Does former Vice President (and my fellow Tennessean) Al Gore have a future as a fire-and-brimstone preacher? He showed quite a talent for it Wednesday at New York University as he preached to the choir: more than 800 cheering members of the moveon.org Political Action Committee. In a one-hour sermon on the subject of Iraq, Gore used his full dynamic range, from a hoarse whisper to a top-of-the-lungs shout that left crying babies in its wake. Bland? Wooden? Not this Al Gore. It appears that Bob Dole syndrome -- boring-until-out-of-office -- is an equal-opportunity affliction.
Famed Tennessee Baptist comes to Greenwich Village to preach to locals about dominance, humiliation, and perversion
Gore did some party-line-crossing himself, quoting more Republicans than Democrats, as well as the Bible, Mr. Bush, tortured detainees, their torturers, and a whole contingent of retired and active-duty military personnel.
He got standing ovation after standing ovation, and thunderous applause when the crowd was taking a break from standing, all of which illustrated a basic rule of preaching (or performing) that Mr. Gore hasn't quite learned yet: when you're interrupted by applause, let yourself be interrupted. Don't just shout over the cheering and continue your speech, because nobody can hear you.
Fortunately I was only about 10 yards away from the man who won the 2000 popular vote, and I was able to see the Teleprompter -- otherwise I wouldn't have known that Gore was calling for the resignations of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputies Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Stephen Cambone, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The room was a bit quieter, though, as Gore called for the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. "He is a personal friend and I know him to be a good and decent man. It is especially painful to call for his resignation, but I have regretfully concluded that it is extremely important that our country have new leadership at the CIA immediately."
And just as fortunately, I was able to relay that information to some of those leaving the speech who were asking, "But what did he say? Whose resignation was he asking for?"
An effective preacher also needs to fire up the congregation with a hunger for something more than fried chicken and nanner puddin after the service, by assigning them a task for the week ahead. Gore fired 'em up all right, but he didn't assign a task. Moveon.org was already calling for the resignations of Rumsfeld and others, and even as Gore spoke, more than 1,000 Moveon members were visiting the local offices of their senators and congressional representatives to reinforce that call. In fact, Moveon members in the New York City area had to choose between making those visits and listening to Gore's speech.
A preacher also has to be able to do one more thing: change minds, get people to see the light. But everybody in this crowd already agreed with Gore; he'll have to go elsewhere to find minds to change.
Which brings us to the Rocky Top Brigade, a diverse conglomeration of bloggers of all persuasions who have only one thing in common: our connection to the state of Tennessee, which we also share with Mr. Gore. The Brigade is having one of its regular online git-togethers today, this time at a spot on the far right of the spectrum, Rebel Yell. Rebel Yell's proprietor, Stoney, has assured all us left-leaners that he won't poke fun at the Brigade's liberals, so I'm testing his limits by contributing this piece.
For security reasons, we weren't supposed to bring anything -- no purses, backpacks, cellphones, cameras -- so I left everything at home except my wallet, keys, notebook, pen, and ticket to the speech. I must have been the only one who followed that directive, and now I wish I hadn't been so obedient. I took notes like crazy, which wasn't necessary since the entire speech is available online.
Gore seems to have aged more than his 2000 opponent, although he might just have decided that Grecian Formula is for those who seek the center. In any case, he's letting his gray flag fly these days, and he's definitely not seeking the center.
"George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility," Gore began. "Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world. He promised to 'restore honor and integrity to the White House.' Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon.
"Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as 'a decent respect for the opinion of mankind.' He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins."
In a neighborhood where leading people around on leashes is a form of entrepreneurism, Gore addressed the Bush administration's fondness for the word "dominance."
"An American policy of dominance is as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as dominance does. Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens -- sooner or later -- to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul."
Amen, brother. Preach on:
"Our founders were insightful students of human nature. They feared the abuse of power because they understood that every human being lives with an internal system of checks and balances that cannot be relied upon to produce virtue if they are allowed to attain an unhealthy degree of power over their fellow citizens. Listen, then, to the balance of internal impulses described by Specialist Charles Graner: 'The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer says'" -- Gore paused to apologize in advance for the language he was quoting -- "'I just love to make a grown man piss on himself.'"
He quoted the Institute of Strategic Studies, which reported Tuesday that the U.S. invasion of Iraq "has arguably focused the energies and resources of Al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition."
(It wasn't surprising that within hours, right-wing commentators were comparing Gore's fiery speech with the "Dean scream." You remember Howard Dean, who months ago pointed out that the Iraq war did not make us safer? Remember when that suggestion was controversial? Can you think of anyone, other than Rush Limbaugh, who disputes it today?)
Gore quoted Gen. Joseph Hoar, former head of the U.S. Marine Corps: "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss."
And he quoted retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who says our nation's current course is "headed over Niagara Falls." He quoted Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne, who said, when asked if the U.S. was losing the war in Iraq: "I think strategically, we are." He quoted Army Col. Paul Hughes, who directed strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq. Hughes, who lost his brother in Vietnam, said that "I promised myself when I came on active duty that I would do everything in my power to prevent that from happening again." Hughes said that, "unless we ensure that we have coherence in our policy, we will lose strategically."
And he quoted one of the Judge Advocates General in the Defense Department who asked a human-rights lawyer for help, telling him, "There is a calculated effort to create an atmosphere of legal ambiguity where the mistreatment of prisoners is concerned."
In light of the photos, affidavits, and other evidence of abuse of prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere, including at least 37 deaths in captivity, Gore shuddered as he quoted Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, in which he reported that more than 3,000 "suspected terrorists" had been arrested and "many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our allies."
Gore quoted Gen. William Boykin, who apparently doesn't realize this nation was founded on the concept of freedom of religion, since he told evangelical groups that in the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. is "a Christian nation battling Satan."
He quoted victim Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh, who told the Washington Post that he was ordered to denounce Islam after torturers broke his leg and continued hitting it, ordering him "to thank Jesus that I'm alive."
Then Gore quoted the Bible:
"In my religious tradition, I have been taught that 'ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit...Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.'"
He quoted Abraham Lincoln's Dec. 1, 1862, address to Congress: "The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history ... the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation ... We shall nobly save, or meanly lose the last best hope of earth ... The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."
And as the Tennessee preacher got around to the subject of salvation, he quoted another Republican, Reagan-administration Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who, when cleared of all charges in a corruption investigation, asked, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"
Where do we go to reclaim our nation's honor? To the polls, Gore said, just six months and a few days from now. And he quoted Lincoln again:
"We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility."
Helen Thomas wasn't on hand for the occasion, so as Gore concluded and the crowd went wild, I stood in for her.
"Thank you, Mr. President!" I hollered -- not that anybody heard me, but just for the record.
posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @5:08 AM