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03.25.11

The Al Gore Surge

Hot on the heels of his hiring of Keith Olbermann for Current TV and big book deal with Random House, Al Gore is rousing the Democratic base for a push to retake the House in 2012. Brent Budowsky on the prospects for Gore’s new campaign.

Al Gore surprised the television world when his Current TV landed Keith Olbermann. Then Random House announced, in a publishing coup for its new executive editor, Jon Meacham, that Gore is writing a sweeping new book to be released in 2012 about the economic, political, technological, and social changes affecting America and the world.

This week the Gore surge continued with a nationwide fundraising appeal to activists and progressives on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, writing that the new House Republican majority is reminiscent of what Gore called the dark days of the presidency of George W. Bush and condemning their attacks on efforts to protect the planet from environmental dangers and climate change.

The flurry of Gore activity comes as the 2012 presidential campaign is kicking off and American progressives are beginning to shrug off their disappointment in the results of their 2006 and 2008 campaign victories and the collapse of Democrats in 2010.

Gore is operating today the way he has always operated and in ways very similar to techniques successfully practiced by the conservative movement and Republican organizations.

Gore’s methodology is similar to that of conservatives who turned their ideas into what became a de facto integrated conglomerate of think tanks, publishing, television, fundraising, and organization.

The Gore publishing and message initiative will be driven by a major book, in the same way An Inconvenient Truth promoted combating global warming in 2006.

The Gore television and communications initiative will be driven by a highly rated liberal cable host and a fierce competition with MSNBC for progressive viewers that will expand the Gore megaphone for his message.

The Gore grassroots and organizational initiative has now begun with a nationwide fundraising appeal that will activate his large base of supporters and mobilize a large number of small donors and seek to challenge and defeat the Tea Party power in the House of Representatives and restore Democratic control.

Publishing; television; fundraising. Message; communications; organization; mobilization. The Gore methodology is identical to the strategy he implemented to drive climate change to the top of the global agenda. No doubt the retreat on climate change is part of Gore’s motivation today.

The methodology is similar to the formula of conservatives who turned their own ideas into what became a de facto integrated conglomerate of think tanks, publishing, television, fundraising, and organization.

But liberals have been historically inept at combining the power of the message with the power of distributing the message.

Air America, which should have been a success, was a fiasco. Fox News has had an enormous ratings advantage over MSNBC, even when progressives enjoyed a wave of popular  participation inspired by the Obama and Clinton campaigns in 2008. Both liberal shortfalls reveal a lack of commitment, financing, and savvy that created a tremendous power disparity and helped the right win a landslide victory in 2010.

It will be fascinating to watch what Gore and Olbermann do with Current TV. Will Olbermann, formerly the highest-rated cable host at MSNBC, truly aspire to the role of Edward R. Murrow with his new show and his new job as Current TV’s news director? Will Gore, who co-founded and chairs the network, try to lift the standards of cable news? Will MSNBC respond with more creative and quality television, which will bring more viewers both to MSNBC and Current TV in a high-profile battle of audiences and ideas?

Or will they both fall victim to the tendencies that have brought failure or mediocrity to so many progressive media ventures and left Fox News and conservative radio so dominant in ratings and influence? Gore brings real power and vision to the media table that will, at first, generate major excitement throughout the progressive audience when Olbermann hits the airwaves again.

For Random House, Gore promises a sweeping book about forces for change, designed to influence our national discussion as the presidential campaign begins. The book is expected to discuss economic and social forces as well as political and technological.

Unlike many Democrats, Gore promises a visible championing of efforts to combat poverty, as well as a discussion about “the democratization of knowledge,” a major factor in the democracy movements in the Middle East.

The Gore surge comes as the huge base that supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 is being roused to renewal by Republican attacks that sometimes appear to be almost theological assaults on any federal programs that create jobs, protect the environment, or advance social justice.

Gore’s attack on the Republican House of Representatives and campaign to restore Democratic control follows on the heels of GOP assaults even on programs and ideas historically supported by many Republicans, including collective bargaining, National Public Radio, and Planned Parenthood, among others.

My hope is that Gore, leading Democrats, progressive activists, Current TV, and MSNBC put major emphasis on what is becoming a war against programs that advance fairness and opportunity for women as well as a war against programs that create jobs and security for workers.

My inbox at The Hill is inundated with materials from women’s groups urging a defense of programs important to women that are now under attack, largely under the radar of the mass media. The advancement of women in the U.S and around the world may be the greatest legacy of this century, as I wrote last year in a column under the headline The Female Century.

Gore is not the cause of the fierce attacks against progressive values or the stirrings of revival among the oft-maligned “progressive base.” But he brings to the battle a powerful voice with a history of game-changing initiatives as congressman, senator, vice president, bestselling author, Academy Award winner, and Nobel laureate.

His campaign, kicking off alongside the 2012 presidential race, may well shape the debate about the future of the nation.