John Adams purportedly told his son, JQA, that considering all the blessings and advantages that his family and Providence had bestowed upon the younger Adams, it would be his fault alone, if he did not become president of the United States. Although that statement has always struck me as incredibly harsh, perhaps it is the appropriate key in which to begin a discussion of the political life and times of Albert Gore, Jr.

The Harvard-educated, senator’s son and ambivalent Vietnam veteran sampled divinity school, law school and journalism before he won election to Congress from Tennessee’s fourth district in 1976 and then a senate seat in 1984. He ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1988 and lost. He ran for vice president in 1992 and won. He ran for president in 2000 and lost (although he won the popular vote).

During the 1980s, he absorbed criticism (mostly directed at Tipper) from First Amendment advocates who charged that the Gores favored censorship of recording artists. His 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination seemed to lack purpose and definitely wanted for charisma.

During his tenure as VP, he acquired a national persona as the wonkish, stiff and boring but loyal Clinton sidekick (although he countered that perception with a humorous, self-deprecating comedy bit). But no matter how hard he tried to blend his Southern Evangelical Populist lineage with his Washington-insider and Eastern-educated acculturation, the public never embraced him as much more than a parody of himself. Even the “liberal” media seemed reluctant to give him a fair shake (regularly laughing at him—and only occasionally with him).

In 2000, he ran for a Clinton-Gore “third term” and failed. He came close (only losing by 537 votes in Florida and one vote in the United States Supreme Court); but, nevertheless, he lost, squandering a good political hand.

Then, Gore seemed to slip off the face of the earth during the first few months of the Bush administration and, especially, after 911. He grew a beard. He grew fleshy. He seemed completely dislocated from politics and reality. Even Democrats seemed relieved that he was not president during the unexpectedly pivotal period in American history.

But, just as suddenly, Al Gore is back.

Perhaps he is a viable political candidate, or maybe not. Time will tell. More and more pundits are inclined to consider him a serious contender for the White House (Dick Morris does just that today in his column).

Why is Al Gore back? When the dust settled in 2000, Al Gore had garnered more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, with the exception of Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide victory. Although both George W. Bush and John F. Kerry both won more votes in 2004 than Al Gore won in 2000, Gore’s accomplishment ought to merit more respect.

If you believe “he was robbed,” and his partisans make a compelling case for that reading of the 2000 election, history has been kind to the presidential contenders who suffered those kinds of slim defeats. See fellow Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, in 1828; Grover Cleveland in 1892; Richard Nixon in 1968. Democrats might have been wise to opt for a rematch in 2004, but they didn’t see it that way.

Again, why now? Sometimes a politician goes from hero to goat. And, rarely, sometimes a politician goes from joke to statesman, when he turns out to be right on something big. Or, at least, appears to be right in a big way at a fortuitous point in time.

Back in 1992, Senator Al Gore wrote a book, Earth in the Balance, in which he called for the end of the combustible engine and a Global Environmental Marshall Plan and a lot of other novel proposals. For more than a decade, the world “hooted” at Gore’s ham-handed environmentalism, his whimsical eccentricities and his aura of artifice. We soaked up stories about his pretentious boasts, his canoe trips down rivers artificially raised to provide for better photo-ops, and laughed as he delivered a major Global Warming speech on one of the coldest day in the history of NYC.

But the momentum has shifted. Republicans are no longer denying climate change. Each day brings a new report about melting ice somewhere. We now live in the post-Kartina world. Leading scientist intimate that the devastating hurricanes of last season may be the result of warming in the Gulf of Mexico (and meteorologists are considering a new category for monster storms). Even the Okie Gardener is posting global warming warnings.

And Al Gore is in a theater near you, telling us all he told us so.

Is this Al Gore’s “Churchillian” moment? Is the Strange Career of Al Gore finally turning in his favor? As my wife asked incredulously a few weeks ago, could this man really be our president?