Monday, Dec. 25, 2006

Al Gore

For His Second Act, Saving the Planet
Al Gore has often struggled to get his timing right. He ran for President in 1988 at just 39 years old, too young for many voters. He ran again in 2000, took forever to find his voice, and when he did, it was too late. Last year, however, the former Vice President and but-for-chads winner of the 2000 race timed his swing perfectly, teeing up on an issue that has long been his passion: global warming.

Gore, 58, became Hollywood's improbable darling with the release of his climate-change film, An Inconvenient Truth. Trying to sell tickets to a movie about such a complex topic that is narrated by one of America's less electrifying speakers prompted snickers about a new kind of mission impossible. But after heat waves, Katrina and White House indifference to environmental issues, the public seemed ready to listen.

And listen it has, to the tune of $39 million in ticket sales so far, lots of Oscar buzz and a stay atop the New York Times best-seller list for the film's companion book. Gore's re-emergence has, predictably, fueled talk about 2008. He insists he has "no plans" to run for office, a formulation that is ironclad only until it isn't. Whether the self-described "recovering politician" relapses or not, he has already reframed the green debate in a way no political figure — himself included — ever did before.