the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

January 16, 2006

Gore’s speech today.


[Update] Moved the text of the original post here. :)

Al Gore threw down a gauntlet today.

Not some little leather glove with a long cuff like you’d see at a Rennaissance festival.

A real gauntlet.One of the big ugly bastards that jousters wore on the off hand, a thick leather glove that only existed to protect your skin from the fully articulated steel fingers, thumb, and wrist. A heavy plate that covered the back of your hand, and the thick armor to protect your lower forearm. You know. The kind of gauntlet that if you got hit in the face with it, your dentist would have a religious experience.

Got the point across? Good. Now we’ll set the scene. But first, grab a cup of coffee… this is a long one, and well worth your undivided attention.

The lower floor of Constitution hall was filled, and the balconies were about two-thirds full. As the introductory speaker was talking, I noted that the sound system was turned up a touch higher than I’d heard there before, and thought “hm, someone knows about Mr. Gore’s tendency to talk through applause.” She spoke clearly and succinctly, and it was with some surprise that I realized that this was going to be a speech about the Bush administration, when she said that Barr and Gore were there to talk about “the present danger to our Constitution.” - and papers were being passed through the audience saying “Impeach Bush & Cheney,” as well as fliers from,, and others. My first thought was “okay, how are they going to tie this to MLK Jr’s birthday?” She answered it quickly, by referencing COINTELPRO, the program by which King and other activists were spied upon, harassed, and intimidated.

Sounds fair to me.

We had some technical problems unfortunately - Bob Barr was to join us by teleconference, but there were technical problems, and he was unable to connect. Michael Osterling (one of the organizers) spoke in his stead, establishing that he wasn not able to speak in Barr’s place, but he certainly did an excellent job of completing the introduction of the issues, and of passing the podium to Gore. Those of you who last saw Gore speak in the 2000 campaign - don’t bother trying to visualize him speaking in those terms. In the past six years the man has learned much, and learned it well.

Barr’s words on the subject are quite clear, and very much in harmony with the sentiments Gore expressed. I suggest you read them before continuing. There are many points covered here that Gore covered in his speech as well, and in the interests of not writing a book, I have left the description of them Mr. Barr. Suffice it to say that they underscore a point made again and again - this is not partisanship, this is a fundamental discussion of American politics - the science of government under the Constitution.

I’m looking over my notes, and thinking about how much detail to go into. Truthfully, I can’t do it justice with tiny summaries of what he said, so I will give you the best sense I can of his message. Also, I will fill in the gaps in my notes with my own words, thoughts, and recollections that his speech inspired. Credit it all to him, and go to CSPAN (or probably Crooks & Liars) for the actual recording. Otherwise, I apologize for not being as much of a reporter as I am a commentator on the events of this afternoon.

Like all of Gore’s speeches, this one was rich with historical and cultural references from the entire history of the country. What it wasn’t, was a political speech so much as a procedural indictment on Constitutional grounds, and a call to arms - a bare-knuckled, full-throated roar of challenge from an outraged citizen of the United States of America. Perhaps the quote Gore took from Barr best typifies the essence, if not the eloquent delivery of that challenge: “President George W. Bush has, in his own way, dared the American people to do something about it. …I hope they will.”

He did speak of the dangers that do exist, of the threats that 9/11 showed us (no surprise to anyone who was in New York in 1993, but Gore didn’t say that 9/11 had changed the world, so he gets points). He said he was not there to minimize these dangers, or the necessity of an Executive response that was quick and creative when disaster struck and required an immediate response. He also said that the authority to do exactly that was enshrined in the Constitution, and that it is not possible to describe in legal terms when such an escalation in the use of the Executive’s powers is appropriate, and when it is not. But to take Bush’s belief that this war would last “for the rest of our lives,” and the implication that this unrestricted Executive power would become the normal state of affairs, was an insult to the history of the country.

He reminded us of Washington D.C. being sacked in the War of 1812, the horror of the Civil War, the two World Wars that consumed the first half of the twentieth century, and the nuclear confrontation at the heart of the Cold War, among other crises this nation has survived, and asked “are we really in any more danger now, than we were then? Is our nation truly in so much peril?” To me, the obvious answer is no. September 11th was horrible… but it does not match the city of Washington in flames, or the entirety of Europe, then Africa, and much of Asia engulfed in fire and and death, with every ship sailing in the Atlantic quite possibly not making it to safety, and with the relatively pristine Hawaiian Islands struck with the first use of the Naval doctrine of carrier warfare that is still the model for what we use today. We are not at the point we were at the end of World War II where we felt it justified (however correctly or incorrectly) in the use of nuclear weapons against living human beings.

Gore also spoke of an Administration that has habitually moved to conceal information that would expose its mistakes - in fact, to conceal information simply because information is power. Regardless of the fact that this power belongs in the hands of the citizens of this nation. Answering this, he quoted Thomas Jefferson: “An informed citizen is the only true repository of the public will.” He also spoke of how this was done, connecting the techniques used in the intimidation of Tenet’s CIA with the stifling of dissent in the FBI under Hoover, when some there said the truth: that Martin Luther King, Jr. had no ties to Communism. He summed this up most eloquently with a quote from Hamilton: “Power over a man’s support is a power over his will.” In my own mind, I said to myself “until you really, really piss us off.” But the salient point remains true: people with homes, and mortgages, and families are exceedingly vulnerable to threats to their livelihood, especially when the loyalty to the office of the President, and to the nation, are being so thoroughly abused.

He spoke of the culture of fear engendered by the administration, how this fear was, and is used to distract the public from the illegitimate increase of Executive power. He spoke of the danger of fear to a nation governed by the rule of law, with this quote from Justice Brandeis about the Salem Witch Trials: “Men feared witches, and they burned women.” Beyond the consequences to the people, he spoke of how this same power was used, just as with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, to convince the Congress to vote for war based on false information. Lest we forget, your badger reminds you, Gulf War I had its lies as well. The one ugly laugh, as bitter and angry as the sound from the crowd when, at the Millions More Movement gathering in Washington late last year, Louis Farrakhan was speaking about the response to Katrina. He paused after describing the many assurances that had just been received from the Bush administration of the help that was on the way, then said “well that’s very nice.” All Gore had to do evoke the same bitterness from those assembled today was speak of Bush’s assurances that he was acting within and with the Court system to protect the rights of Americans, and then say “surprisingly, the President’s soothing statements turned out to be false.” That was the one laugh. Period.

Significantly, he said that there were specific reasons why this Constitutional crisis was so very much more troubling than any which had preceeded it:

  1. The fact that Presidential power has been growing for decades, at the expense of the other two branches. This has been aided by the distilling of political discourse into campaign television advertisements - a far cry from when the Federalist papers and its two-dozen-odd literary brethren were read across the country, and when farmers and shopkeepers engaged in the same political debates that were occuring in Philadelphia.
  2. Bush’s insistence on framing this as a generations-long conflict requiring the full authority of the government be vested in the executive. When it is war without end, then necessarily the powers of a wartime President never wane, and when all the powers of government are held by a single body, this is as true a definition of tyranny as can be found anywhere in the world.
  3. The growing power and sophistication of surveillance technology, which he asserted has the power to fundamentally alter the balance of power between the government and the citizens of the country, especially with the lack of Congressional oversight which has allowed the Executive to build upon this technology unchecked.
  4. The way this Administration has been shaped by the theory of the Unitary Executive, which Alito, Roberts, and as you might well imagine most of the Administration adheres to. In short, (he said it might be best known as the “theory of the unilateral executive”) it says that the Framers’ intent was for the Executive to be the strongest, with the Judiciary and Legislative branches subservient to it, rather than as we have learned and can easily prove through research, that the separation of powers was created in order to prevent the rise of a King of these United States.
  5. The shift from America as leading from a position of moral authority (a position some would argue with, but stay with us, he’s going someplace with this that needs to be gotten to), to a position of domination in the world through force and intimidation. He described the hallmark of the Administration’s foreign policy as an “instinct to intimidate and control.” This does, indeed, sound familiar.

Then, dear readers, he made his challenge. “What? That wasn’t his challenge?” No. That was merely preparing the battlefield, and drawing the gauntlet from his belt, and reinforcing the need for this challenge to be from all of us, Republican and Democrat, Right and Left, “Red State” or “Blue State.” All that came before was solely to underscore that this was a threat to the United States as envisioned at its founding. A kind of threat we have faced before, but that is no less urgent for its familiarity - because it is being brought about by people much richer in resources and poorer in respect for the tradition of democracy than we have ever faced from within our country.

Then, and only then did he state his challenge, and the course of action we must take as a nation to correct this abuse.

As Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate the leaking of Plame’s identity as a covert operative, there must be a special counsel to investigate this egregious abuse of Executive power, and the support for him or her must be bipartisan.

The laws protecting whistleblowers must not only be restored, but strengthened, and it must happen now.

Congress must begin oversight and real investigative hearings, such as the ones brought about by Watergate. The fact that the new legislators in the past two or three Congresses have never encountered a real oversight committee is a blatant example of the way in which the House and Senate have willingly made themselves subservient to the Executive Branch, in possibly the only truly bi-partisan act of Congress outside of the votes regarding the war.

The Patriot act must not be renewed, without real guarantees, true safeguards against the kind of abuse and deception this Administration has shown itself far too willing to engage in.

Finally, any telecommunications firm giving the NSA access to their lines for the purpose of enabling this illegal monitoring of our communications infrastructure must cease and desist at once, and do so publically.

These steps must be taken now, and it must be a political issue - any legislator, Democrat or Republican, who refuses to participate in correcting these wrongs should, and must answer for it to the citizens of this country.

I, your humble scribe so to speak, will close with this one thought. This was not a question of partisanship, nor will it be. The choice to act can be made by people of either party, and not only will the choice not to act destroy the party that embraces it, the failure of working majorities in both houses to address this issue will be the end of the United States as a democratic republic. The beginning of it changing into something else entirely has already begun.

It’s time for this farce to end.

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