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What Al Gore’s speech reveals about the state of US politics

In the ten days that have passed since the January 16 speech delivered by Al Gore in Washington charging President Bush with trampling on the Constitution in his conduct of the "war on terror," the former vice president has been alternately vilified, ridiculed or ignored. There has been little serious discussion of his criticisms of the Bush administration, however, outside of the World Socialist Web Site. (See: "Bush administration domestic spying provokes lawsuits, calls for impeachment")

The substance of Gore's speech was the most sweeping indictment of the Bush administration by any significant figure within the US ruling elite since Bush took office in 2001. He not only charged that the Bush White House seeks to exercise quasi-dictatorial powers over the American people, but he painted a picture of a judicial system and a Congress which are unwilling to challenge the presidential power-grab and uphold the traditional institutions of the American constitutional system, based on the separation of powers between Congress, the White House and the courts.
Such statements from such a source have extraordinary political significance. Gore is, after all, not an accidental figure in American politics. The son of a longtime senator from Tennessee, he was in turn a congressman, senator, vice president for eight years—during which he played a central role in much of the policymaking of the Clinton administration—and then the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in 2000. He received more than 50 million votes in that election, beating Bush by 500,000 in the popular vote.

Now this representative of the highest level of the American ruling elite declares that "America's Constitution is in grave danger," and that democratic values "have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power."

In the current exposure of illegal surveillance, Gore said, "What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."

He repeatedly referred to the conviction of those who wrote the American Constitution that "they had established a government of laws and not men," declaring that the Bush White House was seeking to reverse this, creating an all-powerful executive that could ignore the law and do as it pleased.

Gore dismissed the administration's claim that the NSA wiretapping was an exercise of presidential war powers authorized by Congress after the September 11 terrorist attacks, pointing out that the White House had sought to have specific authority for domestic counter-terrorist actions inserted in the resolution, but congressional leaders refused. "When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother," he said.

Gore warned that the Bush administration's "disrespect for America's Constitution ... has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution." He denounced Bush's claims of a presidential right to imprison American citizens indefinitely, without an arrest warrant or any judicial proceeding, and without informing them of the charges against them or allowing them to contact a lawyer or their own families.

He cited the White House claim of the right to kidnap, imprison, interrogate and torture individuals seized in foreign countries and held in secret US facilities around the world. "Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by executive branch interrogators," he said, noting that the vast majority of those held at the best-known such prison, Abu Ghraib, were innocent of any crimes.

"Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution?" Gore asked. "If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

"The dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the executive branch's extravagant claims of these previously unrecognized powers, and I quote Dean Koh, 'If the president has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution'."

This last passage warrants underlining. Gore cites with approval the assessment—by a prominent member of the US legal establishment—that the logic of the Bush administration's policy is to assert the right to commit atrocities on a Hitlerian scale. This is how far American capitalism has moved since the launching of Bush's "war on terror."

The rest of Gore's speech was devoted to reviewing the impact of this unilateral assertion of presidential authority on the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches which is the hallmark of the US constitutional system.

"As a result of this unprecedented claim of new unilateral power, the executive branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk," he said. "The stakes for America's democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized. These claims must be rejected and a healthy balance of power must be restored to our republic. Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo a radical transformation."

Gore discussed the historical implications of the Bush administration's actions, comparing them to the arbitrary actions of the British Crown which sparked the American Revolution, as well as other episodes of attacks on democratic rights, particularly during the major wars of the 20th century, such as World War I, World War II and Vietnam. One danger in the present situation, he emphasized, was that the open-ended character of the war declared by the Bush administration could "justify arrogations of power [that] will in this case persist in near perpetuity."

The administration has also embraced a legal theory of the "unitary executive" which claims that the president's actions as commander-in-chief are essentially unreviewable by either Congress or the courts, another blow to the traditional framework of checks and balances.

Gore noted the declining willingness of the federal judiciary to restrain executive power, but he focused more attention on Congress, saying, "The sharp decline of Congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the executive to attain this massive expansion of its power."

He said Congress had become "structurally unrecognizable" and "now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the executive branch." There are no oversight hearings, and appropriations bills are passed without serious consideration, often without even being available for members of Congress to read before voting on them. The rubber-stamp character of Congress was exemplified in the NSA spying case, with a handful of congressional leaders informed under conditions where they agreed to say or do nothing. "Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking sufficient action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program," he said.

Gore concluded by condemning what he described as an administration effort to spread fear and intimidate the public into accepting the massive erosion of democratic rights. He called for the appointment of a special counsel to "pursue the criminal issues raised by the warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the president."

There are three aspects of Gore's speech which are critical from the standpoint of a socialist analysis of the deepening political crisis in the United States. First, his speech was directed entirely to the ruling elite. Gore was making an appeal, not to the American people as a whole, but to the Washington political and media establishment of which he is a longtime member. After making his indictment of the Bush administration—quite powerfully, by the standards of official American political debate—he declined an offer from PBS to appear on the Jim Lehrer news program, and issued only a perfunctory two-paragraph response to the predictable diatribes against him by White House spokesmen and the right-wing press.

Second, Gore refused to characterize the material interests and motives which impel the Bush administration's power-grab, referring only to "mistakes" and actions which were "misguided." He criticized the decision to invade Iraq, but never mentioned the word "oil." The previous week, Bush gave a particularly vicious speech attacking opponents of the Iraq war in which he declared that criticism of the war was permissible only so long as charges of a "war for oil" were excluded from the debate. Despite the harshness of his criticism of Bush January 16, Gore tacitly accepted this restriction.

In a similar vein, Gore avoided any examination of the social conditions within the United States—above all, the enormous growth of social inequality—which is the underlying motor force of the Bush administration's attacks on democratic rights. It is impossible to maintain democratic forms in a society so sharply polarized between enormous wealth in the hands of a tiny elite—less than one percent of the population—and the vast majority struggling for their economic survival.

As a bourgeois politician who defends the profit system that is responsible for this vast social polarization, Gore is incapable of raising this central issue. Instead, he sought to make an appeal to a section of the ultra-right, warning that an all-powerful Bush administration might be succeeded by a Democratic president who would exercise similarly sweeping powers. His appearance was co-sponsored by several anti-tax and libertarian groups and Gore paid tribute, at the beginning of his remarks, to the co-organizer of the event, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, who was one of the Republican managers in the impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton.

Gore was at pains to reassure his fellow members of the ruling elite that despite his well-grounded criticisms of the Bush administration, he was equally committed to the defense of the interests of American imperialism. One key passage of his speech declared his agreement that the threat of terrorism "does indeed create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the executive branch with swiftness and agility."

Gore added, "there is in fact an inherent power conferred by the Constitution to any president to take unilateral action when necessary to protect the nation from a sudden and immediate threat. And it is simply not possible to precisely define in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when it is not. But the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power-grab lasting for many years and producing a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government."

In other words, Gore condemns Bush for an "excessive power-grab lasting for many years," holding out the prospect that a power-grab of lesser size and shorter duration would be more manageable and less costly in terms of discrediting the political system which has served corporate interests and the American ruling class for so long.

Thirdly, the response to Gore's speech in the political establishment underscores what the WSWS has maintained ever since the stolen election of 2000: there exists no significant section of the ruling elite that is prepared to make a serious issue of the defense of democratic rights.

The Bush administration itself and its open lackeys in the right-wing press have portrayed Gore either as an embittered loser of 2000—although he actually won the popular vote and would have taken office but for the unconstitutional intervention of the Supreme Court—or as a lunatic who ignores the obvious necessities of the global war on terror.

From the Democratic Party and its media allies, the response has generally been to ignore the speech altogether. Here the lead was given by the New York Times, the most cowardly and unprincipled of the bourgeois "opponents" of the Bush administration, which did not even dignify the speech with a separate article. The Times relegated it to a passing mention in a story, buried in its New York regional coverage, on the White House reaction to Hillary Clinton's comparison of the Republican-run House of Representatives to a southern plantation.

While some daily newspapers published editorials supporting Gore's criticisms, the speech was dropped as a media topic within a few days. It went virtually unmentioned in the network television interview programs the following Sunday, on which Democratic senators Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer and John Kerry all appeared.

Only Kerry was even asked about Gore's attack, and his response demonstrated the intellectual incoherence and inability to take a firm position which made him a caricature as a presidential candidate in 2004. Kerry said the current program of presidentially-authorized spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) was illegal, then rejected the suggestion that Congress should cut off funding for it, saying instead that Congress would readily approve some form of NSA domestic spying if the administration sought legislative backing.

-world socialist website

homepage: homepage: http://www.wsws.org

Corporate media pushes dissent OUTSIDE THE PARTIES! 26.Jan.2006 11:56

g.d. dem

Another excellent article by WSWS. It is especially relevant how the news story has been suppressed even by the New York Times.

Although not mentioned by Patrick Martin, Gore was introduced by -- in cahoots with -- ultra-conservative former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr. The event was billed as "bi-partisan" and that's what it should have been -- if it had been covered by corporate media as the major event it was. But considering how the event has been carefully shunned by corporate media, it can only be considered a OUTSIDE THE PARTIES event!

Everything was done to make Gore's speech a major media event -- for example, teaming up with the NRA (considering that the NRA was a major opponent of Gore in the 2000 election over the gun control issue). There is no way to account for the way corporate media shunned the event except as more proof that corporate media is shamelessly pimped by its owners -- who are all part of, and beholden to, global capital.

Gore has stepped outside the two major parties because the two parties have become so entrapped by global capital and by the corporatist state that is the U.S.A. today.

(I believe it is more important than ever for us to support progressive Democrats and maverick Republicans JUST BECAUSE the two party system has become dysfunctional. It is equally important to press for opening of the ballot for "third party" or Independent candidates such as the S.E.P. or Ralph Nader.)

Patrick Martin notes that Gore isn't in a position to discuss "the social conditions within the United States—above all, the enormous growth of social inequality—which is the underlying motor force of the Bush administration's attacks on democratic rights". Martin mentions this in connection with Gore's failure to mention oil in the context of the Iraq war -- but another glaring omission is failure to mention the on-going disaster of "free" trade and the hegemony of unrestrained global capital.

Progressive Democrats, as well as maverick (meaning patriotic) Republicans, understand the disaster of corporate globalization -- even though they do not advocate radical socialism as the WSWS does. I don't know where Bob Barr stands on this matter, but Gore unfortunately is compromised by his participation in the Clinton/Republican sell-out of U.S. sovereignty to the forces of global capital. At the time, Gore surely had no idea that he was also selling out U.S. democracy. Perhaps this explains, to some extent, why he has chosen to step outside the parties at this time.

FROM TheWeekly.com --

< Former Congressman Bob Barr will introduce former Vice President Al Gore at a bipartisan event hosted by the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. The speech will be held in the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall (1776 D Street, NW in Washington D.C.), Monday, January 16 at 12 pm (doors open at 10:30 a.m.).

< The Liberty Coalition organizes and coordinates non-partisan public policy, and partners with conservative organizations such as the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Gun Owners of America. Liberty Coalition also counts among its membership various liberal organizations such as Moveon.org, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Democrats.org.

< The focus of the event will highlight the growing concerns of conservative and liberal groups over domestic spying and the vanishing checks and balances necessary to preserve Americans' civil liberties.

< Barr, a former Member of Congress, has served with the U.S. Department of Justice and Central Intelligence Agency. He continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association and works with such groups as the American Conservative Union Foundation and the ACLU on issues related to privacy and national security and also serves as the Chairman for Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances.

 http://www.theweekly.com/news/2006/January/14/Bob_Barr.html

Good synopsis 26.Jan.2006 12:34

Man on the street promandan@hotmail.com

I disagree with your politics but I strongly support your analysis given here.

specific URL link to above-posted Patrick Martin article 26.Jan.2006 12:41

reference

:


missing the point of the article 26.Jan.2006 13:34

progressivism and gore: what?

> Gore has stepped outside the two major parties because the two parties have become so
> entrapped by global capital and by the corporatist state that is the U.S.A. today.

Gore has no basic beef with "global capital" or a "corporatist state"; he is a former functionary and still a beneficiary of global capital and corporate statism who has a dispute with the current regime about how global capital and corporate statehood should be managed. He's attracted to the traditions and the apparent stability of the "separation of powers" and "two-party system" he grew up with. Those powers were not our friends when they were separate, and the other party didn't do things that much differently when it was in power for long periods of time. This does not make Gore a hero of the people against the Powers That Be. Gore is not "a progressive Democrat."

Al Gore’s speech again? 26.Jan.2006 15:52

Burro

This is at least the 3rd time that a story about this speech has appeared here. Refer to 'The Speech', comments and discussion at:

Full Text of Gores impressive speech
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/01/332191.shtml

Al Gore MLK Day Speech-Stop Bush Regime Power Grab!
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/01/332019.shtml

Unfortunately, Al Gore is all speech and little progressive action. What good does it do to rehash all this again?

g.d. dem sends a nice comment and analysis. But says "I believe it is more important than ever for us to support progressive Democrats and maverick Republicans JUST BECAUSE the two party system has become dysfunctional. It is equally important to press for opening of the ballot for "third party" or Independent candidates such as the S.E.P. or Ralph Nader."

The point of difference is still there: Can a dysfunctional two party system actually make any real changes? Can support for a 'progressive democrat' or 'maverick republican' really make a difference as long as that person remains within the dysfunctional two party system which is controlled by groups like corporate lobbyists, the DNC, DLC, and RNC?

'Burro' 26.Jan.2006 17:17

kilroy

while you're correct that this is the 3rd appearance (at least in topic form) of Gore's speech on PDX IMC's newswire -

(and was spammed onto here in this guise, this time by the 'anonymous World Socialist Web Site re-poster'...)

it's still the first savvy analysis or breakdown of it to appear.

the WSWS article also rightly points out - for many who might not be aware, and Believe It Or Not this also includes some Portland IMC readers - that the content and language of Gore's speech was specifically intended for and directed at political/corporate elites (e.g. total absence of the word "oil" RE: Iraq...)

RE: 'politics', 'one-party, two-parties', etc. - and this is something no one (in national visibility) but Ralph Nader consistently addresses - yes, it will first be necessary to completely rid the system of Corporate Dominance in order for meaningful American political 1) representation and 2) dialogue/debate to occur.