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WEB EXCLUSIVE | JOAN VENNOCHI

Being Al Gore

IT MUST BE sad to be Al Gore.

Four years ago, he won more popular votes than the current occupant of the Oval Office. Today, he is a man without a purpose, and he may end up a man without a party. Standing anywhere near him can be hazardous to a Democrat's political health.

He endorses Howard Dean, and the Dean campaign starts to unravel. He gives a speech about global warming on a frigid winter day in New York. He backs Air America, the liberal radio channel that is another disaster in the making. He is also supposed to be starting a cable news channel for the under-35 crowd, except most of those folks don't watch TV news. Good luck with that demographic, Al.

If John Kerry fails to beat George W. Bush, he, at least, can retreat to his Senate seat - after dragging it back from all the Bay State congressmen who think they will be the Bay State's next junior senator.

The former vice president is a man in search of a mission. Defeated by Ralph Nader, butterfly ballots, and the US Supreme Court, he struggles for relevancy. He has yet to exhibit any.

When he gives a speech, Democrats are depressed, Republicans are delighted. ``Republicans

love it when Gore gets mad'' is the headline over an article in National Review Online following Gore's overwrought address at New York University on Wednesday.

Gore's over-the-top delivery is a warning to all less-than-eloquent speakers striving to be Tony Blair. It is better to be dull than to remind people of Dean after the Iowa Caucus. Losing your audience is preferable to losing your dignity. Preacher-style speechifying is best left to preachers.

The saddest part for Gore is that what he said got lost in how he said it. Calling for top Bush administration officials to resign is not unreasonable, given the disclosures about intelligence failures before the invasion of Iraq, poor planning afterward and the breakdown of discipline in Abu Ghraib prison. Ranting that Bush is ``the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon,'' along with other overloaded rhetoric, is not the way to return a Democrat to the White House.

In the fallout from Gore's speech is a larger warning for the Kerry campaign. Voters are already tired of the snideness of this presidential campaign; more meanness is predicted in the months ahead. Both sides are dishing the dirt, of course.

But with Democrats, it comes directly from the top, whether from Gore, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe. Kerry, too, has contributed a few snide remarks, usually in situations when he is speaking into an open mike or making a supposed ``off the record'' crack.

On the Republican side, the nastiness does not yet come directly from Bush or his Cabinet.

According to The New York Times, Democrats are asking ``if Cautious Path is Best for

Kerry.'' He can be less cautious, but, please, don't let him get any angrier. He already looks far too unhappy too much of the time. More anger will backfire on Kerry, just as anger is backfiring on Gore.

They are both cut from the same stiff, white guy rhetorical cloth, and efforts to fire up their speech ring false. The country doesn't need more impassioned rhetoric from its leaders, it need more leaders offering well-reasoned, well-articulated policy.

Martin Luther King had a dream. ``I have a plan,'' Kerry tells the Times. While that is not exactly political poetry, it would nice to hear his plans for Iraq, the economy, and other matters of national interest. Then voters could compare it with the results of Bush's plans. There is no need to call anyone an incompetent liar while the comparison is underway. Voters can reach their own conclusion.

It is easier to come up with a survival strategy for Kerry than for Gore. The political future does not look bright for the former vice president. It's not fair, but it's hard to see how Gore reinvents himself in a way to appeal to a broad cross-section of the American population.

Massachusetts may be one of the few places he can find kindred spirits willing to be inspired by his humorless, self-righteous liberalism. Perhaps there is some university along the Charles in need of a president?

It must be sad to be Gore. It will be sadder, still, to be Kerry if Gore sticks around the Kerry campaign trail.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com. 

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