COURTING-AND PAYING FOR-THE ENVIRONMENTALIST VOTE

The presidential campaign of US Vice-Pres. Al Gore is in trouble.

In another overly orchestrated publicity stunt, the Gore campaign office recently decamped to Nashville. It will get the candidate out of Washington, D.C., closer to real Americans, and all that.

Right.

Now the Friends of the Earth political action committee has endorsed former Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore's rival for the Democratic nomination.

For Gore, this is a gut shot. He'd like nothing more than to be seen as the inventor of environmentalism, just as he tried not so long ago to claim creative credit for the internet.

And here's an environmentalist group spurning him for Bradley. What a blow!

So goes life on the political extremes.

There's a lesson here for other politicians.

Not all politicians share Gore's presentation handicap, which isn't all his fault. The man just can't project himself interestingly in front of cameras. And the harder he tries to adjust, the worse he gets.

On most subjects, Gore seems unconvinced of what he says, which makes it very difficult for him to convince anyone else. His speeches radiate contrivance. They come across as phony.

Yet the vice-president manages to ring true on the environment.

Who doubts that this man believes the government should set a deadline by which time people must have found alternatives to the internal combustion engine?

Who doubts that Al Gore believes humanity can curtail its use of hydrocarbons as fuel and still prosper?

Who doubts that the vice-president considers it proper for the US to make disproportionate economic sacrifice to a global warming treaty founded in questionable science?

When Al Gore hugs a glacier, who doubts that he's having some sort of transcendental experience?

On practically everything else, he's nowhere near as convincing, which makes people wonder what he really believes.

So Gore's challenge is to reconcile extreme environmentalist views that he seems to believe with the centrality on other issues that he must profess in order to get elected-and that he can't persuasively express.

Environmentalists won't help him. Their brand of politics is all or nothing. The Friends of the Earth rebuke shows that environmentalists will make Gore pay for failure of the Clinton administration to fill every square on their agenda. The one issue on which he projects credible belief thus becomes a political liability.

So the veep retreats to Nashville, hustling now for support from organized labor. It might just be enough to hold off Bradley's run for the nomination-but that's probably all.

Here's hoping other politicians inclined to court the environmentalist vote learn from Gore's experience.

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