GORE WATCH: WAL-MART EDITION. Amanda Griscom Little�s report at Salon about Al Gore's recent meeting with Wal-Mart�s leadership at the Bentonville headquarters sounds like further evidence that Gore is positioning himself for a White House bid:

Sporting a curiously thick Southern drawl, Gore heaped praise on Wal-Mart's green goal-setting. "...by taking this climate crisis on frontally and making this commitment, you will gain the moral authority and vision as an organization to take on many great challenges."

Keenly aware of his Arkansas audience's Christian inclinations, Gore peppered his hourlong commentary with religious references. He quoted Scripture, told a Bible story, and then offered a nonapologetic apology for the sermonizing: "I don't mean to proselytize here on my religious faith...If you're an atheist or agnostic" -- dramatic pause -- "God bless you!"

Gore also waded into politics. He called the partisan bickering in Washington "pitiful, seriously pitiful," and mocked national leaders for "borrowing a ton of money from China to buy a ton of oil from Saudi Arabia to burn it in ways that destroy the inhabitability of the planet -- not a good pattern!" He also called for a radical overhaul of the American tax system�

His whole spiel sounded like a dry run for red-state campaigning in 2008. So it only made sense when, in bidding Gore adieu, [Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee] Scott asked the big question: "Are you going to run for president?" Wild applause ensued, but Gore's response was predictably understated: "There's a lot about the political system that I think is really toxic ... [and] that I don't think I'm good at," he said. "I really believe that the highest and best use of my experience and skills may be to concentrate all-out on changing the minds of the American people about the [climate] crisis. That way, whoever does run for president faces an electorate that flat-out demands that they make this their priority."

I�ll leave it to Ezra to speculate more expertly on whether Gore will run or not. But it seems clear by now that the former VPOTUS has myriad advantages working in his favor this time around, including: a major issue/theme to run on; nationwide name recognition; fundraising ability; a wistful what-might-have-been popular sentiment to fill his sails; and his own, more relaxed attitude. Not to mention, he�s already been through the political vetting wringer (how many more bogus �invented the internet� barbs can the media deploy?). Best of all, he may be the only living Democrat other than the Big Dog himself who is equally beloved by the DLC wing and the CAF/MoveOn/Kos wing of the party. (Oh, and let�s not forget this: Bush�s father is the only candidate since WWII to give his party a third consecutive presidential win, something McCain and other Republicans ought to remember as they dream about January 20, 2009.)

Gore should stop pussyfooting around and jump in. If he dances around too cleverly he may trip over himself--and that would be a tragedy for a political career which already features one tragedy too many.

--Tom Schaller