Gore back on the Hill with new celebrity

`Green' spokesman to share his views on global warming

March 21, 2007|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Al Gore has a condo high atop San Francisco and an office in London. He is drawing big money on the lecture circuit and a large following online.

Hollywood recently feted him at the Academy Awards and the Grammys, and Congress will welcome him back to the Capitol today. At 58, he is an international celebrity, with renewed political popularity and a wallet to match his expanded waistline.

"I have never known him to be happier in his work," said Reed Hundt, a close friend since ninth grade.

Gore's persona has undergone so many transformations over the years that even the Senate, where he served before becoming vice president, made a point of noting in an official biography that he spent "much of his political career reinventing himself."

The latest incarnation grew out of his mission as a globetrotting evangelist on global warming. Since losing the 2000 election, "The Goracle," as he's known to admirers, has also gotten deeply involved in the worlds of finance and technology.

He is a "senior adviser" to Google Inc.; a member of Apple Inc.'s board of directors; chairman of Current TV, a video channel, and partner in a "green" private investment firm. His personal wealth is a closely guarded secret, but his early involvement with Google is believed to have helped gain him financial independence.

"When he left the government, he had nothing," said Hundt, a Federal Communications Commission chairman during the Clinton-Gore administration. "He now has the freedom to pursue his goals."

His return to Capitol Hill, where Democrats are back in charge, is a rare public appearance in Washington for Gore. With the notable exception of a blistering attack here last year on the Bush administration's expansion of executive power, he has favored other venues, such as New York or San Francisco, for political statements in recent years, including a September 2002 speech opposing President Bush's push to invade Iraq, one of the earliest antiwar addresses by a prominent Democrat.

Some former aides believe Gore's feelings about Washington remain raw and that he is still smarting from the 2000 vote and its aftermath.

"He feels like politics, especially at the national level, can be toxic, and that's not a unique opinion," said Michael Feldman, who was a senior adviser to the vice president.

Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, due out in May, will advocate "a more reality-based approach" to governing and explore "the difference between a government that tells you the hard truth and a government that's constantly in spin mode, or worse," according to Hundt.

Friends, former aides and associates say Gore is still an extremely private individual, who keeps his emotions well-hidden from all but a handful of intimates. But, they add, he's pretty much the same guy they've always seen.

"You know, he hasn't changed. I think people maybe are viewing him differently," said Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, who holds Gore's old House seat and helped orchestrate his high-profile return to the Capitol.

Gore will be the main witness at hearings in both the House and the Senate, called for the express purpose of spotlighting his views on climate change.

Describing his appearance to supporters as "an incredible opportunity to demonstrate to Congress that we demand immediate action," Gore has mounted a campaign on his Web site to generate 500,000 "postcards" urging action to stop global warming.

"Help me take the first step and fill up that hearing room with your signatures. That picture alone will send a powerful message," Gore wrote.

Working with a small staff in Nashville, Tenn., where he maintains a residence, Gore has trained hundreds of grass-roots volunteers with the help of longtime aide Roy Neel, who briefly served as 2004 campaign manager for Howard Dean (endorsed by Gore at the peak of Dean's popularity). The volunteers must agree to arrange local showings of Gore's PowerPoint presentation on climate change, the same slide-show featured in An Inconvenient Truth, which won an Oscar for best documentary.

Gore "has an unbridled amount of passion for making a difference in the world through this issue," said Derek Walker, who was trained by Gore in January and recently left his job as executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "He doesn't just say it, but you kind of feel it intuitively from his body language, the way he gets so excited."

Besides training a cadre of presenters, Gore continues to deliver the slide show, as he has done many hundreds of times, often for eye-popping fees that exceed, in a few hours, what he used to earn in a year as a public official.

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