Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on Snapchat, Facebook and email. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
So, it’s Clinton and Gore, back on the campaign trail.
In 1992 and 1996, of course, Al Gore was the running mate of President Bill Clinton.
And now, according to news reports, Gore is planning to stump for Bill’s wife, Hillary.
The point, apparently, is to persuade millennials to vote for Hillary Clinton by appealing to their concern about climate change. That’s a laudable goal. Clinton would basically continue President Obama’s climate policies, which aren’t enough to adequately address the perils of global warming, but should be seen as exceptional when compared to those of her opponent, Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly called climate science a hoax (it’s not) and says he wants to boost the coal industry, despite the fact that pollution from that fuel is a disaster both for the climate and public health.
We millennials – at 33, I’m at the top of the range – are primed to hear these arguments. As a group, we care more about climate change than older voters. That only makes sense considering we (and all future generations) will inherit an era of rising seas and super droughts associated with our continued addiction to fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas.
But Al Gore? Please.
He’s exactly the wrong person to boost the millennial vote.
Yes, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary that helped wake up the world to the perils of climate change. Personally, I’m super grateful for the continued work he’s done on that issue. In reporting on climate change for CNN, I’ve met several people who pursued a career fighting climate change because of that film.
But the optics here are awful. One reason so many liberal millennials voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary is they didn’t want to see another Clinton in the White House. They want change – less inequality, better health care, smarter climate policies, a fix to the student debt crisis – not more of the same. Clinton’s biggest challenge with young voters, who tend to lean left, and who should be on board with many of her policies, is that she represents the old guard.
Gore only will underscore this problem.
He’s the very oldest of the old guard.
The kind of person Clinton needs on the campaign trail is someone who can woo skeptical millennials away from the third-party candidates, Gary Johnson (the libertarian who seems to know nothing of foreign policy and told Samantha Bee that libertarians are “bat s*** crazy”) and Jill Stein, from the Green Party. She needs someone who can convince them that she is the smartest, most progressive candidate for president – the person who has their interests at heart.
As CNN Politics smartly pointed out, Gore also is a reminder that these third-party candidates can upend a Democrat’s shot at the presidency. Ralph Nader’s third-party run in 2000 arguably cost Gore the election.
If the goal is to tout climate change policy, Leonardo DiCaprio might do the trick if he could be swayed. (He reportedly canceled an August fundraiser he had planned for Clinton, citing his work schedule).
DiCaprio has broad appeal and has been extremely vocal on climate and wildlife issues, speaking, for example, on behalf of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which looks like it will become official later this week.
By trotting out Gore, however, Clinton is reinforcing the perception that our politics are rigged.
And that they’re rigged specifically by people with the names like Clinton and Gore.