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Gore: The Voice of the Democratic Party
Monica Friedlander

When Al Gore delivered his strong indictment of the administration's Iraq policy and its preemptive strike doctrine, he did something very unusual for this day and age. He took a stand. His was the most forceful and eloquent statement on the subject made by a major Democratic figure in the country. Thereby the winner of the 2000 presidential election did more than challenge Bush on the war issue. He set himself up as the true leader of the Democratic party and its grassroots members nationwide.

Moreover, Gore laid out a vision for America's role as a moral leader of the free world, a role that would place our country back within the framework of international law. As a member of the international community, Gore said, we must act as we expect others to.

"An unspoken part of this new [preemptive strike] doctrine appears to be that we claim this right for ourselves -- and only for ourselves," Gore said. "President Bush is presenting us with a proposition that contains within itself one of the most fateful decisions in our history: a decision to abandon what we have thought was America's mission in the world -- a world in which nations are guided by a common ethic codified in the form of international law."

Since 9/11 and until recent weeks, the political debate in this country has come to a virtual halt. The political leadership of both parties has been largely paralyzed by explicit threats or implicit insinuations by the White House that any kind of opposition to this administration is tantamount to being unpatriotic and un-American. With a few exceptions (most notably Senator Bob Byrd's outcries against this repressive atmosphere), Congress adopted a sheeplike mentality on all issues having to do with foreign affairs. And debate on what may be the most consequential issue of our times -- the strike against Iraq -- has been essentially muted.

Until now. Al Gore broke the code of silence with his speech on Monday in San Francisco. The millions of Democrats left without a voice have now found their leader again. Al Gore speaks for us, and no other Democratic contender for the White House comes close.

Not surprisingly, the White House immediately dismissed Gore's speech as insignificant and at odds with the American people. But while the leadership in Congress suffers from reduced backbone syndrome, the country is in fact split on the issue. And since it's not too great a leap to assume that most of those opposing the administration are not Republicans, that means that most Democrats are in fact supportive of Gore's position.

Finally, Gore's speech also represents a golden opportunity for Democrats to pick up the baton and blow open the debate on this issue. It may never happen. But with his bold move Al Gore has broken away from the pack and served notice that he's the Democrat to beat in 2004.