In the Shadow of Al Gore: John Edwards’ Post Political Future
On December 10, 2007, Al Gore told his Nobel audience in Oslo, “Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.”
As John Edwards reads his political obituary this week, he may agree it premature if not harsh and mistaken.
Here are the two lessons that Edwards should take from Al Gore. 1) Public life need not end with losing the presidency; 2) Electoral politics may actually impede achieving your purpose.
Like Gore, Edwards has a purpose he feels to his core. Like Gore, Edwards has been unable to achieve his purpose as a legislator or presidential candidate, and like Gore, he could be heard saying something like Gore said in Oslo, “But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.”
Gore’s purpose of course is global warming and his current success is the result not only of being able to devote time and energy, but also because his cause has become a cultural phenomenon. The ‘green’ phenomenon transcends politics to become part of popular culture. College campuses now embrace it in their curriculum and institutional missions. Cities embrace it in terms of economic and energy stimulus plans. Going green is a political imperative in large part because young people of all political stripes do not pollute as a matter of course, and are committed to direct their considerable spending power to back up their cause.
This cultural movement consists of artists and entertainers; bloggers; researchers and scientists; global corporations and radical political organizations all coming together over a shared message and commitment to actively struggle to end global warming.
It re-brands the environmental movement for a web-2 demographic. Among its postmodern strategies are the carbon offset, a strategy that used to appeal only to planting trees, but now is framed in terms of an inclusive “carbon neutral” lifestyle. Everyone can participate, from the comfort of their dens and living rooms.
After some needed rest, Mr. Edwards would be well served, like Gore, to “search for fresh and new ways to serve (his) purpose” to end poverty for 37 million people. Imagine a corporate outsourcing offset that places consumers on record as boycotting products and services from American companies that move overseas, or a CEO salary offset that publicizes the number of job layoffs that coincide with raises in executive salaries.
Imagine monies from every “orange” I-Pod, Nike, and Motorola purchase going into a national poverty fund. Consider a global anti-poverty day of concerts interspersed with entertaining education, with the proceeds supplementing the minimum wage; or celebrity-laden anti-poverty ads benefiting second chance educational opportunities; or direct job creation.
By unleashing a multitude of progressive and corporate forces on global warming, in relatively short order, Gore was finally able to transcend the narrow constraints and delays associated with politics inside the beltway.
In ending his farewell speech, Edwards said, “Do not turn away from these great struggles before us. Do not give up on the causes that we have fought for. Do not walk away from what’s possible, because it’s time for all of us, all of us together, to make the two Americas one.”
And I would add, lets take all that we have learned, our skills and talents, and create a movement that others won’t easily walk away from. John Edwards has proved himself a catalyst and a leader. With the huge amounts of social and political capital at his disposal, in seven years hence, I can imagine an interactive consensus around the moral imperative of ending poverty.