Breaking nearly a year of silence, Al Gore returned to the public eye yesterday with a forceful speech at New York University, blasting the Bush administration for misleading the American people regarding vital issues of foreign and economic policy. In an event sponsored by MoveOn.org, Gore charged that the Administration had engaged in a “systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty.”
Going far beyond a September 2002 speech where he warned that unilateral action in Iraq could disrupt the war on terrorism and warranted further debate, Gore offered a stinging condemnation of Bush’s leadership on the war. “It is obvious to most Americans that we have had one too many wars in the Persian Gulf,” Gore said. “As a result, too many of our soldiers are paying the highest price for the strategic miscalculations, serious misjudgments, and historic mistakes that put them and our nation in harm’s way.” The only effect the invasion had on Al Qaeda, he said, was to “boost their recruiting efforts.”
Gore centered his stinging and often tongue-in-cheek remarks around the false impressions the Bush Administration employed while pursuing their political objectives. Early in the speech, Gore recalled widespread misconceptions that were used to build support for toppling the Iraqi government, such as Saddam’s connection to the 9/11 attacks and Al Qaeda and the threat of weapons of mass destruction ending up in the hands of terrorists. “When you put it all together,” Gore said, “it was just one mistaken impression after another.” He added that Congress and the news media exacerbated the problem by failing to hold the Administration accountable to the American people.
The harsh criticism of Bush’s justification and handling of the war placed Gore in sharp contrast with recent statements by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and their poster boy Joe Lieberman, who recently warned Democrats opposed to or “ambivalent” about the war of leading the party into “the political wilderness.” In comparison, Gore’s statements emphasized the foreign policy platform articulated by Democratic candidates such as Howard Dean and Bob Graham–tough on terrorism, opposed to preventive attack and committed to multilateralism. To regain credibility in the world community, Gore promoted internationalizing the Iraqi peacekeeping force, scrapping the plan to build new nukes at home and rapidly boosting efforts to decrease America’s dependency on Persian Gulf oil by developing alternative energy technologies.
Gore said the President’s “ideologically narrow agenda had seriously divided America,” while accusing Bush’s most ardent supporters of launching a kind of “civil cold war” against dissenters. To loud applause, Gore called on Bush to “rein in” Ashcroft and Rumsfeld, vigorously uphold civil liberties and scrap the Pentagon’s proposed “Total Information Awareness” program, which he compared to something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Despite the questionable information Bush receives from his advisors, Gore concluded that the real cause of policy obfuscations “may be the President himself.”
Though his speech primarily dealt with foreign policy priorities, Gore also described a similar pattern of deception used to advance the President’s economic policies. He targeted Bush’s assertion that tax cuts would unleash investment and create new jobs, increase growth and revenue without swelling the deficit, and benefit middle-income families. Provocatively, Gore cited Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof in the German newspaper Der Spiegel: “This is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history.”
Despite speculation that he might re-enter the presidential race, Gore insisted he won’t run. Instead, he praised current Democratic presidential candidates and announced that his endorsement would come later in the political cycle. Yet Gore, whose fiery rhetoric drew a number of standing ovations, clearly seemed pleased to be back on the radar. “We have work to do,” he concluded, before jumping into the crowd to shake hands with the enthusiastic audience. After eight years of political timidity in the White House and a failed presidential campaign, Gore finally gave the people something to cheer about.