The profile of Al Gore in NYT Magazine contains, amidst other good stuff, some interesting backstory about Gore’s experiences with the Alliance for Climate Protection, as well as his experiences in the Clinton administration. Forthwith, a couple of longish excerpts.
First, on the Alliance:
In mid-2005, he began talking to members of “the green group,” as the environmental lobby is collectively known, about marshaling a popularizing effort. … Gore was the obvious candidate to lead the crusade. But the Al Gore of September 2005 was not the Saint Albert of today. That Al Gore was a harsh partisan, and all too apt a symbol of the hectoring, holier-than-thou stance of the environmental movement. “It was not clear then that having him headline this was the best strategic approach,” says an official who now works with Gore, “but they didn’t want to say that to him, because he was their friend and ally. It was painful. It was like, ‘Maybe we need more balance.'” Gore tried to solve the problem by seeking to attract a Republican as a partner, but one candidate after another turned him down. And so, in December of that year, the board of the Alliance for Climate Protection was established — without Al Gore.
The decision obviously rankled. When I asked Gore why the alliance had taken so long to get in gear, he blurted out, “Because I wasn’t chairman of it.” This actually appears to be true. In the ensuing months, according to one of the alliance’s founders, “nothing happened, nothing happened and then nothing happened. It was like the spaceship had gone around to the other side of the moon.” Meanwhile Gore continued to proselytize the heathens, gaining adherents by the hundreds and thousands.
“An Inconvenient Truth” erased the taint of partisanship from the Gore persona. By last fall, he had become the chairman and prime mover of the Alliance for Climate Protection. He hired a C.E.O. and began thinking about strategy.
I tell you, that story fills me with confidence in the mainstream environmental movement!
And then there’s this on the Clinton years:
Finally, when he became Bill Clinton’s vice president, he had the chance to raise the issue at the highest levels. This proved to be a time of tremendous frustration.
After the Republican House and Senate victories of 1994, environmental groups, and their allies in Congress and the White House, were forced to fight a desperate rear-guard action to protect core legislation, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. Real progress on issues like gas-mileage standards and the development of alternative fuels was next to impossible. “We got slam-dunked on almost every issue,” as Kathleen McGinty, former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, recalls; “and not just by Republicans but by Democrats as well.” She and other former aides give Gore high marks for steadfastness in the face of massive resistance. But the resistance came not only from the business lobby and their allies in Congress but also from some of the administration’s own top officials. As Gore himself recalls: “It was seen as an arcane, hobbyhorse issue: We’ll indulge Vice President Gore, and let him do his thing yet again, and then we’ll get back to what we know is the serious stuff.”
This internal clash came to a head in 1997, with negotiations over the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions, which the business community, and above all the energy industry, vehemently opposed. Timothy Wirth, a committed environmentalist and then under secretary of state for global affairs, assembled a bipartisan advisory group of a dozen or so senators to build support for the treaty. “I could not get a single White House official to come to any of these meetings,” Wirth recalls. “They would not identify themselves with Kyoto.” Wirth planned to assemble a range of such groups, as he had with earlier pacts; but the White House took over the process before he could do so and made no outreach effort. “It was a goddamn scandal,” Wirth says. “It was horrible.” Wirth stepped down a few weeks before the treaty was to be finalized.
Gore was quite taken aback when I relayed Wirth’s remarks. “He’s not talking about me,” he said. “I don’t know who he’s talking about.” But he also adds: “If I had been president, would I have bent every part of the administration and every part of the White House to support this? Yes, I would have. Does that translate into criticism of President Clinton for not doing this? No. I was vice president, not president.” Or maybe Gore would rather not do the translation. When the international negotiations looked as if they were about to collapse, in part owing to American resistance, Gore suggested that he fly to Kyoto to demonstrate Washington’s commitment. David Sandalow, who worked on environmental affairs at the National Security Council, recalls a meeting with a dozen advisers “in which nobody recommended he go, with the range of opinion running from neutral to strongly against.” Gore went anyway. “His arrival was galvanizing,” Sandalow says. (Others are less convinced.) Gore returned in triumph — and instantly encountered, he recalls, “resistance in the White House to even signing it, much less submitting it to the Senate for ratification.” Gore used his last dram of political capital to persuade Clinton to sign the Kyoto pact; it was never sent to the Senate, where it surely would have died an ugly death. The Clinton administration thus surrendered without firing a shot. For Gore, it was a humiliating denouement.
Woulda coulda shoulda.