Al Gore has a new book: The Future. The self-proclaimed nerd and "Atari Democrat" has recast himself in the role of a seer. Following the post-political notoriety of An Inconvenient Truth and the financial windfall from the sale of his Current TV, Gore has created a Steve Jobs-ian persona (black shirts, black and white photography), but his vantage point has taken him far from home.
While born in D.C., Gore followed his father Albert Sr.'s political footsteps to represent Tennessee in the U.S. House and Senate in the 1980s and '90s. Tennessee was a reliable Democratic stronghold for both Gores in the late 20th century.
But in April 2013, the Tennessee legislature ended its first session under a Republican supermajority that came to power in 2012 onboard Tea-Party populism, which is operating like a "freight train," according to one GOP legislator.
Victims of Tennessee's GOP worm-turn are Democratic bases that bore the Gores' ambitions for two generations: Tort reform capped the revenues of legal contributors and operators. Collective bargaining for teachers was eliminated. Legislature watchers point to political-districting and judicial-appointment bills that could solidify the GOP machine in Tennessee for the foreseeable future.
Has Gore moved on? His website mentions his time in both chambers but omits any reference to Tennessee. His office says he is too consumed with global warming to discuss state politics.
As Tennessee's Democrats struggle to find a leader, Tennessee's most accomplished Democrat (and primary beneficiary of more than a decade of party fund-raising) is nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it's all beneath him. Maybe he realizes that, in a state where Tea Party tactics earn superlative success, his brand might do more harm than good. Both of these points are wrong.
For Gore's environmental message, his home legislature should be his primary concern, especially bills for mountaintop removal of coal. Proposed legislation that forces watchdogs to submit recorded instances of animal abuse to authorities will undoubtedly serve as precedent for other legislation protecting polluters and other abusers of civil society.
This sort of law will allow Tennessee to become a dump for polluters and a sanctuary for businesses eschewing regulatory oversight. The legislature touts "job creation," apparently focusing on polluters, malpracticing health-care providers, and lobbyists.
This is the opposite of everything Gore's brand represents. It's not beneath him; it's the same challenge to which he is calling the whole world. In the state that placed him on the world stage, he is absent.
Gore was ridiculed for saying that he invented the internet. But Gore played an admirable leading role in the government-subsidized technology that revolutionized the world and enabled the platitudinous globalism of The Future. The internet created millions of jobs, linked the cultures of the planet, and drives scientific endeavor from climatology to biology.
In Tennessee — where legislators boast degrees from Bible colleges — STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education policy waits on those who gave us "Don't Say Gay" legislation. Our state university can't host an event about sex. One must assume forthcoming assaults on evolution and other religiously derived corruption of state science curricula.
Would you start a medical or technology business in a state with 19th-century educational policies? Does the environment stand a chance here? Can we take Gore's exhortations seriously if his home state is a junk heap? The sad point is that Gore's celebrity needs to dance with what originally brung it: Tennessee, at present a distressed and wilting wallflower.
One of the ways Obama got elected was the PayPal-driven micro-financing of his campaign. Rather than rely on major industrial donors, Obama enjoyed the contributions of millions of small donors.
A few tweets from Gore about a Kickstarter campaign for educated, civic-minded candidates in Tennessee would reap contributions disproportionate to those of even big donors. People at Davos, the upscale World Economic Forum, probably eat meals costing more than state senator Stacey Campfield (by his own admission in recent court proceedings) makes in a year.
Imagine if Gore went on Jon Stewart's Daily Show or Bill Maher's Real Time and asked a national audience to contribute to Tennessee political races. He might even invest some of that TV capital in green jobs in Tennessee.
Will Al Gore respond to the repudiation — and violation — of his principles in the state that nurtured him? In Tennessee, we'll wait and see what the future holds.
Joe Boone is a freelance writer and copy editor for the Flyer.