Presidential Timber

Will Al Gore's green vision lead him to the Oval Office? Knock on wood.

Aug 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
FOR NOW, IT'S DOUBTFUL the environment will become a make-or-break campaign issue for either candidate. For very different reasons, both Gore and Bush may not want to take off the gloves and batter their opponent too vehemently on environmental issues, choosing instead to focus on topics like prescription-drug benefits for the elderly, education, downsizing the government, and the economy. But keeping his environmental passions on a short leash must be frustrating for Gore, in part because doing so reinforces a widespread negative perception: that he's too stiff and calculating, too much the politician and not enough of a leader.

Out on Tipper's patio, one of the few times the vice-president seems to bridle comes during a discussion of the recent protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle and the World Bank in Washington. "I think the vast majority of the demonstrators have behaved very responsibly," he says cautiously, "and they've helped to focus attention on issues that might otherwise not receive the same degree of public attention." But then I point out that many of those protesters brand him a practitioner of "the politics of incrementalism," a man trapped by the small-step-by-small-step form of governance he decries in Earth in the Balance.

"This administration, in part because of my urging and advocacy, has been the most active in protecting the environment of any administration in history, with the possible exception of Teddy Roosevelt," Gore fires back. "We have protected the Everglades and Yellowstone and the California desert. We have toughened the standards for clean air and for clean water. We have moved boldly on recycling, on global warming with the Kyoto Agreement. We've created this partnership with the automobile industry to create a new generation of vehicles. The list is a very long one, and I think that record really speaks for itself."

The problem: The record does speak for itself, but measured against Gore's own environmental goals, the accomplishments still seem like increments. After fighting rear-guard actions for eight years, and after all the further compromises he may need to make in order to win his current boss's job, will Al Gore finally become a fearless environmental risk-taker? Do Americans even want to follow such a leader down a rocky road to difficult solutions?

The ironies multiply. The day the new edition of Earth in the Balance is published finds candidate Gore on his way to a campaign stop in Detroit in a large motorcade led by a patrol car and a Secret Service Chevy Suburban. Gore rides in the back of his own gas-guzzling armored Cadillac Fleetwood limo. "I've cut down on the size of my motorcades quite a bit," Gore says with resignation. "But so long as we face the terrorist threat that we do, they insist upon the heavy armored vehicles. They don't come in solar form."  

Ned Martel is the chief political correspondent for and a former senior editor at George.


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