lost" an election by 1 vote or 521, depending upon how you count - you kno the details - the Florida misadventure in terms of purged polls, Buchanan accidental votes, and white-boy riots that stopped the full recount (every one of those bastards was there on our dime, but should have also been put in the federal pen on our dime for multiple violations of the law, but I digress)
2002 - Gore was wise enough not to run for Governor of Tennessee, but indicative of what Nixon went through, the Democrats lost ground in both the house and senate (they actually lost control of the Senate - we all still owe Jim Jeffords a great deal of thanks or we would have been 2 years further along the road of Bush's dictatorship).
2004 - makes some speeches, but really sits it out.
2006 - Here we now find Gore putting his name on fundraising letters and actively campaigning for congressional spots, in addition to the movie, the speeches and the wonderful SNL skit.
2008 - It is his for the taking. John Kerry did not defend himself when attacked about his record, leaving us with the impression that he would not defend us either; Hillary is a joke. It is Al's to lose.

So, while I like your thoughts on FDR, but think that Nixon is a better subject to study.

Even more twisted is if you compare LBJ with Bush (initially given legislative carte blanche only to be undone by a very unpopular war).


My favorite Roosevelt book, Roosevelt & Hopkins by Robert Sherwood printed about a century ago. Well, maybe some fewer years ago but I read it then and still remember so much of it. It enhanced my love affair with FDR.

So did Eric Sevareid's autobiography, Not So Wild A Dream. (What a great read! And how I miss listening to that marvelous man.)

Another great one, The Glory and The Dream by William Manchester. This is actually a history of the 1930-1970 period but dwells at length about the Roosevelt years in the WH.

These are perhaps the key books, among so very many, that powerfully cemented my liberalism, now in my 74th year.

About Al Gore: I used to be so angry at him and swore I would never even listen to him again. But now I am listening and liking what I hear. In fact, I want to hear more and I hope I like all of that, too. Gore has changed and grown, as a politican man should. Good on ya, Al Gore. Good on ya.

great post Sara, but I gotta make a few points

first, i wanna make a minor quibble about FDR. I don't think Eleanor carried FDR's legacy. I think FDR obtained his legacy by adopting Eleanor's ideas. Eleanor was a follower of Jane Addams, a fact which explains the New Deal better than anything that happened in FDR's life (wait a sec, I'll get to the polio later)

about second acts, isn't george w bush a "second act" ???

and have you seen the HBO film "Warm Springs" ???

I don't much care for Ken Baghanh (???) but I really liked his portrayal of a reluctant and morose FDR discovering the concept of actually CARING about people. I don't think FDR would have had that revelation if he had been married to a different woman Eleanor had a more deep and profound impact on history than most people ever realize

The biggest political comeback of modern Presidential history has to be that of Richard Nixon, as Tug points out. After his loss in 1962 in the California Gubernatorial Election, Nixon was politically dead. He arose from the ashes of political defeat by jumping back into the fray by supporting Congressional candidates. The Republicans went on to sweep the elections that year. His critical support in the bi-elections earned him the gratitude of those he helped to elect and engendered a renewed interest from the party leadership that had previously consigned him to the political graveyards. More importantly, in the process, he built a new political base within the party that made his later run in 1968 possible.

But, as compelling as the Nixon story may be, I believe that the Election Fortunes and Misfortune of Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, are perhaps more illustrative in this political environment of rampant corruption among the Republican Congress.

In 1884, Grover Cleveland, the Democrat, won by a narrow margin against the Republican, James Blaine. Grover received 4,879,507 votes (48.5 percent) to Blaine's 4,850,293 votes (48.2 percent). Cleveland won his home state of New York by 1,200 votes out of more than a million votes cast. Had Blaine won the state of New York, he would have been the President instead of Cleveland. As it was, Cleveland received 219 electoral votes to Blaine's 182.

In the Election of 1888, Cleveland faced the Republican nominee, Benjamin Harrison; a former Civil War general, a senator from Indiana, and the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. While Harrison lost the popular vote to Cleveland (47.9 percent to 48.6 percent), he easily won the Electoral College (233 to 168). Cleveland lost his own state of New York as well as the home state of Harrison, Indiana.

In 1892, President Harrison faced former President Cleveland for a rematch. A third party, led by James Weaver of Iowa, hurt the Republicans by carrying five states. Cleveland won with 46 percent of the popular vote to Harrison's 43 percent. In the electoral tally, Cleveland received 277 votes to Harrison's 145 votes with Weaver receiving 22 votes. The Democrats also regained both houses of Congress. Among the reasons for the Republican defeat were the loss of support of ethnic voters in the Midwest (in some measure because of Temperance)and the passage by the republican Congress of the McKinley Tariff of 1890. It led to higher prices for products and resulted in significant wage cuts in some industries. The voters took their economic anger out on the Republicans by denying them the Presidency and the Congress. Also, it's interesting that due to the enactment of various Jim Crow laws in the South by the Democrats, the Republican vote among African Americans in the South was greatly reduced from previous levels of support.

As for Gore? Well, obviously there are numerous examples to refute F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention that "there are no second acts in American life." More importantly, both the Nixon comeback and the Grover Cleveland elections provide important parallels to a potential Gore comeback. Grover Cleveland made his mark in politics by challenging corrupt political organizations and businesses. He won over middle-class voters by emphasizing hard work, merit, and efficiency. Those who worked hard should reap the rewards of their work. He was on the side of the worker. He had proven that he would fight against the moneyed interests, the power brokers and the corrupt to level the playing field for the average worker. He intended to reform government so that it worked efficiently and for all not just the politically well-connected or the moneyed few. This earned him the support of a group of Republican businessmen known as the Mugwumps.

Cleveland and the Democrats, in 1884, successfully painted the Republicans and their nominee, Blaine, the Republican Speaker of the House, as corrupt politicians who sold favors to the railroads. The Republicans were depicted as the tools of the money guys. Cleveland and the Democrats reminded voters that they would restore honesty in government. Cleveland was successful in painting the Republican officeholders as corrupt, extravagant and serving the interests of the rich over the interests of the worker. The Republicans responded with a blistering personal attack. Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child and the Republicans mocked him with the chant, "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?" Cleveland's supporters turned the tables on the Republicans by making the following argument: "We are told that Mr. Blaine has been delinquent in office but blameless in public life, while Mr. Cleveland has been a model of official integrity but culpable in personal relations. We should therefore elect Mr. Cleveland to the public office for which he is so well qualified to fill, and remand Mr. Blaine to the private station which he is admirably fitted to adorn."

If Al Gore should desire another run for the Presidency, it would perhaps do him well to study both the Nixon comeback and the Presidential Elections of Grover Cleveland. Gore’s support of Congressional Democrats in the 2006 elections could be pivotal to his cementing a new political base upon which to run in 2008.

BuddhistMonkey, I suspect what Alter means when he says that there are "no second acts" and that the times have changed since Nixon made his comeback is that the media is quite different as well as the political culture. We now have a 24 hours/7 days a week media cycle with media power dispersed across many channels of communication. Think about the advent of talk radio, cable T.V. and the diminution of the power of the major newspaper dailies and the "Big Three" network news shows. Also, the political culture is much less forgiving of "has-been" politicians, consigning them to the political "no man's land" or worse, ridicule. Losing Presidential nominees are not accorded a place of honor or respect in our political system. The losing nominee is rejected by his own party after he loses.

However, I believe that Jonathan Alter is wrong in the case of Gore. I believe that past Presidential second acts can provide some insight into how Gore could be a formidable second act. First, the most obvious is Richard Nixon. He made his political comeback by becoming fully engaged in his party's midterm elections. He played a significant role and reaped the political benefits of the gains the Republicans made in Congress that year. The Congressmen he helped to elect were indebted to him and he proved to the political establishment of his party that he had what it took to be a contender. He earned a second look. Al Gore will have the same opportunity in the 2006 midterm elections.

Richard Nixon was very politically astute. He was well attuned to the mood of the voters. He knew where he needed to be on the issues. Al Gore has the experience of having run in three Presidential elections. He should have learned plenty in his own run for the Presidency in 2000. One wouldn't expect him to make the same mistakes he made then. But, more importantly, he is well positioned on the right issues at the right time, as Sara, notes in her post. Two of the most important issues for the future of the country are energy and the environment. Al Gore has political credibility on these issues, way beyond being just another politician. He's been a long-time activist on these concerns. The mood of the country will clearly be focused on energy, especially given the high prices of oil, gasoline and fuel oil. Everyone, except the extremely well-off, have taken a huge hit on their energy bills this past year. There is every expectation that this will continue for at least the next several years. The economic and political ramifications of being dependent on oil are becoming more and more a common feature of conversations at the kitchen table, the local hair salon, the barber shop and other gathering places.

Another important requirement to make a comeback is to escape the ridicule and the scorn that will heaped upon him by the nattering nabobs in the media and the hacks on talk radio and the cable shows. Gore has gone a long way to escape this by his appearances on the many comedy shows and by his appearances on shows like SNL. One disarms ridicule with humor. Al Gore appears to understand this.

The real hurdle to a Al Gore comeback will be the media. He can overcome this. Richard Nixon did it and Ronald Reagan did it masterfully by speaking over the media to the people themselves. So, Al Gore has several models with which to develop his own approach to the problem.

Finally, I suspect that those in the media still believe that the opinion makers have a huge effect on the political viabilities of candidates for President. They do have an effect (for example, Dean) but it is quickly diminishing as the Internet and other alternatives further dilute the traditional organs (Network T.V. programs like Russert's Meet the Press and the Major Newspapers' Opinion sections) of the opinion makers.

Frankly, I'm not too impressed with Alter. His analysis is quite rudimentary and clearly shows a lack of depth of understanding of the differences and the similarities between the situations of previous Presidents and the current situation of Al Gore.

Thank you Sara for an interesting take on the "second acts" of Presidential Contenders and the opportunity to comment on the possible "second act" of Al Gore.

Al Gore is a terrific candidate on paper or pixels, but the media hate him, so I don't think this will go anywhere.

No second acts in politics any more? With a population who massively suffers from ADD? And why should we automatically assume that the press will savage Gore again? Perhaps as they all go out and buy new cell phones they may have just the tiniest bit of remorse about what they did in 2000.

Sara is right that Gore is positioned correctly on the issues. But it is not just that he is right about energy and the environment. There is a reason he talked so much about the "lockbox" in his SNL appearance. He is right on fiscal sooundness too.

But more importantly, he is right on the need for a broad vision that takes people beyond their narrow, mterial self-interest. This is why he is the anti-Hillary. He stands for big principles and, let's face it, sacrifice, but shared and with a clear purpose. Not flag-burning amendments and little nibbles around the edges and partnerships with Rupert Murdoch.

Remember, there will be millions of voters in 2008 who were too young to vote or even pay much attnetion in 2000, but they know Bush has been a disaster. But the best part about Gore as a second act is that it would let millions of people perform their own act of personal redemption by voting for what we might have had if Bush had lost in 2000.

Melanie, I'm not entirely discounting your view, but I wonder if at least some in the press might have some (subconscious) awareness of what they did to Gore, and the horror to which it's led, and could give him a somewhat easier ride this time around. Their hatred really wasn't for him, but his position as Clinton's inheritor (they had to see Gore loss, or Clinton would have defeated them into eternity), a status that's now gone.

I grant you, all this goes by the boards if McCain or Guiliani is the GOP nominee -- the press would go into full-throated swoon for them, and vilify any Dem opponent, Gore more easily. But if the nominee were a more prototypical GOPer -- Allen, Frist, whoever -- then, I'm not sure...

As for Sara's main point: I agree with what was said above, that Alter wasn't myopic about Roosevelt's second-act (or Nixon's) -- he merely thinks those days are gone. The no-memory/gimme-something-new media culture seems to demand new faces monthly, if not weekly (just look at how movies are commonly sold, to do practically all their business in three days). A Gore comeback would be a pretty retro thing...which is not to say it's impossble.

I still retain doubts about Gore's political instinct -- I thought he ran his 2000 campaign utterly incorrectly, striking a defensive posture where Clinton would have (subtly) communicated "here's all the good we've done for you; don't be dumb enough to change it". But Gore seems to have learned all the right lessons; he takes all the right positions; and he's clearly as qualified for the presidency as anyone in either party. I could see being excited about him if it came to it.

Gore is the candidate I would most like to vote for in 2008, but I have to admit I'm skeptical if he has the ability to project himself over the heads of the media (and consultants) directly to the American people. You could argue that he's doing that to a certain extent with his new documentary, but will he be able to cut through the derision and ridicule that he'll face from the MSM and reframe the narrative? Economic forces (i.e. gas prices) may be such that the American people will want to listen despite the preconceived storyline that the media will inevitably present.

I do agree with Mimikatz, though, that Americans love themselves a redemption story--we all want to believe that we can make a miraculous comeback in our own lives from some perceived failure or missed opportunity. But Gore and his staff would have to be disciplined and consistent in how they presented that narrative to the American public.

My take is that Al Gore ran in 2000 after having served 8 years as VP, and under the best circumstances possible for learning how to communicate with voters (i.e. he worked under a genius). He had also run previously in 1988 for President. He was also a fully grown 50-plus year old adult, with a substantial career in the Senate as well.

And he proceeded to run an awful campaign in 2000, one which he should have won by a comfortable margin given the favorable external circumstances. He even lost his home state. What does it take for this person to improve a little bit at the game he plays?

There is nothing Gore can do or say that will convince me he can learn to be a successful modern Presidential candidate now. This has no relationship to my belief that he'd be a great President. I do believe that. I also believe he's got average campaign skills at best -- we need far better in 2008.

Let me also say that I can imagine a way that Gore can run successfully in 2008, warts and all. He'd have to be consistenly relaxed and intensely disciplined, and define himself thoroughly as this new redeemed man. But this is fundamentally a performance. I think he's the same old good guy who ran in 2000, and he's not deft enough to pull off the necessary Redeemed act.

And I think he's nowhere near FDR in terms of political performance and communications talent. Nor does he have the ruthlessness of Nixon. That's how Nixon made it; he was fundamentally ruthless.

Gore's interest in energy and environment should not be counted as something that makes him a stronger candidate now, since he has had that interest for at least a decade or two -- unless you think he was ahead of his time then, and the time has come. I don't.

I saw Gore as a morally righteous candidate in 2000, for censorship of music, movies and video games and picking an uber-religious running mate. (Satirical campaign button I saw in 2000: "Vote Al Gore: He doesn't even LIKE blowjobs.") I still see him that way.

I'm trying to keep an open mind given the interest I've heard from people here I respect. But it needs to be something more than "he's green." He was green in 2000 and I didn't like him then.

There are all kinds of second acts going on that are invisible from East of the Hudson and near the Potomac.

Between 1964-66, Richard Nixon gave all kinds of help to Republican candidates who were successful in November 1966 in trimming back the Democratic landslide of 1964, and those people remembered who was who.

John Kerry, for instance, has learned that lesson. His folks now use his e-mail list properly - I just got an e-mail from them about raising money for Democratic congressional candidates who are strong on the environment. He's supporting seven. The appeal yesterday came up with a substantial sum for Francine Busby (she who is trying to take the Cunningham seat out here). He also rasised crucial money for Iraq vets running on antiwar platforms in Dem primaries, and so far each of those he's supported has won their primary as they've been held. If those people win, who do you think they're going to remember as the guy who got the netroots to put up cash???

Gore is doing the same.

It's going to take a candidate who really understands - from experience - what it's like to go against Rove's Slime Machine (regardless of who's running it by this fall), and who will be equipped with both wash-and-wear campaign clothes and a readiness to fire back.

On another point, how much longer to Democrats have to continue to believe in the myth of Woodrow Wilson's "idealism"?? This is the narrow-minded Southern bigot who forced the Federal government to start toeing the Southern segregationist line in national policy. This is the guy who ordered his Attorney General to get the Sedition Act of 1918 and use it against antiwar radicals. This is the guy who invaded Mexico twice, in 1914 and 1916, on specious claims in both events. This is the guy whose "progressive foreign policy" was nothing more than "The White Man's Burden" in flowery language.

The truth is, Woodrow Wilson was the LEAST Democrat since before the civil war when we were electing slaveowners like Jackson to defend "freedom." The fact is, Woodrow Wilson was a Southern White Supremacist and a general pig.

Alter is transparently afraid that the microscopically tiny class of which he is a member is on the verge of losing its prerogative of naming the candidates for President.

The whiff of fear mixed with sour grapes is detectable right over the Internet. Is there an Odor Transport Protocol?

I would suggest that political learning is better focused on FDR than Nixon -- one was a great P{resident who Influnced politics long after his death, the other was run out of office, and much of what he left on the table is disrespected.

But I see no relationship between Gore and Nixon -- I do see a relationship between Gore and FDR. It is about culture and style as much as about issues.

But actually I am more interested in FDR lessons -- What can we deduct from that 12 years?

But the best part about Gore as a second act is that it would let millions of people perform their own act of personal redemption by voting for what we might have had if Bush had lost in 2000. - Mimikatz

Mimikatz, I've yet to find any evidence that in any past Presidential elections, voters opted for a former candidate out of an act of personal redemption. The reason why there have been "second acts" in politics is because the politicians have found themselves in the right place at the right time. And it's not by luck that it happened. In one case, Cleveland, he went back to his roots (common cause with the working man) and in the case of Richard Nixon, he sensed where the country was nationally and positioned himself as the "mainstream" candidate.

Sara, one reason Nixon may be a more apt model is because the political climate he faced at the time of his election will be more indicative of what the next nominee will face in 2008: a country stuck in a War for political reasons that has no good end. The country is already in angst over the Iraq War. It's the BIG anchor holding the President down in the ratings cellar.

Re: Grover Cleveland:

``He was on the side of the worker.''.

Except, of course, when crunch time came, namely in the 1894 Pullman strike. Then he sent in the troops to break the strike. Debs and other A.R.U. leaders were imprisoned. The A.R.U. was broken by a ferocious blacklisting of union activists by the railroads, about which Cleveland did nothing whatever. Years later he wrote a lying apolegetic for his behavior during the strike, in which he blamed the A.R.U. and its members for everything.

I spent a year in the upland of desert in AZ near the NM border in a town of 40,000 people, between a perennial stream issuing from nearby snow capped peaks part of the El Dorado National Forest, and the valley river which, exceptionally, flows out of MX into the USA toward Tucson, a kind of reverse tilt to our US consciousness which often defines everything US-centrically, with rivers and natural geophysical features generating discrete borders separating the US from our MX neighbor to the south. In the part of the US where I stayed that long time, the landscape shows no such divisive character; rather, it is a continuum of desert with green valleys fed by streams and rivers.

To place a fence across such fragile areas is crude.

To place in the air over such regions a string of tethered blimps as infrared monitors is tasteless; it destroys the esthetic of the blue sky.

In the town where I stayed there was a blimp monitoring the border. It flew very high, so high everyone in town could see it larger than the sun, as Melville would put it.

Why use blimps when satellites can measured the shape of parked cars?

Here is a website with some pictures someone took of the location. The camera views convey only part of the story; but the website's proprietor seems to recognize the impropriety of brutalizing the landscape by placing blimps in the air. Even the fencework shown is mindlessly tasteless. The problems lie in Washington, Mexico City, Managua, San Salvador, San Jose Costa Rica, Guatemala City. We need to encourage the neighbors to the south to develop New Deal-like infrastructure; that kind of family values-centric safetynetting will remove the mutually reinforcing effects of repulsion from their native lands, and attraction to our own freedoms, even if entry here only is available by surreptitious traversal of borderlands. We need someone like Gore in the White House to shift diplomacy back into the fore. It is a complicated proposition to resolve the immigration pressure, one that needs a refined sensibility to resolve its contrasts and inequities.

Don't you just love the news today, they are going to get Halliburton to build the wall. Wouldn't you know.

Someone needs to get real. The East Germans required about 200,000 workers to maintain their walls and fences -- from the Baltic to the Czech border and all around W. Berlin. And they were pretty serious about it all -- automatic shooting devices in underpopulated areas, and a shoot to kill order on the Berlin Wall. They tried all sorts of technology, but in the end it was manpower. Ultimately the reason they had to have a guest worker program with Vietnam was because they needed so many German Youth to patrol the various borders. And then there were the dogs and the machines for raking the sand several times a day so as to detect footprints -- and the sensors all over the place to listen for tunnel digging.

Much of the money the US has spent on sensors has been wasted as the technology cannot actually determine the identity of man, deer and Bear -- and in Northern Minnesota, most of what crosses the border is wild-life, though they use the old smuggler's routes from Prohibition days -- which were also much used by the Draft Resisters during Vietnam War era. In the winter (6 months of the year) the only access to the border is snowmobile -- for either the patrol or those transiting. A further complication is that Indians have treaty rights to cross anywhere and at any time in certain tribal areas, and to take game in certain sectors on both sides. Wild Ricing lands are also trans-border.

I am not an "open Border" person -- but the one control, Employer sanctions, which might work is just not seriously discussed. If we want control, this is where the choke point would be.

Sara: Both FDR and Nixon established the Coalitions that their party relied on for about 30 years. FDR had the New Deal Coalition which held more or less together till 68. Nixon had the Southern Strategy (though Goldwater made the first push that way) which held more or less together to the present (though it seems to be coming apart now). So, as politicians and political strategists I think the gulf is not so large. How they did as presidents is another matter of course.

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