Why Al Gore's Decision was Wrong
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"I think that a campaign that would be a rematch between myself and President Bush would inevitably involve a focus on the past that would in some measure distract from the focus on the future that I think all campaigns have to be about... The last campaign was an extremely difficult one. And while I have the energy and drive to go out there and do it again, I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that. Who felt like, okay, I don't wanna go through that again. And I'm frankly sensitive to that-- to that feeling."
- Al Gore on CBS 60 Minutes, December 15, 2002
In announcing his momentous decision not to run for President in 2004, Al Gore offered only a precious few words explaining why.
For the millions of Americans who remain outraged over the 2000 election - and believe Al Gore deserves to occupy the office that was stolen from him by George W. Bush, his brother Jeb Bush, five Republican Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the right-wing media led by FOX News - these few words were profoundly inadequate.
Even more importantly, the reasoning behind those few words is historically wrong.
In its usual fashion, the Republican media will not spend much time analyzing Gore's historic decision, and will instead turn its attention to the field of Democratic hopefuls whose campaigns have received a massive boost from Gore's decision. In short order, the media will launch a campaign of personal destruction against each of these candidates, so they too end up as roadkill of the Republican regime.
But for those of us who will never accept George Bush's theft of the Presidency, Gore's few words deserve a more thorough analysis.
1. Past vs. the Future
"I think that a campaign that would be a rematch between myself and President [sic] Bush would inevitably involve a focus on the past that would in some measure distract from the focus on the future that I think all campaigns have to be about."
Judging by all historical evidence, it is wrong to say that campaigns "focus on the future." One can look at virtually every campaign in history, and find the issues and themes that spoke as directly to the past as they did to the future. And the most obvious example is the campaign that Al Gore himself won - the 2000 campaign.
It is certainly true that Al Gore tried his best to talk about the future in the 2000 campaign. But Gore's efforts were overwhelmed by Bush's efforts to focus on the past - in particular, the personal failings of President Bill Clinton.
Bush's campaign was extremely light on substance, and it would be difficult - if not impossible - for most Americans to name a single campaign promise. Perhaps his best-known promise was "to restore honor and integrity to the White House." After unwillingly wallowing in the Republican pornography novel known as the "Starr Report," Americans knew exactly what Bush's coded message meant: Monica Lewinsky. So even though Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were not on the ballot in 2000, George W. Bush refused to "get over" their tawdry affair, and so he did his best to keep anger at the past - not hope for the future - alive.
Bush's substantive policy proposals were also a blast from the past. Echoing Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bush promised that he could massively cut taxes, increase defense spending, and balance the budget all at the same time. Al Gore tried to challenge Bush Jr.'s voodoo economics, just as Bush Sr. challenged Reagan in the 1980 Republican primary when they were still rivals. But Bush refused to engage in a substantive policy debate, leaving Al Gore rightly exasperated. Two years later, as the $5.4 trillion Clinton-Gore surplus turns into Reagan-sized deficits, Gore's critique of Bushonomics - which the media chose to ignore - has been proven exactly right.
When Bush campaigned against a foreign policy that included "nation-building" in 2000, he was also looking towards the past, not the future. Bush sneeringly dismissed Bill Clinton's successful use of American troops to restore democracy in war-torn nations like Haiti and the former Yugoslavia. But shortly after moving into the White House, the Bush administration began planning to send American troops to restore democracy in war-torn Afghanistan. Why? Because Bush's advisors, like Bill Clinton, understood that in this age of globalization, a murderous civil war could unleash hatred and terror that would spread beyond the porous borders of a divided nation. With the War in Afghanistan - and the possible War in Iraq - "nation-building" has become the core issue of the Bush administration. But while the Clinton-Gore administration was serious about installing genuine democracy as part of "nation-building," Bush only wants an to install pro-American strongmen, and then "move on."
Of course, Bush's backwards-looking campaign against Bill Clinton was about something more primal than Clinton's policies or indiscretions. George W. Bush was running for a very personal reason - to avenge Bill Clinton's victory over Bush's father in 1992. When George Bush Sr. became president in 1988, George Bush Jr. was emerging from a life devoted to partying and drinking. He straightened out his life by becoming his father's chief political "enforcer", and was emotionally devastated by his father's crushing defeat in 1992. More than anything else, Bush's 2000 shadow campaign against Bill Clinton was a campaign to avenge his father - and the Bush family name that he had inherited.
2. The "Extremely Difficult" Campaign
"The last campaign was an extremely difficult one."
Of course the 2000 campaign was "extremely difficult." But why?
Al Gore's campaign was "extremely difficult" because Al Gore faced the most powerful political machine in history. Al Gore's nominal opponent, George W. Bush, was one of the most unprepared, unqualified, and uninspiring Presidential candidates America has ever seen. And Bush ran one of the most dishonest, evasive, and nasty campaigns in history, which hardly inspired broad electoral support.
But Al Gore wasn't running against George W. Bush, although he didn't know it. He was running against the most powerful force in history - Big Business and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Big Media.
Big Business has always been a powerful force in America. In the 19th Century, the "robber barons" of the railroads, oil, and steel bought the services of politicians like cheap prostitutes. It took a massive grassroots rebellion called the "Progressive Movement", and an iconoclastic Republican president named Theodore Roosevelt, to limit the corruption of politics by Big Business.
Still, the political influence of Big Business was never eliminated, and was never very far from the inner circles of power. In the 1920's the Harding administration was discredited by the "Teapot Dome" scandal, which centered on bribery by oil companies for valuable oil leases in the West. In 1974, the Watergate scandal exposed cash payments by wealthy businessmen to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign.
As a result of Watergate, Congress enacted campaign finance laws that were designed to keep Big Business money out of politics. But Republicans fought a decades-long war of attrition against these laws, creating enormous loopholes that allowed George Bush to build a massive campaign warchest entirely on corrupt Big Business money. Indeed, John McCain won New Hampshire by focusing on Bush's corruption, but McCain's clean money campaign couldn't raise enough cash to compete against Bush's money - and his billionaire televangelist ally Pat Robertson - in South Carolina and Michigan.
Bush's Big Business money was less important in the race against Gore, because the one feature of campaign finance reform that survived Republican attack was equal public funding for the two major party nominees. What proved decisive instead was the power of Big Media.
Big Media was not impartial in the 2000 campaign. Thanks to deregulation under Ronald Reagan, the news media is no longer in the business of objective reporting. Instead, Big Media was allowed to become just another division of Big Business, with one overriding goal - greed. Big Media was swallowed up by Big Business: Jack Welch's GE bought NBC, Michael Eisner's Disney bought ABC, Sumner Redstone's Viacom bought CBS, and Australian billionaire Ruppert Murdoch used his foreign-made right-wing media fortune to create the FOX network.
Throughout the 2000 campaign, Big Media sought to promote George Bush - and to destroy Al Gore.
George Bush's scandal-dominated past included at least three arrests starting at Yale, dodging Vietnam by using his father's powerful connections to get a coveted spot in the Texas Air National, being grounded as a pilot for failing - or refusing to take - a physical exam most likely because of alcohol or drugs, going AWOL for the last year or two of his service, drinking heavily until he was 40, losing millions of investors' dollars in a string of failed oil businesses, engaging in insider trading identical to the worst corporate scandals of 2001, using his ill-gotten insider-trading gains to buy a stake in the Texas Rangers, corruptly abusing the Governor's office to turn his small stake into $16 million at the expense of Arlington taxpayers, executing over 100 mostly black and hispanic prisoners after cursory review, allowing polluters to kill non-prisoners by poisoning the Texas landscape, and ultimately leaving Texas massively in debt. All of this information was available to Big Media during the 2000 campaign, but none of it ever saw the light of day - thanks to Big Media moguls who were determined to suppress the truth about Bush.
Instead, Big Media focused like a laser on Al Gore. There was very little to attack in Al Gore's past - with the exception of the Buddhist Temple fundraiser, Gore had led an exemplary life of public service. So instead, Big Media put a microscope on Gore's persona - his choice of clothing, his choice of words, and even his sighs.
Every day and night, Big Media delivered its completely biased coverage into every American household to elect Bush. But this effort backfired on the weekend before the election, when a small-town TV reporter in Maine discovered the first hard evidence of Bush's life of crime - a DUI arrest record. This tiny break in Big Media's pro-Bush propaganda campaign gave Gore the boost he needed to win at the polls.
But Gore's election victory was short-lived. When exit polls led the networks to declare victory for Gore in Florida, the Bush campaign immediately went to work on Big Media executives. The networks quickly changed Florida from Gore to undecided. And then the dirty work of stealing the Presidency began.
At 2 a.m. on Election Night, Bush's first cousin Jon Ellis used his powerful position as head of election coverage at FOX News to declare Florida for Bush - even though Florida was still a statistical dead heat. Once FOX called Florida for Bush, GE chairman Jack Welch demanded that his NBC News division do the same. The other networks quickly fell into line, so when Americans awoke in the morning, Bush was Big Media's annointed winner.
As the day went on, Americans learned of widespread voting irregularities, including the Palm Beach machines that gave thousands of Al Gore's votes to Pat Buchanan. Under Florida law, an election this close required each county to conduct a machine recount. And there will still thousands of overseas absentee ballots in transit, more than enough to change the outcome.
But from the moment Jon Ellis's FOX News declared Bush the winner, Al Gore never had a chance for a fair count. Every hour of every day, Big Media attacked Al Gore's efforts to "count every vote." Even though manual recounts are routine in close races - and Bush himself signed a manual recount law in Texas - Bush's lawyers and Bush-appointed Florida judges waged guerilla warfare in the courts, while Bush's vigilantes fought a recount on the streets, and Big Media manipulated its reporting to brainwash Americans into accepting the Stolen Election.
On December 9, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida's election law required election officials to determine the intend of the voters, and they ordered a statewide count of the disputed ballots. On December 10, election staffers and citizen volunteers gathered in nearly every Florida county to make Democracy work by counting every vote. For a brief moment, the will of the voters - not Big Media - was what counted.
But within hours, Justice Antonin Scalia - the most partisan and ideological Republican on the Court - ordered them to stop, with a traitorously partisan declaration that a recount would harm Bush. And on December 12, 2000, George W. Bush won by a single vote - a 5-4 partisan Republican majority in the U.S. Supreme Court, which threw out 175,000 votes that had never been counted, using an argument so unjustified by history and law that the majority itself declared the ruling could never be cited as a precedent.
When the coup was complete, Big Media began its most important job - to conceal the truth of this Judicial Coup D'Etat from the American people. There was no discussion of the merits of the decision, no analysis of the brazen conflicts of interest of the five Republican Justices. Instead, Big Media simply ordered America to accept the Stolen Election without question or dissent - in blunt Republican words, to "get over it."
Thus, there is no doubt that the 2000 campaign was "extremely difficult." But depite the relentless post-election propaganda of Big Media, millions of Americans refused to accept the theft of the Presidency. All across the country, activists protested every single appearance by George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and the five Republican Justices on the Supreme Court. Even after the terrorist attack of September 11, millions of Americans continued to view George Bush as illegitimate, even if he needed public support at a time of war.
So why did Al Gore choose not to run in 2004?
3. The Democratic Party Leadership in Washington
"And while I have the energy and drive to go out there and do it again, I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that. Who felt like, okay, I don't wanna go through that again. And I'm frankly sensitive to that-- to that feeling."
The most difficult part of the Stolen Election was the response of the Democratic Party leadership in Washington DC.
Throughout the 36-day recount ordeal, grassroots Democratic activists mobilized protests in the streets to "count every vote." Using the Internet, Democrats.com and GWBush.com launched the "Trust the People" campaign, forming hundreds of chapters across the country. VoterMarch.org and Citizens for Legitimate Government also used the Internet to organize large protests, as did local activists who formed spontaneous groups. But despite this grassroots ferment, the Democratic Party leadership was silent.
After the Supreme Court's judicial coup, Democrats.com worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to prepare a challenge to Florida's illegitimate electors. On January 6 2001, fourteen House members rose to officially challenge those electors, as proscribed under the Constitution and Federal law. If just one Democratic Senator had joined this protest, Congress would have been compelled to debate the Stolen Election.
The members of Democrats.com conducted an intensive grassroots lobbying effort. But when the crucial moment came, we could not find a single Senator.
Why? Because even though Big Media's propaganda campaign never convinced Democratic voters to "get over it," it did succeed in convincing the Democratic Party leadership in Washington.
All too many Democrats - including the leaders of the Democratic Party in Washington - believe Al Gore ran a hopeless campaign, which was doomed to defeat. But when the polls closed on Election Day, Al Gore had won more votes than any candidate in history except for Ronald Reagan, who swept to victory in 1984 on the strength of John Hinckley's assassination attempt and a medical coverup of his early Alzheimer's symptoms.
Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by 543,895 votes, which was nearly five times larger than John F. Kennedy's victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, and nearly as large as Jimmy Carter's victory over Gerald Ford in 1976. And when the Big Media completed its painstaking manual recount of Florida' 175,000 disputed ballots, the data showed that Al Gore actually received more valid, legal votes in Florida than George W. Bush. Of course, the Big Media lied one final time about the results by using wildly contorted scenarios to interpret the raw data. But historians - and millions of Americans - know the truth: when every single vote in Florida was counted, Al Gore won.
The Democratic leaders who persuaded Al Gore not to run in 2004 have made a grave mistake. Despite a relentless campaign of character assassination by Big Media, Al Gore remained the most popular candidate in the field. Indeed, Al Gore won the Democrats.com Presidential Straw Poll by a large margin every single week.
Now the Democratic Party must start from scratch to find a candidate who can beat George W. Bush in 2004. We are exactly where we were in 1991, when the party's strongest candidate - New York Governor Mario Cuomo - declined to run. In the end, Cuomo's refusal was a blessing in disguise, because it opened the field for the little-known governor from a small state, Bill Clinton. In the primaries, Clinton beat a former Massachusetts Senator and a former California Governor and went on to victory over George W. Bush, who fell from towering approval ratings of 91% to a pathetic 37% of the vote on Election Day 1992.
History may well repeat itself. But the 51 million Americans who voted for Al Gore in 2000 have every reason to be angry at the Stolen Election that deprived Al Gore of the Presidency in 2000, and the profound historical injustice that deprived Al Gore of the chance to restore Democracy to America in 2004.
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