Pundits and observers alike were scratching their heads this week as they watched Idaho Sen. Larry Craig make a concerted effort to buffet the comments of former Vice President Al Gore. Before Gore even made it to town for a speech to about 10,000 people in Boise State's Taco Bell Arena, Republican Craig was making sure reporters knew his perspective on the climate change issue.
"This time of the year, when someone mentions warming, what usually comes to mind is putting another log in the fireplace," Craig wrote in an op-ed offered on his Senate Web site and printed by the Idaho Statesman. Craig called efforts by the new Democratic majority in the Senate and House to limit the emission of greenhouse gases "California dreamin'."
Why was Craig so agitated about climate change, and so determined to get the info into the hands of the media?
"Something's up," said Boise State political science professor John Freemuth, who was puzzled by Craig's pre-emptive strikes.
"Somebody's getting nervous about this issue," said former Congressman Larry LaRocco, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year.
With the Democratic rise in Congress responding to climate change issues, LaRocco wondered if Craig wasn't getting antsy about popular response to Gore's highly acclaimed documentary about the climate crisis, An Inconvenient Truth and his highly-publicized visit to Boise.
"The people are getting ahead of Congress on this one," LaRocco said. Craig's comments, LaRocco said, "had other people scratching their heads."
Gore's slideshow and lecture Monday, introduced by Bethine Church, received loud ovations. The friendly crowd obligingly yukked it up when Gore referred to himself, as he does often, as the man who "used to be the next president." Gore's presentation largely paralleled his documentary, but was salted with references to Idaho's potential effects of global warming, including risks to forest health, increased fire danger and increases in disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes.
And he highlighted what he called misconceptions about global warming: That environmental policies can damage the economy, that global warming is too big a problem to solve, and that there is debate among scientists about global warming, a trope that appears to be on its way out.
Gore also made a jibe at former Gov. Jim Risch, by including a slide quoting Risch as saying, "I personally think there is science on both sides, I'm not strongly convinced either way."
"Now, I'm not picking on this guy," Gore said, to laughter from the friendly audience.
As for Craig, he reminded the Senate and the media that his focus is less on the science but more on the solutions. Calling himself "a thrifty conservationist," Craig said he prefers incentives for alternative energy--he includes newer nuclear power technology among these ideas--to punitive action against energy companies.
"The environment used to be a bipartisan issue in the U.S., back in Frank Church's day," Gore told reporters on his way in to the arena. "We should try to get back to that."
The next morning Gore's documentary received two Oscar nominations for Best Documentary and Original Song.