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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gore on the run,....but to where?

There is a great piece by Ezra Klein in the latest online edition of The American Prospect about the latest events regarding Al Gore. It is an excellent read even if you are not a supporter or fan. As a lead up to the article it will first be necessary to revisit a moment in 2000 during the run up of the election that was very revealing. George Will did an article about Gore and Bush for Newsweek in his syndicated column once both conventions had finished their business. In the piece Mr. Will attempted to crystallize the thinking process of the two candidates into one single question that would not only put that that process into context but give the reader an insight into each man’s perspective on the world. I doubt even today he realizes how successful he truly was.

Al Gore was up first as Mr. Will posed his question, “What can you tell me about the Houston Astrodome?” As Mr. Will tells it Gore went into an eye-rolling 5 minute explanation and description of the Astrodome’s dimensions, the engineering that went into it’s construction, the special problems encountered regarding the internal environment it created and the unusual requirements demanded to maintain it. Then he described how it represented the cutting edge of American know how at the time of it’s creation. Mr. Will described it as a typical Gore blowhard moment that more than demonstrated his arrogant demeanor as a ‘know it all’ and how it would eventually bring down his campaign. He made his response sound as though anyone in their right mind would immediately discern Gore as nothing more than a pompous wind bag who is obviously full of himself. At this point he moved on to Bush’s three-second answer: “It’s a place where you play baseball.” Period. From that point on you would have thought Mr. Will was present at the defining moment in American political discourse. He cooed over Bush’s simple response as a revelatory moment every voter in America should appreciate. He gushed that this simple response reflected a global view that was desperately needed to cut through the complex issues so vexing to a changing world.

The tip off that their would be dire consequences in this simpleton view of the world should have been evident in the first crisis Bush faced in the spring of 2001 shortly after he took office. When a U.S. military aircraft strayed over Chinese airspace and was forced to land resulting in the crew being held the only concern that Bush seemed to have at the expense of concerns regarding classified breeches was whether or not the crew had enough bibles. That should have been an ‘uh oh’ moment for the electorate right there. After that then where does one start to catalogue those consequences? The deer in the head-lights moment of 9/11? The intelligence debacle leading up to the invasion of Iraq? The policies that have led us to today’s occupation nightmare? The disastrous Medicare drug prescription program? The constitutional crisis stemming from illegal domestic wire tapping of Americans without benefit of a warrant? There is no doubt each one of these events are reflected in Bush’s simpleton response to Mr. Will’s question: “It’s a place you play baseball.”

Ezra Klein’s piece on the former Vice President has a recurring theme about Mr. Gore’s intellect and how the media portrayed it as the veneer of an arrogant ‘know it all’ demeanor. He gets down to business right away in the piece when he talks about Gore’s short tenure at the Columbia School of Journalism in the spring of 2001 when he taught a course entitled “Covering National Affairs in an Information Age” and how he question the very tenants of Journalism that are practiced today:

Gore’s first lecture engaged objectivity itself, challenging the journalistic trope that fairness resides in controversy and an article has to represent all sides -- no matter how marginal -- equally. Instead, Gore argued that the journalistic impulse to exalt even the most fringe views to parity in order to furnish opposing perspectives is harmful to basic accuracy. This didn’t sit well with more than a few of the wannabe reporters in the class, many of whom were aghast at the suggestion that the media should attempt to actually
mediate between truth and spin. As Josh Bearman, a student in that class and now an editor at the LA Weekly, recalls it, “He stood up there challenging the entire dogma of the journalism school. First semester, you learned that objectivity was emperor, then Gore came in and told you it had no clothes.”

And along with that backlash, the old anti-intellectualism Gore experienced in 2000 made a reappearance. As Bearman tells it, “He knew more than everyone in the room. So the class basically turned against him because he was smarter than they were, and they didn’t like that. We witnessed exactly what had happened on the campaign plane in the year prior.” Gore did not return to teach the class in 2002. [Emphasis mine].

Gore’s experiences with the media in 2000 are reflected in the conclusions he passed on to the obvious chagrin of his class. Mr. Klein goes on to talk about how this class precipitated a change in Gore leading to what we see today. It is at this point we begin to see Gore, through Mr. Klein’s article, not only breaking the rules but rewriting them through his association with former FCC Chair Reed Hundt and Moveon.org. Mr. Klein’s piece de la resistance about Gore’s intellect is found when he takes on Gore’s seminal appearance before the We Media audience in October of 2005:

If the Internet is reinventing Gore, though, Gore is using its lessons to reinvent television. His October 2005 speech to the We Media conference was a tour de force, ranging from Johannes Gutenberg to Thomas Paine, Walter Lippmann to John Kenneth Galbraith, the historian Henry Steele Commager to the German
philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Gore was a know-it-all, and he didn’t care if they knew it too. He blasted the media for accepting “fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs,” for chasing sensationalism and conflict, for becoming “dumbed-down and tarted-up.”
He lamented that “the inherent value or validity of political propositions put forward by candidates for office is now largely irrelevant compared to the advertising campaigns that shape the perceptions of voters.” But most of all, he decried television’s unidirectionality. “[A]long with my partner, Joel Hyatt, I am trying to work within the medium of television to recreate a multi-way conversation that includes individuals and operates according to a meritocracy of ideas.”
[Again, emphasis mine]
At this point, not withstanding Mr. Klein’s article, it is obvious many a voter across the land, since that fateful moment in December, 2000 when the Supreme Court sealed our fate for the next eight years, must have experienced some kind of buyer’s remorse. As the press pushed the “but is he a guy America wants to sit and have a beer with” meme there is no doubt the choice was stark and real. Looking back one has to point to that moment in August, 2001 when Bush was presented with a PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing] discussing Osama Bin Laden’s desire to hijack airliners and ram them into builidings. Who would you want reading and reacting to that PDB now? The guy you’d want to sit and have a beer with while he tossed around bromides on what ails the world and who thinks the Astrodome is a place you play baseball? Or the guy who everyone says is a know it all and on top of that actually knows how to govern?

As I sit and compose this entry CNN is reporting on Gore’s appearance earlier today at Middle Tennessee State. They just showed him fielding the inevitable question about 2008 and his requisite denial he was contemplating another run. I don’t know what he’ll do at this point. Klein’s article reveals how the options for Gore are now different form everyone else’s. I’ve said before on this blog and I’ll repeat it again. The Democratic Party needs a person who is willing to break all the rules. We need a person who is willing to throw the consultants to the dustbins of history. We need a person who is unafraid to be who they are and tell American what it needs to hear, not what they want to hear. That way the electorate can make a decision on whether or not they want to listen. Mr. Klein fleshed out very nicely the options open to Gore on message delivery not realized by the other candidates. There it is again - - breaking the rules. We need this guy. There is no doubt if he entered the race the entire dynamic would change.

Here’s to change and rule breaking. Gore 2008.

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