December 15, 2002
BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
Has anyone noticed a peculiar phenomenon in American politics of late? When Al Gore speaks, someone seems to listen. And follow.
When Trent Lott first put his foot in his mouth at Strom Thurmond's birthday party, not a soul saw anything wrong with it. On Monday, Gore became the first prominent political figure to call on Lott to apologize for his racist remarks. Within hours he did -- or at least so he thought -- and an issue previously ignored turned into a political firestorm. By midweek, Senators Daschle, Kerry and Lieberman discovered their outrage. On Thursday, more than a week after the fact, so did Bush.
A coincidence? Maybe. Can anyone recall how many Democrats challenged Bush when he first unleashed his Iraq war/regime change rhetoric? That's right: none. Gore was the first to raise his voice against the lone-cowboy approach to war and the preemptive strike doctrine, blasting open the national debate on the subject. Within days, other prominent Democrats, including Senators Byrd and Kennedy, followed Gore's lead. Soon thereafter, Bush went to the UN to try to build consensus.
Shortly after his Iraq speech Gore gave a major economic address, calling on the administration "to make some serious midcourse corrections." Bush's economic team is now history.
The opposition movement in America, desperate for a voice and a leader, seems to have found one in none other than the very person who by all rights should be the nation's leader as well. And if the last time around Gore inherited the baton of leadership, now he has more than earned it on his own.
There's a reason why the Republicans reserve their niftiest smear tactics for Al Gore, bashing him for everything from the color of his clothes to his presumed "loser" status -- never mind that Gore won the 2000 election with more votes than anyone in history other than Ronald Reagan. Gore’s tormentors are afraid. They are very afraid. And that alone speaks volumes about his prospects.
The fact that Al Gore personifies a cause as the country's rightfully elected president would be reason enough for him to stake at least some moral claim to the Democratic nomination in 2004. But over the last few months Gore has shown that he will not rest on the laurels of 2000 or play victim. Instead, he has become the only Democrat to brave the political winds and speak out forcefully and compellingly on issue after issue, proving that when you have the courage to stand up to bullies you can bring them to their knees.
Some may be surprised by Gore’s let-it-rip approach. But not so those who recall a promise he made in his concession speech two years ago:
"I regret that I didn't get the chance to stay and fight for the American people … especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I heard you and I will not forget."
He is keeping that promise now by speaking out on issues of moral imperative. But at this critical juncture in U.S. history that's simply not enough. The growing opposition movement in America needs someone to rally the troups, give them hope, and a realistic chance at victory. No movement, however righteous, cannot succeed in a void, absent a leader to solidify and personify the opposition. Congressional Democrats who caved in ever time Bush said "boo" simply cannot claim that moral right. Al Gore can.
That's why he must and he will run again in 2004. Not because it will be easy, as he knows better than anyone what demons he's about to face. But because he is the only Democrat in a solid position to undertake a challenge against such formidable odds -– and be worthy of it.
Small wonder that the GOP would rather run against any "fresh face," a euphemism for an untried candidate who has yet to learn how to navigate the murky political waters. Gore has already been there, done that, and won. He makes no bones about having made mistakes in 2000, but he learned from them. It's a lesson that only experience can teach.
Despite an unrelenting, obsessive character assassination campaign against h im and an almost two-year absence from national politics, Gore remains the overwhelming choice for president among grassroots Democrats nationwide – and to many, a cause as well. How many other candidates are greeted at public events with ad hoc renditions of "Hail to the Chief"?
That's potent stuff when taking on an enemy who will stop at nothing to win. You need supporters fiercely loyal who will walk through fire for you. And anyone who saw the crowds lining up for hours on Gore's book tour nationwide c an attest to the kind of support he draws. As the San Francisco Chronicle described it, the gathering at a local bookstore "looked part religious revival, part rock star sighting."
All this for a former vice president? Not a chance. All this was for the de facto leader of the loyal opposition in America, and for the voice of 51 million people -- the majority who gave Gore their vote and have nothing to show for it. Many of them never forgot.
Al Gore's win in 2000 confers on him more than anyone the moral right to become the standard bearer for the Democratic Party. But his is more than a historical claim. Since his reemergence on the political scene Gore has rejected the unquestioning obedience that defines the post-9/11 political order. Again and again, he has raised a calm and reasoned voice against war, against injustice, against infringement of our civil liberties. He has become the voice of patriotic dissent in America.
It’s a voice that cannot be silenced. And by raising it, Al Gore has earned a moral right to the 2004 nomination -- not by being a victim, but by being right.
A BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
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