Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Does Al Gore really have to run for president to get us to pay attention to the harsh truths he has to tell about political (and other) realities?


"What [Gore] is telling us today--with the moral authority of a man who many believe was wrongly barred from the presidency--is that American democracy and indeed American society are in danger from the authoritarians of the right. Without much polite varnish, he warns that self-serving plutocrats and self-righteous theocrats have nearly banished reason from the public square; their machinations disable us as we try to confront the enormous problems that threaten our future. According to Gore, Americans cannot adequately protect the nation from terrorism because our ideas about national security have been distorted by fear and falsehoods. Nor can we address what he calls 'the carbon crisis,' potentially 'the worst catastrophe in the history of human civilization,' because the truth about global warming has been obscured by industrial and government propaganda."
--Joe Conason, in his L.A. Times review of Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason

Kudos to the L.A. Times. Normally you would expect a book as explosive as the former vice president's appears to be to be assigned for review to a neocon hack, or at the farthest left to a neolib one like the New Republic-ans. It's hard to think of anyone further from that mold than Joe Conason, who is the plainest-speaking of plain-speakers.

It's not surprising, in fact, that Joe begins by addressing this age-old question of politicians unwillingness or inability to say straight-out what they mean:
Why do our leaders feel that they can speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth only after they have left politics? After spending nearly half his life in public office, from which he was separated involuntarily in the 2000 election, Al Gore knows the answer. As he explains in his new book, the American political system has degenerated into a rigged game that suppresses honesty and rewards deception.

Gore, of course, was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. The fact is, if on the campaign trail he paid more attention than we wished to the handlers who counseled blandness, as Democratic political handlers usually do, he spoke a lot of plain truth in his years in government. But Gore the truth-teller got little credit--and Joe tells us that in the book that he "employ[s] the same didactic method that used to provoke irritation or even ridicule during his hotly contested presidential campaign."
Yet Gore's professorial style, with its touches of sarcasm, omniscient tone, erudite asides, and yes, its occasional exasperated sighs, elicits a different response today than it did seven years ago. Many of the same publications that once poured scorn on him now offer up paragraph after paragraph of admiring prose.

It doesn't hurt to have been proved right, as Gore has been, most notably on the issue of global climate change, with the suggestion that "those who mocked him were fools in the first place and that we can continue to ignore him only at our own peril."
But Gore himself has changed, Joe stresses:
Always unusually smart and farsighted, he nevertheless spent most of his public career emphasizing the expedient and conventional rather than the critical and visionary as nearly every ambitious politician must. Liberated from those constraints by defeat, he kept silent until fall 2002, when he spoke out forthrightly against the invasion of Iraq.

The tentative, calculating, painfully moderate approach of the past was gone, along with all of the baggage of the Democratic Leadership Council that he had helped to found.

We all know that Al Gore is never going to be Mr. Charisma. There's a suggestion in Joe's review that he doesn't in fact place great stock in charisma, and has a frustratingly keen awareness of the difficulty of dealing with substance in American political life:
His insistence on detail and thoroughness, which may seem like a personal tic in an era of sound bites, is rooted in his conviction that most Americans have little understanding of the world in which they live. He worries that mass alienation from politics and immersion in the entertainment culture along with poor civic education have created a population that is woefully uninformed.

Joe notes that Gore "remains remarkably optimistic that the emerging technologies will enable democracy's advocates to triumph":

At a time when we are learning that political responses tend to be more emotional than rational, as he surely understands, his stubborn faith that we will someday return to reason is touching. That faith inflected his political career, for better and for worse. It does not explain why this most qualified and courageous Democratic candidate has--so far--decided not to run for president again.

I don't know how successful a candidate even now Gore would make, or how effectively, if elected, he would be able to deal with the 24/7 Right-Wing Noise Machine. But it does sound as if he has some important things to say about our political system, and I'm putting the book on my reading list.

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At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Democratic Party is the worst organization in the US today, far far worse than the scumpublicans.

At least with the repubs, there's no pretension with their malevolence. The Democrats, in contrast, pretend to be the friends of the people. What an enormous fraud!

The only solution is the complete destruction of the Democratic Party, followed by reconstruction. Fortunately, this will not be difficult. They are working as hard as possible to hand the 2008 election to the scumpublicans.

At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Keninny-

Just read your later post on Feingold, and left a comment. See above.

So, charisma seems to be your word of the day. Not that I mind. I am simply reporting.

Charisma? I think you need to discuss further what that means. I have my own views on that re: pols.

But, if "charisma" = being "sexy" to the voting public, and thus winning elections, in the way that you are using the word, then this is a very complicated issue.


VG (see comment on your later post)


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