Thursday, April 05, 2007

An Inconvenient Possibility

Tied to the couch with a head cold yesterday, I finally forced myself to watch Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." I must admit I was pleasantly surprised.

Almost exactly eight years ago, I traveled to Princeton, New Jersey to spend the Easter holiday with a college friend and his family. Because my friend's mother was a member of the Princeton University faculty, they lived on campus in a stately white home hugged with trees and well-groomed grasses. I was assigned a guest room in the back of the home, on the second floor. The weather was moody, moving from sun to gloom with ease, as only spring knows how. Looking upon the city with Midwestern eyes, everything seemed aggressively colonial and overly clean. The entire trip made for great memories.

But oddly, one of my greater memories of the trip was the book I was reading. Every morning, I would rise earlier than my friend, throw on a sweatshirt, sneak down to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen's Cusinart, and then quickly creak back up to my room for some reading time. The book I brought with me was a biography entitled, "Inventing Al Gore," written by journalist Bill Turque.

In 1999, I was going through a sort of personal transformation (for another time), but part of this transformation included a realization that my political conservatism was a shield of sorts, and not the result of my actual beliefs. This shifting framework influenced how I approached the book. I started the book thinking Al Gore was the largest dolt ever elected to public office. I finished the book thinking Al Gore was the most sympathetic and smart dolt ever elected to public office.

Watching "An Inconvenient Truth" yesterday I felt the same sympathy and envy at Gore's intellect. There are scenes in the documentary where Gore narrates softly and shares aspects of his deeper personal trials: the car accident that nearly killed his son, the death of his sister to lung cancer, the 2000 election. It was as if the viewers had been given a key to Gore's "lockbox" and shown solid proof that the man was tough and real.

What startled me the most was the emotional similarity between Gore's near-loss of his son and his sister's cancer death and John Edwards' loss of his son, Wade, and now Elizabeth's bout with cancer. Even more importantly, though is the comparison of how these events influenced smart, dogged men into becoming crusaders for something larger than themselves.

Gore took the emotional toll from his son's near death and re-affirmed his commitment to the health of the environment, to larger purposes focused on the future. Gore also used the death of his sister from lung cancer to force a confrontation with his family's tobacco-supporting history and became one of the first elected officials from the South to take on big tobacco and demand more clarity in notifying the public of the undeniable danger of cigarettes.

Edwards used his son's death as motivation to run for public office. Having never served in any capacity, Edwards took on a North Carolina legend and won himself a seat in the United States Senate. In a hurry, Edwards ran for President after only one Senate term, and became the vice-presidential nominee almost purely based on his life story and his passionate displeasure with the "two Americas" forming in the United States. Despite learning of Elizabeth's breast cancer just before election day in 2004, Edwards went on to work on issues of poverty and labor representation up until he announced his second try at the presidency. Now that Elizabeth's cancer has returned, John continues to try to turn these experiences into emotion-fueled results for the greater community.

George W. Bush took an alcohol addiction and turned it into a messianic certainty in his own wisdom, tearing apart a nation and alienating it from the world. He uses fabricated emotions to prey upon the fears and insecurities of Americans, insecurity that he has ironically and cruelly created through his own incompetence. This man gets to be President. Al Gore's private drive to improve the environment backdrop we all share is mocked as political. His weight is discussed, but not the weight of his message. This man gets an Oscar. John Edwards seeks to use his personal struggles to illuminate the humanity we all share, a humanity that can surely compel the country to take on issues like health care, poverty, and education. This man gets mocked for his "insatiable ambition," no matter that the ambition genuinely seeks to benefit 100% of the polity, not just a deluded 30%.

If Al Gore should decide to run for President again, he should select John Edwards as his running mate. These two men share a vision of a unified, smart America. They have endured unique struggles and turned their common troubles into possibilities. They do not impose their convictions, but only offer the conviction that all of us should be involved in creating and protecting our own future.

After 8 years of Bush's superficial and insulting leadership, the country could use some pragmatic thinkers with true Southern charm.

In the introduction to the book version of the documentary, Al Gore writes:

The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise.

Wouldn't it be nice.

1 comment:

Chris said...

You know it seems the more we talk about it

It only makes it worse to live without it

But let's talk about it

Wouldn't it be nice