The evolution of the character invented by the media to play the role “Al Gore” will one day make a remarkable doctoral dissertation. The most doctrinaire postmodernist would have a hard time keeping up with the myriad literary inventions, textual subversions and convenient fictions necessary to sustain the ever-changing narrative. One day Gore is an uptight, hypercautious “serial exaggerator.” Later, when it turns out that it was the media–most egregiously, the Washington Post‘s Ceci Connolly–who spread false stories about Gore that were picked up and trumpeted on cable TV and talk-radio, he is recast as a radical wild man, sporting a frightening beard and spouting dangerous left-wing nostrums.
In a New York Times story titled “An Endorsement From Gore Became a Dubious Prize,” Elisabeth Bumiller gives us the newest version, asking, “Is an endorsement from Al Gore the kiss of political death?” She cites observations made by Bob Dole on Larry King Live along with an anonymous “friend” of Gore. The story line is now set in stone: The Dean endorsement proved the final dot in the ideological rebranding of Al Gore from centrist Democrat to left-wing Democrat. You can almost hear the tongues clucking at Ben and Sally’s.
I’ve got a bias here. I never liked Gore when I was beating up Naderites who thought it’d be fun to throw the election to George W. Bush. I had heard he could be charming in private–funny, self-effacing and intellectually inquisitive–but I never knew anyone who claimed to have personally seen this. And the fact that the only one outside his immediate family who seemed passionate about his presidential candidacy was Marty Peretz didn’t help.
But in the past year I’ve watched Gore, freed from the burden of office-holding, finally finding the authentic voice that appeared to elude him for much of his political career. It began with his brave and early denunciations of the Bush Administration’s war-planning, picked up steam with his attacks on its deceptions that enabled the war effort and manifested itself again with a recent speech on its AWOL attitude on global warming. Gore summed it all up over the weekend of February 5-7 in a speech at a New School University conference on “Uses and Misuses of Fear” in our political system, sponsored by the journal Social Research, and at a rally of Tennessee Democrats in Nashville, where he was joined by Wes Clark and John Edwards. He gave roughly the same speech to the rednecks and the pointy-heads.
At the New School conference, I was amazed at Gore’s courage in calling the President to task for his (undeniable) manipulation of Americans’ fear of terrorism and also at Gore’s willingness to apply the same unflinching analysis to Bush’s economic policies, environmental policies and abuse of civil liberties. And he didn’t stop there. Gore took the further step to ask, systemically, just what was allowing these egregious abuses of power and trust to take place: “How could our precious nation have become so uncharacteristically vulnerable to such an effective use of fear to manipulate our politics?” His response: