'/> Uncommon Hours: Eight years ago today Al Gore conceded the presidency
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eight years ago today Al Gore conceded the presidency

By Bob Sommer

“The most important election of our time!”

How often did we hear that phrase this year?

Hyperbole is part of the rhetoric of politics, but history has a way of validating – or deflating – it.

Eight years ago today Vice President Al Gore conceded the presidency to Gov. George W. Bush. If any contemporary election deserves the moniker, it’s that one.

The loser became a Nobel laureate.

The winner? Well, 26 percent still approves. The Bushes are a big family.

How could we have so misunderestimated its importance?

I won’t catalogue the disasters and tragedies, the arrogance and ineptitude, the lies, the bullying, or even the Bushisms here. I couldn’t possibly. Anyone who’s read this far knows the list.

But Bush is more than the classic turtle on the fence post. While he deserves plenty of credit for the epic wreckage in his wake, the failures of the past eight years are larger than the flaws of one incompetent martinet. Why was he there in the first place? What did he represent?

The ideologues of neo-conservatism have two core beliefs: that government is bad and that unfettered, unlimited growth is good. They fundamentally distrust the government—and yet, they want to run it; or perhaps more accurately, they want to dismantle it from within. Like working for the competition so you can destroy his business.

Everything else is strategy, from gathering the religious right into the fold, so to speak, with a menu of enormously distracting peripheral issues to mobilizing the country around a well-marketed but poorly executed “war on terror” to invading an oil-rich foreign country.

The result would strengthen the presidency, marginalize political competition, and develop unregulated new markets. America would become the Borg. The new assimilation: “coercive democracy.” Resistance was futile.

Such a pernicious philosophy has marketing challenges. After all, people rely on government for stuff—like Social Security income, food safety, roads, or maybe to save them from the occasional deluge.

“Elect us so we can wreck it!” has limits as a campaign slogan.

So instead, you wreck those who want to do something good with it. You invent things, like “He said he invented the internet!” You nitpick personal traits, like speech mannerisms, sighing and weight loss (or gain).

You turn your opponent into a clown or a demon, or both.

One of the worst kinds of demon is an elitist.

Evoking the inherent American disdain for royal bloodlines and snobbery (and without even a hint of irony), the neocons found in George W. Bush an emblem for their faux populism—a “real American,” a Connecticut cowboy who got C’s at the elite school into which his family name admitted him and said nukyular. A reformed drunk with whom everyone wanted to have a beer.

What an incredible thing! The elusive and malleable “American Dream” always includes a bullet point about education, but now maligning the educated and intellectually curious—those, in short, to whom one might turn to solve big, complicated problems—became a campaign tactic. (Imagine what Jefferson or Adams would have thought of Bush or Palin?)

And it worked!

Elites, we’re also told, are godless, as if that should matter. But that, too, is false. Gore’s concession speech and Nobel prize lecture resonate with the centrality of faith in his life.

As an undergraduate, Gore came to understand the threat to our planet from carbon emissions. He was decades ahead of mainstream political thinking in recognizing that we can’t keep drilling and digging and burning, and that resources and markets are finite.

Arguably, this should have been the centerpiece of his campaign—but arguably, too, voters who think beer-drinking buddies make good presidents would, predictably, scoff at this issue.

Gore’s election might not have altered 9/11. But it’s stating the obvious to say that he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, nor would financial regulations have been so easily dismantled, nor would Brownie have done “a heckuva job” in New Orleans.

And we wouldn’t have known how much better off we were.

Defeat, Gore said in his Nobel prize lecture, “brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.”

How tragically high the price of that gift was—and the price of appreciating competency, education, and genuine leadership once more.

(Note: a version of this essay first appeared in Midwest Voices.)


  1. I believe the true triumph of neo-conservatism is the triumph of selfishness, the systematic obliteration of the country's social fiber. Divide and conquer, and conquered they did. Most Americans had no trouble seeing how their government stole their liberties. As long as they were able to drive their SUVs to the mall and watch the Superbowl surrounded by bowls of food, everything was dandy. The only thing that awoke them from their selfish stupor was the government's stealing their money, as in $700 billon. But it may be too late. And come Jan. 20, the damagemay very well be irreparable. Benjamin Franklin was right. We don't deserve security because we gave up our liberties.

  2. Sometime in the next few weeks a party will be scheduled so that I may shed myself of my personal hair shirt, one I donned on Dec 12th 2000 actually, the day the Court ruled on Bush v. Gore. I will cut the long gray curly locks that have adorned my middle aged brow for the last 8 years. Looking for a visible symbol of my intense dissatisfaction, one that might forestall those intent upon celebrating the victory of ignorance in the form of GWB, at least in my presence, I vowed on 12/12/00 not to cut my hair until a Democrat again sat in the Oval Office. I reasoned that you rarely had to wonder where a long haired man stood on most issues, at least most long haired men, those not in close proximity to motorcycles... Being in the construction industry I was regularly regaled with stories and jokes that the average workplace would not tolerate, both political and sexist in nature and usually x-rated... Though we are not unknown in Northern California, liberals wearing nail belts are fairly rare in most parts...

    I, like many others I spoke with, was in a state of shock, our Republic had clearly gone off the rails of democracy, our Constitution had been set on its head to allow these five robed robbers to make a political choice, to steal the Presidency from the rightfully elected candidate and give it to these other men who frankly scared the begeesus out of me... But I was not a kid anymore; I knew we had survived 8 years of Reagan and another 4 of the senior Bush, what could he do in only four years with a Democratic Congress?

    Further, I felt that in 2002 we would limit him a bit more, on the way to replacing him in 2004. Living on the West Coast, that September morning came later to me than to my friends in the East, and in truth I don't think that 9-11 resonated in California in the same way in which it did in New York. The Fear, while palpable, was not visceral, not summoned by every passing airliner nor triggered instantly by the vibration of a passing semi truck. In fact by noon of that day I was already in greater fear of what the Neo-Cons would do with this gift, this ready-made Reichstag Fire was pure gold to the jingoes and the dark patriots. My very finely honed political instincts were already counting the ways in which they would use this to their advantage, if they had planned it themselves they couldn't have done it better... My fear of what America would now do to itself was already greater than any fear of what our enemies could do... And I must have seemed like quite a crank, issuing posts warning of the coming slippery slope to the loss of our Republic and our Rights, asking questions out loud about the both the events of 9-11 and our response to them both foreign and domestic. But even I could not see the depths to which we would all travel in the next few years, nor could I see the length of time that this would hobble and injure us, beyond what we can now measure.

    In early 2003, March it was, I joined with many other Americans to take back our country and I worked, and still work, very hard for Dr. Howard Dean, first to be elected President and then to rebuild the Democratic Party after the second Rovian election. And I was appalled that Americans had signed on, given our kiss of approval to war, lies and crimes by re-electing what we could all see was an anti-democratic far right regime bent on one party government and the imposition of the theory of the Unified Executive... An American Dictatorship, with the Constitution reduced to a thin disguise for Fascism, the final triumph of the Corptocracy.

    That they would over reach was a given, whether Americans, lulled by easy credit and consumerism, would notice when they did, was the only question. As it came about they actually under reached and allowed New Orleans to drown, the specter of Americans on roof tops reaching for helicopters ordered back to base to by pig headed commanders and the reports of the media on site wondering why the National Guard couldn't get in with water to Americans huddled in a darkened sports arena, finally pierced the carefully constructed media veil and began the reawakening of sense of community responsibility for each other that I also believe has led directly to the election of Barack Obama as our President.

    Today I feel a hope and confidence building in Americans like I have never seen, and I believe that we CAN do it and that we will. This Christmas will not be about big flat screens or the latest video games, retail therapy is not required...

    Thank you Al Gore, I and a million or so others worked very hard to convince you to run in 2008, we had you Drafted for the California Primary Ballot until you asked us to trust that you knew best where your efforts should go, and you did...

    And thank you, too, Santa... I already got what I wanted, on Nov. 4th!!! And the hair can grow back…


  3. Bob, you're making it more complicated than necessary. The wealthy, Radical Right-Wing sees themselves as plantation lords - masters of all around them for as far as the eye can see - and if they can't have slave labor, they will settle for segregation and subsistence share-cropping. (Or mine workers who, despite their hazardous, high-mortality work, go IN DEBT to the company store the harder they work.)
    THAT is the Radical right-wing ideologyl. It is laid out perfectly in Michael Lind's book, "Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the _Southern Takeover_ of American Politics."
    Lind calls today's Right-Wing Southern elite "neo-Confederates" - the ideological if not lineal descendents of the Confederate autocracy - and explains that they would go back to chattel slavery in a moment, if they could.
    In the Southern senators FILIBUSTERING the auto bailout, we see a perfect example of this ideology.
    (Don't forget, 12 of the first 15 US president were slave owners, and when Lincoln's election denied the slave states that command of the Union, they declared for seccession.)
    Bill Clinton was able to woo Wall St. to support his policies, partly by selling out on NAFTA "Free Trade" with NO enviro, worker, or other requirements, but mainly by boosting EMPLOYMENT in America, a rising economic tide lifts all boats, including the portfolios of the wealthy.
    Bush & Cheney was able to overcome the traditional regional aversion, NorthEastern financiers vs Southern plantation lords, by blatantly co-opting the Wall St. lords with HUGE TAX CUTS.
    This is Lind's most important idea, the ALLIANCE of the NE Neo-Conservatives, with the Southern Neo-Confederates. Individually, neither of these groups could wreck the economy; together, they own EVERYTHING in America, but leave taxpayers holding all the trillions of dollars of debt they have created.
    The PNAC manifesto is the perfect illustration of this, the alliance of the anti-Intellectuals (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Forbes) with the Neo-Con pseudo-intellectuals (Wolfowitz, Libby, Kristol, Kagan, Feith, etc.)
    This unholy alliance now has three devastated American cities to its "credit" - New Orleans, Galveston, and now Detroit - and of course tens of thousands of Americans robbed of their jobs, pensions, health-care, and foreclosed on their homes.
    The Pelosi/Reid Congress is entirely owned by the Neo-Cons, which is precisely why Pelosi and Reid SAY NOTHING as Treasury Sec. Paulson SITS on that $700 BILLION economic-extortion stash that Pelosi and Reid so COWERINGLY gave to Paulson - NO STRINGS or OVERSIGHT attached!

    The degree to which Pelosi and Reid and DC Democrats are CORRUPTED by the Neo-Cons is simple in the extreme - they (Pelois, Reid, Hoyer, Rockefeller, Feinstein, Schumer, et al.) won't even haul former Goldman-Sachs Chairman Paulson before Congress to explain his HOARDING of the bailout loot (or just who he has already given $350 billion away to) because that would upset their G-S & Wall St. lobbyists and donors.