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Al Gore’s Golden Years

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Gore outside his home in Nashville.  

Gore serves the lunch himself. Vegetable soup, salad, and for dessert, fruit salad. “I have been eating more healthfully. I’ve been trying to get in much better shape,” he says, then adds grayly, “and I’ve enjoyed that.”

Gore’s weight and outward appearance have often been taken as a reflection of his inner state. Immediately after the loss in 2000, he’d disappeared, gone on vacation, grown a beard, put on weight—which many observers took to mean inner torment. But Gore laughs his big laugh at this. “Seven weeks in Spain, why shave?”

It wasn’t that his loss wasn’t hard. “The Supreme Court decision was an excruciatingly difficult experience,” he tells me. “It was excruciating. I don’t want to pretend that it wasn’t a devastating experience, it was. It was really, really hard.”

But it didn’t transform him, he insists; it quickly led him back to a place he’d been. He was good at governing—if not at ­campaigning. He examined the data, the options, and chose the best among them. He learned to do the same with his own life.

“So what are you going to do?” he asks, shrugging over soup. “You get up and get going.”

Gore pushes away from the table. “I’ll show you something.” He hustles up the stairs and plucks a frame off the wall. It’s a needlepoint of a quote from Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

In defeat, Gore discovered the guiding principle of his next chapter: Get to work.

The question for Gore has been what work—what kind of career—is appropriate for a man in his unique position, having prevailed in the popular vote in an American presidential election but not having been elected president—“the little-known third category,” as he puts it. On the one hand, he has a certain moral gravity and a responsibility to his stature as a public figure that is much like that of an ex-president. On the other hand, no one is going to be building him a library.

These imperatives have produced a career of remarkable ambition, a kind of parallel presidency. “I have chosen to serve in other ways,” he says solemnly. Being denied the presidency in the way that he was is, in a sense, the ultimate Davos Man credential. He has the values and the heft and the contacts and the frequent-flier miles of any leading CEO. It’s a treadmill, but a glorious one. And, of course, he’s also gotten very, very rich, another CEO credential. Besides his Current TV payout, he is chairman of his own investment firm and a partner at a venture-capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Al Gore played a supporting role in inventing the Internet as we know it—but the Internet has played a much larger role in reinventing him. He is a director at Apple and purchased stock options for a fraction of their value, and as a senior adviser to Google, he was able to buy a substantial chunk of options before the company went public—for just a few cents per share, said one business partner.

Gore has leveraged his oddly attained moral stature to become a sort of American prophet—the Goracle. The status was validated by his share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the environment.

As a campaigner, he was dismissed as stiff, wooden, arrogant. But the stiffness has been transmogrified; now his cadences move inexorably toward the preacherly.

The results of his environmental initiatives have certainly been more mixed than those of his business ventures—the global-warming agenda seems to have stalled since his film An Inconvenient Truth, partly but not only because of the financial crisis. Gore puts some of the blame on the current president. “Obama failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action,” Gore recently wrote. He believes that the White House needs to lead on the issue and that so far it hasn’t. So he will lead. Now that Current TV has been sold, he is once again on the global-warming trail. “It is my mission in life,” he intones.

After Gore’s defeat in 2000, he thought hard about resuming his campaign for the presidency. He considered Bush a coward—unable to say no to the stronger personalities around him. “I thought very seriously about running again,” he tells me. “It’s hard for a lot of people to remember now what it was like just prior to September 11. Bush and Cheney were in trouble.” And Gore’s stature had only risen—he was the anti-Bush, curious and intelligent. Then came the attacks on the Towers, and everything changed. Politically, Bush was untouchable, and Gore’s view of his role in the American firmament made it imperative that he give Bush his full backing. “George W. Bush is my president,” Gore said in a speech, “and I will follow him, as will we all, in this time of crisis.”


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