Al Gore and the courage of conviction

This week's New Yorker had some nice things – amazing things, actually, and quite true – to say about Al Gore. The piece, “Ozone Man,” by David Remnick started with a plug of Gore's new documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which despite some clunky film making, too much of Al Gore staring out windows or bent over a computer, Remnick says is “a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide.” And while the film “is not the most entertaining film of the year…it might be the most important.”

As Remnick compares Gore's clear and cogent message on the real dangers of global warming, Remnick can't help but compare the intelligence and drive behind the movie to the current President's…well…fantasy view of the issue, which consists of ignoring it or believing whatever crackpot theory contradicts the general scientific consensus and worldwide acceptance of the reality of climate change. (For example, Bush's' favorite environmental treatise on the subject was Michael Crichton's paranoid paleo-conservative science fiction fantasy, “State of Fear,” in which a cabal of left-wing extremists invent global warming to scare the world into submission.)

And, as always when we see Gore in the news or hear him speak, we are reminded of 2000 and what might have been:

If you are inclined to think that the unjustly awarded election of 2000 led to one of the worst Presidencies of this or any other era, it is not easy to look at Al Gore. He is the living reminder of all that might not have happened in the past six years (and of what might still happen in the coming two). Contrary to Ralph Nader's credo that there was no real difference between the major parties, it is close to inconceivable that the country and the world would not be in far better shape had Gore been allowed to assume the office that a plurality of voters wished him to have. One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult. Imagining the alternative history is hard to bear…

Remnick acknowledges the mistakes Gore made in the 2000 presidential campaign, in which he ran a too conservative course and shied away from his pet issues that evoke his passion, such as the environment. And certainly there were a host of similar, passive actions by his party to roll over to the right's machinations surrounding the Florida recount. He has a tendency to try too hard to package himself – probably a byproduct of hanging out with the best self-inventor for eight years in the White House — however:

…in the context of the larger political movement, the current darkness, Gore can be forgiven his miscues and vanities. It is past time to recognize that, over a long career, his policy judgment and his moral judgment alike have been admirable and acute. Gore has been right about global warming since holding the first congressional hearing on the topic, twenty-six years ago. He was right about the role of the Internet, right about the need to reform welfare and cut the federal deficit, right about confronting Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo. Since September 11th, he has been right about constitutional abuse, right about warrantless domestic spying, and right about the calamity of sanctioned torture. And in the case of Iraq, both before the invasion and after, he was right – courageously right – to distrust as fatally flawed the political and moral good faith, operational competence, and strategic wisdom of the Bush Administration.

Amen.

In a post I wrote on Friday accusing Hillary Clinton bashers of being guilty of paleo-conservative misogyny, I asked for some critical challenges to Clinton's policy, not the personality constructed by a hostile right-wing pundits. Well, I got some, including a cool link from jessie to a Molly Ivins editorial declaring her un-support for Sen. Clinton’s presidential bid. The excerpt relevant to this post on Gore:

The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief

Since Gore lost the 2000 election, it seems he's bowed out of electoral politics. The speeches he's given have been amazing, especially his attack on the President's domestic spying policy, in which he correctly noted that our nation is in no unique danger (compared to previous crises), and the President's hysterical grab of executive power is either cowardice or lust after power. Good stuff.

The point is, the speeches that Gore makes and the bold, decisive rhetoric we see from him are probably the result of his exit from electoral politics. He's stumping, speaking honestly and clearly about the issues he cares about, something he'd never do if he was still considering national office. And yet…this clarity, this honesty, this competency, is exactly what's needed now to lift the nation out the myriad crises the present administration and its right extremist allies have wrought.

Do I think Gore would make a better President than our current one? H*ll, yeah! But then again, my auto mechanic would do a better job. Do I think Gore would be a good President? Absolutely. Do I think he could win the 2008 election? There's the rub.

The media lashed him pretty good in 2000. The general public – even most Democrats – has a negative image of the man. I think, if Gore chose to run, two things would need to happen for him to win: First, the media would need to be kinder to him – and they might, realizing how important the election will be in 2008. Second, Gore would have to run a good campaign – and I think that means continuing his bold, genuine ideas flowing.

I’ll leave this post with a few thoughts from Ivins on the conflict between the “liberal” end of the Democratic party, represented by Feingold and his blogger “allies,” and the “centrist” wing, represented by Lieberman, Clinton, and the other right-moving polticos. This is Ivins’ cry:

The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

My answer to Ivins: follow the money.

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