Al Gore rhythms

A progressive hears him speak and finds it reasonable to think he's viable for a comeback. If not, the fact his message is resonating is at least a good sign for America.
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Al Gore debates George Bush in 2000. (Wake Forest University)

A progressive hears him speak and finds it reasonable to think he's viable for a comeback. If not, the fact his message is resonating is at least a good sign for America.

"If you've brought those 'Draft Gore' buttons, you can put them away now," said Town Hall Executive Director Wier Harman affably in his introduction to the sold-out book lecture Monday night, June 4. Former Vice President Al Gore, Academy Award winner, environmentalist, and author, was not going to sign any memorabilia other than books. He also wasn't going to talk about a potential late entry in the 2008 presidential race. Which should have come as no surprise. He was, after all, on a book tour. And yet, the last fellow to visit this politically anxious, bookish city on a sold-out "book tour" was Barack Obama, who filled 2,000 seats at Benaroya Hall on Oct. 26, waved off talk of a run, then three months later announced his candidacy. We should be hearing from Gore sometime in September! While we wait, he's written another book, The Assault on Reason. In it, Gore covers similar ground to New York Times columnist Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina. Main, familiar theme: Truth has been a casualty of the Bush administration and the media. We were fed insignificant celebrity gossip while terrorists plotted a diabolical attack; George Bush and Dick Cheney, et al, contrived a war on Iraq based on lies; and the planet burns. Rich is a better writer than Gore. But Rich wasn't almost president. Inside Town Hall, a crowd mostly older than 30 politely waited for the latest inconvenient truths from the current environmental oracle. Some wore "Gore '08" stickers on their chests. Julie Revell Benjamin and her husband, Eric, came from Duvall in rural King County. They hadn't read the book yet. But her dream ticket is Gore-Edwards. "I think they'd win. I'd be working 24/7 on their campaign," said Julie. This time around, Gore's once-stiff intellect appears to be an asset. "We don't want a guy we can drink a beer with," she said. "We want someone who knows what they're doing." Outside, there were a couple dozen people with impeachment petitions and the "Bush Chain Gang" – oversized incarnations of Bush, Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. There was the "9/11 was an inside job" people, the Draft Gore signature gatherers, and some Lyndon Larouchies singing surprisingly in tune. The lyrics were not so lovely. (They later interrupted Gore's lecture briefly in druid robes, banging books on their heads in a slightly creepy breach of security.) John Pearce, who came from Olympia, wore a "Re-elect Al Gore" sign. "I think it's time he got what he deserved," he said, referring to the 2000 election that was essentially decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Pearce looked around at the colorful crowd of protesters and activists. "This is nuts. Nuts is good." For almost an hour, a 59-year-old "recovering politician," as Gore called himself, comfortably paced the stage in a suit, headset, and blue tie. He walked us through the history of the written word, communication, and the rise and fall of the Enlightenment. Yes, he has lost a few pounds and is on a diet. Some might speculate that is an indication of presidential bid prepping. But Gore did not make a stump speech. After the initial thrill of seeing him arrive onstage, and after heaping group hope and regrets upon him, the audience began to cough and shift in their seats during what became more of a lecture. Was he going to make us eat our brussel sprouts when we wanted red meat? Forget Tom Paine – how about our national pain? When Gore discussed schizophrenia and its link to language, I thought he might tie that to the chest-thumping madness of our current King George. He didn't. "He sounded like a history professor," later said Seattlest writer, foodie, and erstwhile history student Jay Friedman. But when Gore got to Goebbels and Nazi use of radio for propaganda, his talk started to sound more relevant. He tied together the invasion of Iraq and global warming. With both, he said, there were "volumes of evidence that should have informed the citizenry" that were fatally ignored. He quoted Lincoln and the necessity to "disenthrall" ourselves of the illusions that prevent us from seeing the truth. He talked bitterly of political candidates who sanction torture, of the celebrity gossip that clogs our media and minds at the expense of information we truly need. Then Gore made a couple of those sighs – the kind that for some reason helped do him in at the debates with W back in 2000. Uh oh, I thought, there he goes again. But then he actually seemed to get impassioned. Almost angry! Referring to Iraq, he declared, "That horrendous war was the worst strategic mistake in the history of our nation!" That prompted one of three standing ovations. His plea for the protection of freedom of speech and access on the Internet also seemed to resonate. After a brief Q&A, a long line formed as Gore signed books. "Wow! So empowering! Someone actually grounded in reality!" said one young guy as he was leaving. Can Gore direct this anger and excitement into some kind of candidacy? Does he even want to? There certainly is plenty of outrage he could tap throughout the country. And a Gore presidency would be a rare opportunity for an historical correction. Polls have Bush's approval rating as low as 28 percent. The nation overwhelmingly opposes the war in Iraq. Frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton has credibility issues on Iraq. Perhaps enlightenment is finally returning to the nation. Unfortunately, the cost of redeeming it has been huge.


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