Al Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman spoke out about
the Bush administration last week. What they said reinforced
for many Democrats two important lessons from the 2000 campaign: first, that Gore's inability to combat the
Washington celebrity press's relentless attacks upon his character and personality cost him the presidency;
second, that a big factor in that failure was picking the sanctimonious Lieberman as his running mate.
Seemingly chosen to convey disapproval of President
Clinton's sexual antics, Lieberman brought little to the campaign
except the lukewarm approbation of Washington insiders. His debate performance against Dick Cheney resembled a
timorous insurance agent trying to mollify an angry customer--appropriately enough for a politician long-devoted to
keeping Connecticut's insurance industry happy. Lieberman's pussyfooting helped Cheney masquerade as a teddy bear,
resulting in an administration in which the relentlessly aggressive vice-president and a phalanx of neo-conservative
ideologues dominate a feckless and unaccountable president.
Anyhow, "Smokin' Joe," as Republican editorialists
at my hometown Arkansas Democrat-Gazette call him, made a
thinly-veiled attack on his two New England rivals for the presidency, Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry, in a speech
at the National Press Club. "A candidate who was opposed to the war against Saddam," he said "who has called for the
repeal of all the Bush tax cuts, which would result in an increase in taxes on the middle class...could lead the Democratic
party into the political wilderness for a long time to come."
As opposed to today, Senator? Snoozin' Joe appears
to think that the presciption for taking on Bush in 2004 is Republican
A surer formula for disaster can hardly be imagined. No matter, because the hapless New York Mets have a better chance of
winning the World Series than Lieberman has of securing the Democratic nomination. Polls showing otherwise are an illusion
based on name recognition.
Al Gore wants to fight. If only, many Democrats
said last week, he'd spoken as cogently and passionately in 2000 as he
at New York University. The contest wouldn't have been close enough for Bush's Florida cronies and the Supreme Court to steal.
Gore's theme was that the Bush administration
governs through a weird mix of cronyism, ideological certitude and sheer
dishonesty previously unseen in our national life. "The direction in which our nation is being led," he said "is deeply troubling to me
not only in Iraq but also here at home on economic policy, social policy and environmental policy. Millions of Americans now share
a feeling that something pretty basic has gone wrong in our country and that some important American values are being placed at risk."
Gore enumerated a list of "false impressions"
that led the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq: that Saddam Hussein was partly
reponsible for 9/11 and conspiring with al Qaeda; that he threatened to help terrorists launch poison gas and germ attacks
against the U.S.; that he was acquiring enriched uranium and building a nuclear arsenal; that Iraqis would welcome US soldiers
with open arms and make a quick, easy transition to democracy; and that allies who opposed the war would be only too happy
after a painless victory to send soldiers and money to finish the job.
"Now, of course," Gore said "everybody knows that every single one of these impressions was just dead wrong."
Almost the same thing, he said, has happened in
the economy: "The country somehow got lots of false impressions," he said
"about what we could expect from the big tax cuts that were enacted, including: (1) The tax cuts would unleash a lot of new
investment that would create lots of new jobs. (2) We wouldn't have to worry about a return to big budget deficits--because
all the new growth in the economy caused by the tax cuts would lead to a lot of new revenue. (3) Most of the benefits would
go to average middle-income families, not to the wealthy, as some partisans claimed."
"Unfortunately, here too," Gore continued "every
single one of these impressions turned out to be wrong. Instead of creating
we are losing millions of jobs--net losses for three years in a row. That hasn't happened since the Great Depression." Hence too
the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history, and "the most dangerous we've ever had for two reasons: first, they're not temporary;
they're structural and long-term; second, they are going to get even bigger just at the time when the big baby-boomer retirement surge starts."
From fighting terrorism to global warming, Gore
said, what we get from Bush is the same on every issue: "a systematic effort
manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty."
Gore says he's not running in 2004, so the press downplayed his speech, but millions of Democrats heard him loud and clear.
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