The Donkey Show

Al GoreFour years off have been kind to both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, if their opening night appearances at the Democratic National Convention were any indication. Clinton, who has lost weight and whose hair now is a full shock of distinguished white, looked like nothing else than a bona fide rock star when he strolled on stage. He gave a speech that should put everyone running for office this year — with the possible exception of John Edwards — to complete shame; it was elegant, forceful and crowd-pleasing, and irrefutable proof that the man does in fact possess the kind of political talent that comes along only once a generation (for better or worse).

We’ve all come to expect that kind of performance from our 42nd president, though, so I found myself, in the end, more impressed by the speech that former Vice-President Al Gore delivered. Since the November 2000 debacle in Florida, Gore has done a remarkable job of rehabilitating his public image. He has salvaged a career as an elder statesman from the jaws of a stingingly controversial defeat, and he’s done it with both savvy and humility. His address last night, full of self-deprecation, was delivered in a confident, relaxed tone that completely surprised me. Al Gore, circa 2004, is more at ease with himself than ever before, it seems, and the results are impressive. As I listened to him, I kept thinking that, had he been able to speak to audiences with this level of assuredness, this kind of maturity, and this kind of humanity in the 2000 campaign, he’d almost certainly have been accepting a nomination for a second term this week.