Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Despite the wild frothing of the usual suspects and a few "respectable journalists", the Gore speech was actually probably a pretty good political move and, in some respects, an important one in general. (it certainly wasn't "the reprehensible piece of bloody-shirt-waving in American political history", but that should be bloody well obvious.)

(Atrios was right.. Michael Kelly really did lose it, didn't he? He made Neal Pollack look tame, and Pollack's blog is supposed to be satire!)

There's no doubt that the speech energized the base, which is something that's pretty key to this mid-term election. It also probably reflects the beliefs and sentiments of a hell of a lot more people out there than the blogosphere and fellow-travelling pundits like Kelly are willing to admit, and right now Gore is going to be seen as the only person out there who is articulating their point of view in the face of the nonstop beating of war drums in the national media. Gore is also effectively distancing himself from both the DLC and Republicans, but in this case I think that's a good thing, as that's been his goal for a while now..

It's very unlikely that this particular bit will come back and haunt him later. If he's wrong and the war happens and goes well, one speech from fall 2002 isn't going to sink his political career- there's simply too much time in between and too much ambivalence about the whole thing nowadays for it to turn the public against him. If either the war doesn't happen or something goes wrong, however, he can use it himself both to dominate the partisan-driven primaries and to provide a lightning rod for discontent about the war in Iraq by using the same argument that "the actual war on terror isn't being fought well because of this Iraqi adventurism" and be confident that it will help him more than it hurts him.

More importantly, though, is that I think something like this is pretty important in-and-of-itself. A lot of liberal commentators have decried the weak response of the Democratic caucus, wondering why there isn't and can't be a "loyal opposition" to ensure that there's a real debate between governmental officials and those who could form another government themselves (ie a party.) The answer is that there's no such thing in American politics: the Democrats have to be concerned about their re-election and the comparatively non-partisan American system is not particularly predisposed towards unified "official oppositions"; their positions are perfectly valid. Regardless, it still shows that there's a void out there, one that can't be filled either by letters to the editor or books by marginalized leftists with little to no connection to the actual left-wing party in the United States.

Enter Al Gore.

See, he doesn't have to worry about re-election, as he's not currently holding elected office. (Well, kinda, but let's ignore Florida for now.) 2002 isn't an issue for him, except generally as a member of the Democratic party. His goal is 2004, and that's a long way away. What he does need, however, is to remain in the public spotlight... to remain relevant. He needs to say something unique so that he differentiates himself from the other candidates, and he needs to say something that reflects the beliefs of the important voters (in this case primary voters) enough that they will identify with him and believe that he's speaking in their place.

The speech accomplishes both. First, it clearly differentiates him from Congress. Second, in its careful distinction between the invasion of Iraq and the necessity of the unfinished war on Al Qaeda, in its call for the cultivation of alliances with a larger section of the world community than Britain and Israel, in its articulation of the "where's Osama" question, and in its focus on the consequences of unilateral war it probably reflects a decent chunk of the general electorate and a massive section of likely democratic primary voters. (That poll I mentioned below certainly suggests that he's tapped into something.)

Because of this, Al Gore's speech (and perhaps the man himself) can serve in that role of the "official opposition" that congressional Democrats simply can't afford to take up. It's in the American public interest to have a major political figure articulating those points of view, and it's in his interest to articulate them. The fact that it irritates the E.C. blogger consensus and shark-jumping columnists like Kelly so much that it prompts hilarious strawman attacks (the one I quoted above is relatively mild) is just icing on the cake.

Maybe the economists are better at describing politics than I had thought. There was a market need, and Al Gore happened to be the political entrepreneur who exploited it. Win/Win situation. Well, except maybe for Lieberman.

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