Why Al Gore shouldn’t run

Former Vice President Al Gore has hit his popular stride. In the last year, he has won both an Oscar and an Emmy, and now he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Millions have heeded his warnings about imminent climate change, and he has won support from both major political parties who now acknowledge we’re a big part of the problem.

Gore’s visibility and popularity likely will never be stronger than they are now. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition to urge him to again run for the office of president. So far, he has refused, much to the relief of the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

Why would a career politician waste an opportunity such as this to jump into the fray? After all, if he’s truly a champion of stemming or reversing global climate change, couldn’t he do the most good in the most powerful position in government?

Not necessarily.

In a recent follow-up article to his Time magazine feature about Gore, Eric Pooley explains not only why Gore won’t run for office again, but also why he shouldn’t.

“Running for president is by definition an act of hubris,” says Pooley, “and Gore has spent the past couple of years defying his ego and sublimating himself to a larger goal. Running for president would mean returning to a role he’d already transcended. He’d turn into – again – just another politician, when a lot of people thought he might be something better than that.”

Eight years ago, I wrote a satirical piece about why Groucho Marx was the perfect presidential candidate. Many will recall Marx’s famous quote about how he never would want to be a part of any club that would accept him as a member. Beneath this self-deprecating humor lies an inconvenient truth that can be applied, at the very least, to national politics: The very act of claiming your worthiness for such a powerful office in some ways makes you less desirable for the job.

Gore has been most successful when he has put the cause before the man. This is, by its very nature, impossible when running for president. Though issues and ideas have some importance, you are first and foremost a salesperson for yourself. In Gore’s case, his resonant message about climate change would take a back seat, at least through the end of 2008.

Nelson Mandela’s moments of greatest heroism came from behind bars. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mother Theresa shunned political spotlights in exchange for a place among those whom they served. Though the greatest threat Jesus seemed to pose to the Roman government was the potential power to incite rebellion, he always worked beyond the reach of government, all the way to his death.

I expect there always have been those who urged such compelling figures to claim their positions of power in a more official capacity, but there is something to be said for remaining on the perimeter. If, indeed, a cause for which we advocate is of primary importance, then political office may have just the opposite effect.

It would be easy to criticize the modern media machine for adulterating a potentially pure system into a cult of personality. However, from Genghis Khan to Charlemagne, and from the Caesars of Rome to the British monarchy, there always has been a galvanizing figure at the center. While we fancy ourselves people of ideas and principles, we’re ultimately comforted more by a familiar face and a compelling personality.

If Gore wanted to cash in his chips for another run at the White House, there may be no other time in his life when it makes more sense to do so. On the other hand, if the cause for which he currently stands is in fact bigger than he is, it would be in everyone’s best interest if he pursued his agenda as far away from Pennsylvania Avenue as possible.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” and is the music minister at Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado.

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