Al Gore did not use the “I” word. But the former vice president did use his Martin Luther King Day speech in Washington to declare that: “A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” And he went on to say that, in year five of the Bush-Cheney interregnum, “America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
Monday’s much-anticipated speech by the man who won the popular count in the 2000 presidential election by more than 500,000 votes opened with the assertion that “the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.”
While Gore stopped short of echoing the call by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, for the censure of George Bush and Dick Cheney — and for an exploration of whether the misdeeds of the president and vice president merit impeachment — the former member of the U.S. House and Senate did declare that the time has come for Congress to hold this administration to account.
“I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you’re supposed to be,” Gore told a cheering crowd at the historic Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The former vice president left little doubt regarding the proper response to Bush administration assaults on civil liberties and the rule of law. “We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens’ right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Gore explained in his remarks to an event organized by the the bipartisan Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. “It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President’s apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.”
Gore’s remarks have already created a firestorm on the right, with the Republican National Committee decrying the speech as a diatribe “laden with inaccuracies and anger.”
But don’t settle for the RNC spin, nor for that of its media acolytes.
Gore’s speech, while surely controversial, contained a dramatic and significant critique not merely of the Bush administration’s wrongdoing but of the failure of Congress and major media to expose and challenge abuses of power.
What was said in Washington on Monday mattered. Indeed, it mattered so much that the the spin machine of the president’s party is hard at work seeking to mischaracterize the former vice president’s remarks — remarks that bluntly criticized both Republicans and Democrats.