by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - July 31, 2006) For those of us who believe the Bush presidency has already proven itself one of the most inefficient, destructive, and anti-constitutional administrations in the country's history, the focus of attention must shift to the election of 2008 and, in the interim, we must simply pray that the "axis of evil" (Cheney, Rumsfeld, & Bush) doesn't cause the nation to implode before we get there.
The fact that the 2008 election appears to be wide open is about the only positive thing one can say about it, but the current front runners inspire neither trust nor enthusiasm. There are a lot of vacuous people out there who are hoping to fill a vacuum. American politics have long since ceased to be about policies and become something of a Dog-and-Pony Show with no shortage of either dogs or ponies, the former with their tongues hanging out as they pant for power; the latter, as they huff-and-puff to secure an inside track. What a miserable cast of characters that are beginning to assemble in the wings!
The Republican front runner, John McCain, has already proven that he is capable of forging any kind of alliance with the hoariest conservatives as may be required to bolster his candidacy. He has not only become an apologist for the grotesqueries of Bush's War (the Lieberman Fallacy writ large), but a staunch advocate of many of the same policies that have perpetuated our fatal intrusions into Iraq. His easy, articulate, and soft-spoken manner tries, but does not succeed, in concealing his thirst for coronation. The spontaneous outburst he provoked a few months back when his speech at the New School was roundly attacked by a liberally-inclined student body should have given him pause to reflect on just how antagonistic his current positions are among young people with a cultivated sense of contemporary politics.
If McCain is the Quisling of the Republican Party, Bill Frist is its oleaginous Machiavelli; a scheming apparatchik who may well be indicted for insider trading just as the election year gets rolling. After his preposterous diagnosis of Terry Schiavo's non-vegetative state conducted entirely via TV monitor, I would hate to find him doctoring to my ills. (The examination would probably take place by cell phone and, if I sounded bilious due to an excess of chocolate sundaes, I'd probably be instructed to get myself fitted with a pacemaker.) Rudy Giuliani's main claim to fame appears to be that he got messed up in the aftermath of 9/11 but, before all that happened, he was a vindictive Mayor of New York with very little tolerance for artistic expression and a tendency to suppress exhibitions that offended his sense of good taste. Being pro-choice and for gay rights will essentially cobble him no matter how slyly he tries to adapt his views to pleasethe conservative power brokers. But what is significant is that he is trying like mad to squelch what few liberal instincts he possesses -- which means he, like the others, is prepared to trim his principles if it enhances his candidacy. After McCain, Frist, and Giuliani, the Republican list descends into the lowest rings of Dante's Inferno with people like Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback. It is a pity Joe McCarthy is not around to wave the flag. One feels in the present political climate his browbeating attitude toward "enemies of the state" would be the high point of a Republican convention. More resounding even than turncoat Zed Miller's, who is further right than Genghis Khan but refuses to join the party that epitomizes his true convictions.
As to Hillary: how could anyone in their right mind support the candidacy of an overtly rapacious woman who blatantly compromises whatever beliefs she alleges to hold if it will widen the base of her support? Unsubtly she veers towards moderate positions whenever she feels liberal ones may endanger her chances. If one believes that a vote for Hillary will return some of the efficiency and statesmanship that characterized her husband's presidency, they are living in Cloud-Cuckoo Land. Hillary's passionate rhetoric is like listening to the words of Saint Joan being performed by a third-rate rep actress who, hired as an understudy, is suddenly thrust into a lead role that is beyond her. If we're looking for candor and consistency, Nancy Pelosi is several furlongs in advance of Mrs. Clinton. At least her positions are rooted in bedrock rather than quicksand.
It is a bizarre turn of events that after the Supreme Court rigged the ascendancy of George W. Bush in 2000, we are now watching the specter of Al Gore rise from the funereal past like Caesar's ghost wrapped in a refurbished mantle. It isn't only the spin-off from his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" or the deeply-rooted desire for Americans to celebrate the return of martyred loser; it has to do with certain inescapable realities that emerge when one compares Gore to the other Democratic hopefuls. As far as the environment is concerned, he has clearly displayed principle. It isn't an electioneering pose; the guy is genuinely sold on the dangers of global warming and the necessity to deal with it -- which must mean he is determined to take on the oil companies and the bought scientists who, being in their employ, continue to downplay the threat to the planet's vulnerabilities. Perhaps because he had nothing to lose but his buttoned-up persona, no Democrat (with the possible exception of Russ Feingold) has been more forceful in their criticism of the administration's fatal missteps in Iraq. The great advantage of being a loose cannon is that it can be aimed wherever it likes without fear of kickback.
Policy positions apart, Gore has the supreme advantage of having suffered the kind of ego defeat that either destroys a man or turns him into a gladiator; the same kind of cold-shouldering that isolated Churchill before he was resurrected in the late 1930s when his bellicosity and England's national emergency dramatically coincided. Having suffered an unjust defeat in 2000 and having seen how the country has gone to hell in a blood-soaked hand basket since the installation of the axis of evil (again, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Bush), Gore now has a very specific set of evils to take on. If whatever doesn't destroy you makes you stronger, it is quite possible Gore has developed muscles he never had in 2000. He has certainly divested himself of the starch that stiffened his pre-millennial personality.
What America most needs in 2008 (if we last that long) is a moral alternative to the immorality that has monopolized the White House since the neocons took power. Not just a series of upright policies on prisoners of war, civil liberties, medical coverage, immigration, gay marriage, campaign and tax reform, but a series of convictions about how moral suasion should inform every aspect of foreign and domestic policy; how "right thinking" should become a factor that influences the national temperament -- both in Washington and, by example, throughout the country. In its present state, the nation needs more than a house cleaning; it desperately needs to be fumigated and Gore may be the man who can provide the requisite pesticide.
His greatest weakness is that if he is drafted, it will be by a political party which has revealed such a pusillanimous approach to foreign and domestic scandals that no one man, even if he were President of the United States, could effectively rehabilitate its integrity. My hunch is that if he ran as an Independent, he would carry the majority of the fifty states -- because as much as Americans favor him at the moment, they are aware that his political habitat is the weaselly and equivocal clubhouse of the Democratic Party. If he became their front runner it would probably be "politics as usual" and resolute as he would like to be, he would be hamstrung by the system that created him. But there have been politicians (Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, F.D.R.) who have managed to rise above the downward tug of their own partisanship and stamp new messages over billboards littered with homilies.
The great lesson that Americans have learned from the present administration is that nothing is more dangerous than being led by an ignorant leader -- because it means cunning schemers will emerge to fill the void that gapes between his ears. "The greater the ignorance" said Sir William Osler, "the greater the dogmatism" and we have seen ignorance and dogmatism marching in lockstep for six years.
Whatever Gore is he's not a fool and, in the present political scrummage, that already places him miles ahead of many of the other would-be contenders. His "morality" is not piped into him by bankers and evangelists. He too may be susceptible to handlers and cronies, but they are not exclusively recruited from the corporate world for whom every suggestion is a veiled bribe to increase their personal fortunes.
Beset by devils, it is tempting to yearn for an angel -- and Gore is not that -- but when a drowning man is thrown a life saver, he doesn't stop to question whether his savior is a manufacturer of life savers.
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