As so often, Barone summarizes Gore (and, perhaps, the rest of us baby-boomers) quickly:
Gore and his followers seem to assume that the ideal climate was the one they got used to when they were growing up. When temperatures dropped in the 1970s, there were warnings of an impending ice age. When they rose in the 1990s, there were predictions of disastrous global warming. This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.
When we look at the world, we tend to see our own experience writ large. At least I do. Maybe that’s baby boomer solipsism. But that’s American, too. Few still believe in Calvinist theology, but Americans love typology. If we can only find the patterns in what we experience and see, then we can understand what we can’t but which is.
That way of looking at the world leads us to interpretations that reassure us about our perspective. We grasp for proof that we are “right” – our generalizations fit our experience & we choose from our experiences to fit our generalizations. Each semester that is brought home to me as we spend a day comparing Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, their voices differing over what should be the goals of African Americans as well as how to reach them. They spoke during the same decade. But Washington had been a slave, only emancipated by the Civil War; thirty-five years later, presiding over a college, speaking to large crowds must have been a heady experience. He had come a long way. DuBois was born into an integrated community, schooled at Harvard and Berlin, taught at the University of Pennsylvania, then the University of Atlanta. He set out to argue the innocence of a arrested man in the South, but by the time he arrived, the man had been lynched. The barbarism of a culture that could display the lynched man’s knuckles must have hit him in the gut. Certainly, at that point, DuBois could not have believed African-Americans (or, indeed civilizations) were moving upward and onward.
Then there is the problem of expectations and power. Our parents may have said we could become president, but few meant it, not like Gore’s parents did. And the golden sceptre – well, something happens when that slips through our fingers. Faculty at second tier schools denied tenure at first ones are likely to feel the world isn’t adjusted quite as it should be. Men whose great grandfathers and grandfathers were president are likely to feel the world has not changed for the better when they find themselves unlikely to be elected to much of anything. (So Henry Adams says he’s unprepared but clearly believes the world is just not what it once was.)
I’ve never liked those Barber-like psychological studies, but in a broader & less personal way, we realize that the pattern we use to interpret the world is influenced by our private experiences. And that roller coaster ride of 2000 must have been devastating for someone whose family had always assumed he’d be president. So, Gore longs for a golden past before things went wrong, the time when his life lay ahead as potential. Earth in the Balance became obsession. If we can come back to that temperature, perhaps we can get the world back on the track, perhaps we can get ourselves back on track.
We remember Nixon: what must have happened inside the mind of a man who made the choices he did in 1960, watched the creation of the myths of Camelot, and then came to power in the midst of Vietnam. Carter, watching the sunny & handsome Reagan stride in and feeling cold as the spotlight turned to the man who’d beaten him – well, surely, something was wrong with a country that rejected a view Carter was so sure was right. The perspective of an Arafat, a sense that America was deeply flawed, must seem “right.”
We are less likely to have a confidence in order, less likely to trust the open marketplace of ideas, goods, religions once we are rejected by it. And so, we are more likely to welcome conspiracy theories, more likely to make enemies’ list, more likely to, well, think the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
But, in an aside, we can be thankful that in our long history far more of those who have lost have been comfortable with their moment in history. Few, of course, have been like John Quincy Adams, willing to melt into Congress, fight those fights, live out his years still arguing in that great marketplace that only slowly came to realize that the old man was right, even if he was not always charming. And we see it in the restraint of Bush, Sr., having been rejected by the electorate, but remaining a genial host, encouraging others to talk more than defend himself. His gentleness – like his son’s with Byrd – may come from a peace, a sense life is much nicer on this smaller stage. Of course, he’s lucky – his son carried on the family role. Besides, considering all the BDS on google I went through to try to find the Surbur link, I can’t but believe that the second Bush upon retirement is likely to conclude it best to “cultivate our garden.” He might remember John Adams’ pride in his manure pile, enlarged to fertilize his own field.
In terms of the bigger picture: I can’t but hope that whoever replaces this Bush is not the kind of person whose vote on an issue like the war is easily bought, that such a person’s perspective has been widened not narrowed by nature and by experience, that such a person retains confidence in the ideas the office represents. We will need a person engaged, one who thinks globally and not in terms of the next earmark, the next election. Our gardens, our earmarks, our manure piles, even our place in history, really should not interest us all that much before retirement.