[Note: See my original Daily Kos post here.]
Rolling Stone published a wide-ranging interview with Al Gore in its latest issue, covering the climate crisis, his (lack of) plans in the presidential race and his view of the Bush administration. When the interview turned to Gore’s view of the Bush regime, he issued a stinging condemnation:
RS: If you were a historian, how would you describe the Bush administration from that point of view?
Gore: They have done so much damage to the spirit of America, to the worldwide reputation of America, to the morale of our people, to the core belief that we’re capable of managing our fears without sacrificing our freedom. But nobody’s going to be surprised to hear me give a thumbs-down rating to Bush and Cheney.
RS: What’s the worst damage they’ve done, other than the climate crisis?
Gore: They have promoted the idea that freedom and security are mutually exclusive, that you can have one only to the extent that you’ve sacrificed the other. That is an un-American idea. When our founders framed the Constitution, they understood the reality of war. When the Declaration of Independence was written, it was written by Americans who were in danger of being hung. They had reason to fear for their very lives, every single one of them, but they insisted on the protection of habeas corpus and freedom of speech and freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, and the separation of self-government from the establishment of a religious dogma as an official set of beliefs. They had real courage that bridged their devotion to freedom and their need for security.
But instead of courage, this administration has used fear to undermine the system of checks and balances and the carefully balanced relationship between separate branches of government and the principle that all of the operations of our self-government should be accountable to the people. The arrogance and unaccountability of absolute power is corrupting, and our founders knew that so well. They embodied in our nation a universal principle derived from a millennium and a half of history, from Athens to Rome through the Enlightenment to the American Revolution. But all of that has been blithely ignored by this administration because of their lust for power.
This has got to be the most trenchant and spot-on criticism that anyone has leveled at this administration. Succinctly stated, it encompasses and indicts a whole host of offenses, from the moral travesty that is the Iraq War, to the suspension of habeas corpus, to the so-called PATRIOT acts, to Guantanamo Bay and torture, et al.
Sure, our leading candidates have made broad critiques that explain why Bush’s policies are bad for America, harmful to the middle class, etc. But it’s this historical context that reveals the actions of the Bush Administration and its apologists (Rudy McRomney) to be at best the epitome of weakness, and at worst, a predatory perversion of the American idea.
It’s not just the excesses of Bush and Cheney — it’s the failure of our Congress, our courts, our free press, and all of us, to speak up and prevent this degradation of the American idea.
I don’t know about you, but the decision of Sens. Schumer and Feinstein to support Michael Mukasey for Attorney General is the last straw for me. I give up on this Democratic congress, because as Gore points out, they have placed political calculus above bedrock principles that deserve to be fought for, win or lose. And then they wonder why Americans don’t know what the Democrats stand for.
So my hopes rest with our next president. And he/she will not unite the country and restore the American idea by exploiting divisions to win with 51% of the vote. Rather, they will need to appeal to independents and non-fascist Republicans by offering this kind of devastating strategic frame.
The question is, do we share Gore’s concern, and will we nominate a candidate who can do that?