Sunday, October 14, 2007

Al Gore, the "Counter-Factual"

Editorial pages are paying attention to the fits conservatives are having over Al Gore's Nobel Prize. Some are even explaining it accurately:
Gore's triumph is a measure of George W. Bush's disrepute.

Indeed, in the political culture, Gore's role is as a negative indicator of the president's standing. For all the talk of a "new Al Gore," there's nothing new about the man. His public reputation is almost entirely a function of Bush's.

The high point of Bush's prestige came in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush put it in a year-end interview: "All in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me" .... That was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore .... Gore, the thinking went, was too intellectual and lacked Bush's gut-sense understanding of good and evil.

.... It's not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered. Once conservatives mocked Gore as the radical tribune of a tiny political fringe; now it is they who represent the fringe.

....The defensiveness of Gore's critics comes because he is the ultimate rebuke to Bush. Gore, obviously, is the great historic counter-factual, the man who would have been president if Florida had a functioning ballot system. More than that, he is the anti-Bush. He is intellectual and introverted, while Bush is simplistic and backslapping.
Insofar as we've seen some fringe-dwelling simplistic critics in Al Gore's home state, he is a counter-factual to that culture, too.

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