media …. It’s hard to know how much of the coverage of Gore’s delineation of the many fallacies of pre-emptive war against Iraq was driven by the pundits disliking his message and how much was driven by Gore-hatred per se.” He added: Personally, I never really liked Gore, and he’s not my choice for 2004. But he sure galvanized Tom Daschle and other Democrats to face up to a frightening juggernaut for war they would have preferred to duck for the sake of re-election. Naderites take note. It was not “smart” in the Washington sense. It was not strategic. But damn it, it was brave. The victim of a stolen presidency demonstrated why democracy matters. The more media chicken hawks sink their tiny beaks into his ass, the morejust this onceI admire his courage. Apparently the public did, too. By late 2002, Gore’s poll numbers were far ahead of those of Kerry, his closest rivalthough, ironically, Gore told people he was no longer taking cues from pollsters or political advisors. Two months later Howard Dean led the antiwar revolt at the Democratic National Committee, and when Gore endorsed Dean in December 2003, he too surged ahead in the polls. Dean now says that boost led to his undoing because it galvanized his opponentsa statement that with time may morph to fit a more familiar story line: Gore’s a political liability, not a plus. Gore bowed out of the 2004 presidential race on December 15, 2002, surprising many. He was leading Kerry by 39 to 13 percent, a formidable margin. Gore is a born competitor; why did he quit? A clue may lie in an unusually candid interview published in the New York Observer on December 2, quoting Gore’s reaction to a New York Times op-ed piece suggesting that his new spontaneity was a ruse. When people write a line like one that I read this morningquote, “People do not change,” period, end quotewell, there’s a difference between learning from experience and self-reinvention,” Mr. Gore said. “People do change, particularly in America. If you don’t learn from the experiences you have in life, then you’re not trying very hard, and if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not human…. During the past three years, Gore has become the most articulate voice of the opposition party, wielding rhetoric like a sword. For a notorious policy wonk, he speaks with surprising clarity and feeling, often using biblical language as does Bushto claim the moral high ground. Like the law student and journalist he once was, he ranges far and wide for sources; in his NYU speech he cited Freud, De Sade, Lincoln, and an army specialist at Abu Ghraib prison who was quoted as saying he loved “to make a grown man piss on himself.” In an age when public eloquence is usually the work of professional speech writers, Gore appears to be the author of his own. More than anything, the speeches reveal how much language itself matters to Gore, not just as a means to communicate, but to express his outrage and bring order to his own thinking. If you’re driven by a need to connect all the dots, you’d better find the words to do it. Lately Gore has added a new coda to his speeches, reminding audiences that he accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the ballot-counting in Florida not because he agreed with it, but because he believes that this is a nation of laws. He adds, “I did not at that moment imagine that Bush would, in the presidency that ensued, demonstrate utter contempt for the rule of law and work at every turn to frustrate accountability . . . .” The ellipses poses a questiondoes he now wish he’d done things differently? Isn’t that just like Gore? You could deconstruct that coda to mean that Gore is trying to have it both ways: giving lip service to the “rule of law” while fanning the anger of those who still feel robbed by the Florida decision. That would fit the story line. But Gore has paid, as anyone with an ounce of awareness knows, far more than lip service. He did sit down and shut up after the Supreme Court acted; he did put aside that speech after 9-ll; he did swear allegiance to his commander-inchief even when some in his own party were gagging. How about this? Maybe Gore actually means what he says, no more and no less. In the world we’re living in now, that’s a novel thought. s I left the Sheraton ballroom after Gore had spoken, a man saw the press pass on my neck and stopped me. His name was Ross Hunter; he’s a 42-year-old Microsoft millionaire and state legislator who lives in Bill Gates’ neighborhood. “How do you write something like this up?” he asked. “What are you going to say?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “All this, I don’t know, this energy.” He made a sweeping gesture around the noisy ballroom, and words seemed to fail him, an odd predicament for a politician. “See, I didn’t get into politics for this, um, excitement. I got into politics because I wanted to fix things?’ “So how do you fix things without getting people excited?” “I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.” He handed me a Re-Elect Ross Hunter flyer. “That was a great speech. The best speech I’ve ever heard him give. I want to give a speech like that. Why wasn’t he like that in 2000?” Some things can’t be faked. Whatever it was Gore was sellingmoral indignation, populist energy, a new clarity of Democratic purposeeverybody in this room wanted some. This was a man finally, magnificently comfortable in his own skin, even as George W. Bush, a continent away, seemed to be shrinking in his. Gore was writing his own story line, and seemed to know, for once, exactly what he was doing. Deconstruct that. After a long period of self-imposed exile in Seattle, Brenda Bell will return to Austin in the fall. 7/2/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
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