Al Gore put on quite the show this weekend.
From "Saturday Night Live" to "60 Minutes," it was an unscheduled ride from the ridiculous to the sublime. In just 19 hours. For political junkies and armchair psychologists, it just doesn't get any better than this.
The spectacle of this former vice president of the United States sitting in a hot tub with a perfect Joe Lieberman imitator on SNL and then telling Lesley Stahl that he was withdrawing from the presidential campaign felt like something we shouldn't be allowed to watch. It was too personal, too voyeuristic to watch a stranger acting out so close up.
The first thing you wonder when Al Gore does anything is, "Is it calculated?" This is the political curse of Al Gore. I certainly don't know if this weekend's antics were a coldly premeditated plot. It didn't seem that they were out here in TV-land.
What it was, was depressing, whether you like Al Gore or not. It's pathetic that his exit was prefaced by buffoonery. He should have treated himself with a little more respect. It's pretty tough to imagine why he did it this way. It was bizarre.
Gore's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" definitely had some hilarious moments, including the hot tub scene. In another skit, he refused to leave the Oval Office on the set of "The West Wing."
But overall, you could see Weird Al's dignity whirlpooling down the drain. An endless, painful scene of Al and Tipper necking, a passable Trent Lott imitation, a romp with a Charo look-alike and a Chihuahua on a Telemondo-style party show: with each embarrassing moment, my wife declared with growing certainty that Gore had obviously decided not to run.
I assured her that she was wrong and explained that this misguided man actually thought these shenanigans would help his wooden image.
On "Saturday Night Live," Tipper and Al appeared with Al Franken's brilliant Stuart Smalley character, a 12 Step therapist who begins each skit with the mantra, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!"
Stuart told the couple that he thought Al "had feelings" about not being president. It was great.
But Gore wasn't all that different there than he was with Lesley Stahl a few hours later. On "60 Minutes" he said, "I've decided that I will not be a candidate for president in 2004... And I found that I've come to closure on this. I don't think it's the right thing for me to be a candidate in 2004." The emphasis here is on the words "closure" and "me."
"The last campaign was an extremely difficult one." Gore said. "And while I have the energy and drive to go out there and do it again, I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that. Who felt like, okay, I don't wanna go through that again. And I'm frankly sensitive to that - to that feeling."
Sounds like Sensitive Al learned a thing or two from Stuart Smalley.
My wife, on a roll, thinks Gore did "Saturday Night Live" to prove that he had achieved "closure" before he quit. 'I'm over it. See, I'm making fun of myself and the whole thing. I'm easy. I'm cool with it. I'm not Nixon. I'm not bitter or hurt or pouting and I'm just not going to run again.'
Whatever his thinking, whatever the inside story, I don't think he did himself any favors by juxtaposing comedy and drama.
If Gore's most easily mocked attribute is his seriousness, it's also what is most authentic about him and what got him pretty far in public life. But he didn't make fun of himself this weekend; he insulted himself.
Gore's most unattractive feature is his penchant for frequent, ham-handed attempts at reinvention. This latest sequence – the big Iraq speech before the election, the voracious book tour after the election where he promiscuously courted every camera and microphone in the country, "Saturday Night Live" - ensures that his withdrawal will be seen by many as just one more choreographed crock.
Especially since he didn't rule out a run in 2008.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com and is based in Washington.
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By Dick Meyer