I've been giving people advice on politics for more than 20 years. However, the one question I never answer is, "Should I run?" The decision whether to run for public office isn't political. It's 100 percent personal.
Like so many other Americans, I wish former Vice President Al Gore would declare his candidacy and let the chips fall where they may. But, for now, Gore has not shown any indication that he's preparing to re-enter a political arena so desperately hungering for a person of his stature and integrity.
So it's up to Gore.
It will not be decided by some draft-Gore movement that has placed a full-page advertisement in a major newspaper. Nor will it be decided by his former staff, associates, donors or multitude of supportive friends. We all care deeply for Al and Tipper, and those who care the most will probably agree with me that now is the time to allow them to bask in the glory of his Nobel Prize and other worthy accomplishments since leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Heaven knows, they have earned this moment.
What's next for Gore? He has many roles from which to choose: esteemed public figure, elected official, media executive, investor and crusader for climate control. All signs are that he doesn't want to run for the presidency at this time. If he doesn't want to run now, he shouldn't. A reluctant candidate is the very worst kind. To run, you need passion. Without it, you lose focus, falter and burn out. Voters know when it's missing; they can read a candidate's body language.
Should Gore wake up one sunny morning and find himself ready to make an electoral comeback, there will be plenty of people ready to pack their bags and campaign for him 24-7 in the early states. We would finally have the contest some of us so hunger for rather than the coronation most of us expect.
Gore, the noncandidate, is almost even in national polls with Deomcratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, who has spent countless millions to climb there. Granted, there is no guarantee that Gore, who came in first in 2000 and then lost the presidency, could muster the kind of oceanic political and financial resources needed to knock out current front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton. However, it is reasonable to assume that as a declared presidential candidate, a tan, rested and ready Gore would shoot up in the polls to give Clinton a run for her money.
Gore can compete with Clinton's offering of her experience, much touted by the candidate though often questioned and maligned. Gore was right on the first Gulf war. And he was right on the second. Far more than the former first lady, he was an integral member of the team that gave the nation record-setting prosperity with a budget surplus that we can now only dream about. Gore helped to re-invent government, and he improved the efficiency of governmental agencies. As a veteran of presidential campaigns, he alone among the field of candidates can boast of having won every primary and caucus as well as the popular vote. But if he doesn't want to run, it doesn't matter.
Even if he elects to remain on the sidelines, Gore will be a major player in this election. The question is how. With the added weight of a Nobel Prize, Gore's endorsement of the "greenest" candidate would certainly make news, though not necessarily good news. In 2004, his endorsement of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean backfired; 2008 could prove to be no different.
As far as I can tell, all three major Democratic candidates are pretty good on climate change, at least rhetorically. They talk the talk. Based on their track record and proposed plans, none is distinctly better or worse than the other. But who among them will walk the walk? If Gore endorses Clinton, the news might be portrayed in the media as yet another public official buckling under the inevitability of her nomination, and it probably wouldn't help much as she is already in the lead. If he endorses John Edwards or Obama, he would have to explain why he rejected Clinton. Such questioning would inevitably lead back to old rivalries that are perhaps best left buried. If, and only if, his endorsement were based on a substantive policy issue in which there was a wide difference among the candidates would his support be value-added to the non-Clinton candidate and not be perceived as being based on a personal grudge against the Clintons.
For now, Gore has transcended politics — or at least the current variety being served to the American people on a plate loaded down with finger-pointing, whining, distortions and partisan bickering. Gore has achieved the stature of a great moral leader willing to fight for his convictions and possessing the ability to raise awareness and support for a noble cause even before it becomes part of our common understanding.
Moral leaders don't act for personal reasons, they act for the cause. And Gore does, beautifully so. To keep this hard-won stature, he must also act like a moral leader. Protecting our fragile planet, finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and working for a cleaner, greener environment matters to us all. But as someone who can prod candidates at every level of elective office to talk about climate change and endorse the steps that we must all take to make a difference, Gore's impact could be huge — not just on this election cycle, but on our country, the world and this planet.
Al Gore has made history. He has proven that climate change matters. Now is the time for him to help ensure that this topic becomes one of the deciding issues in this race, up and down the ticket.
Having been awarded a Nobel, an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy, Gore doesn't need a political office in which to place his trophies. We should back his decision to stay above the fray and focus on his other passions. Our country will need his services again. Only Al Gore can decide if it is needed sooner rather than later.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore.