But in another sense, 9/11 freed Gore to move past politics. Gore’s heart was not in a rematch. “I don’t think he wanted to run,” says Eskew. “There was not a systematic series of conversations about running. As a friend, I thought losing again would’ve been really devastating.”
Soon, Gore’s narrative coalesced around one theme: that defeat had liberated him. He was free to “let ’er rip,” he told a journalist in 2002. Gore tells me he doesn’t like that story line so much anymore. “What was Dylan’s line? ‘Are birds free from the chains of the sky?’ ” he asks. But, a year after 9/11, having played his role in legitimizing the Bush presidency, he was deeply disillusioned with the administration’s policies. And as Bush prepared to invade Iraq, Gore decided to speak out. He showed a former senior adviser, Michael Feldman, notes for a speech he planned to deliver at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in September 2002. Feldman was alarmed: “I told him, ‘I think this places you on the wrong side of history. You’re out of step with the party leadership. You’re going to seem bitter about losing the presidency.’ ”
“You have no idea how wrong you are,” he told Feldman. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about this.”
The speech was an impassioned flaying of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, and Gore emerged as the fiery politician that his supporters had always hoped he’d be. But it was a polarizing speech, not the carefully calibrated utterances of a man planning a presidential run.
Gore was also free to become a businessman. Because, even as he’d begun to build his new career as a Cassandra, many of his concerns were much more quotidian. When he was a public servant, Gore had assets, such as they were, that came mostly from his home. He was worth $1 million to $2 million around the 2000 election.
So when the dust finally settled, “it seemed like a good time to make some money,” he tells me. He began a highly lucrative career as a speaker, commanding as much as $175,000 per speech. And he went to Silicon Valley—“The first thing I did after I left Washington,” he says—hooking up with his friends Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, who needed advice navigating Washington’s regulatory landscape.
Gore also explored the investment world, a tried-and-true path to wealth for former politicians. “I had this offer from an investment firm based in California,” Metropolitan West Financial, which managed around $50 billion.
At first, Gore found a level of intellectual stimulation in the work. “You work on big challenges that allow you to learn a lot of new stuff. I like things that are hard. That motivates me.”
But the experience was far from satisfying. Gore should have known that his primary role at MetWest was not to be an analyst or visionary but a rainmaker—a glorified salesman. It came to seem an undignified way of monetizing his stature. “There were great people there,” he says, “but it was just making money.”
For a man like Al Gore—as for his former boss, Bill Clinton—“just making money” is the wrong way to make money. Gore had always been comfortable with capitalism—in fact, part of the reason he didn’t win in 2000 was that a not-insignificant segment of the Democratic Party found him indistinguishable from a Republican. But the truth was that Gore had always been a save-the-world, future-focused Democrat. And saving the world, it turns out, can be pretty lucrative.
Gore’s current wealth is based partly on his Internet investments, primarily Apple and Google. But just as important have been his ventures as a kind of moral entrepreneur. He’s turned at least three of his obsessions into businesses. For Gore, capitalism and commitment to the health of the planet and its citizens, far from being in opposition, are now completely synergized and inseparable.
One of his first projects was to reform capitalism itself. “It’s a big idea, and it’s an important idea,” Gore tells me. He had first looked at the socially conscious investment niche, but found that investing purely based on politics was more about feeling good than about either capitalism or changing the world. In 2004, he launched Generation Investment Management with David Blood, a former Goldman Sachs executive who’d overseen assets totaling $325 billion.
Generation is a moneymaking enterprise wrapped in a cause. “Sustainable capitalism,” it was called in an elaborate white paper, which meant that investment criteria were expanded to include things like whether management had a long-term view—“Short-termism,” says Gore, “is a blight on the economy”—and also took into account supposed externalities like environmental and social concerns. Gore and Blood (Gore originally wanted to call the firm “Blood and Gore”) hired two thirds of their employees from the traditional investment world and one third from the sustainability-research community and laboriously created the method and the rhetoric themselves. Strange as this hybrid creature is, the investments have often been pretty conventional. The returns have consistently beaten their benchmarks, says Gore, but he is proudest of investments the company has avoided. “We were invested in BP,” he says. “Then our investment team noticed a refinery fire in Texas, then a pipeline fire in Alaska—they’d done some major acquisitions and hadn’t extended the safety culture. We got out of it. We designed a model to pick that up.”