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Listen up, Al Gore


HYDE PARK, N.Y. — No, I didn’t get lost on the way to Philadelphia. I deliberately came here instead. Consulting the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the greatest president of the last century, seemed a better idea than getting within dry-cleaning distance of one of the world’s greatest orgies of political and media masturbation. The Republican National Convention was really over long before it began anyway. As it now stands, George W. Bush, a particularly obnoxious frat boy who was saved at age 40, we are told, from an alcoholic bad end by Billy Graham, is apt to be Our Next President.

How did this happen? Imagine we’d been told, the day Bill Clinton put his crossed fingers on the Bible to be sworn in, that seven years later we’d have peace, prosperity, and budget surpluses stretching as far as the eye can see. The Republicans would have despaired.

Yet now they are winning. What nobody knew, of course, was the President would later allow a fat girl to put his member in her mouth, after which we would talk of nothing else for a year and a half. Everyone agrees Al Gore doesn’t do that sort of thing, but too bad; everyone agrees he’s tainted with the shame of it anyway.

So the media lords have decreed we need a change, and no taint of reality is to mar the seemingly foreordained script. Last week Bush, having been heavily lobbied by daddy, chose Lon — oops — Dick Cheney as his running mate. I expected Hunter Thompson to immediately praise the selection as a sign the Republicans were ready to reach out to the vampire community. Indeed, the Prince of Gonzo ought to have been ecstatic over a choice whose name links him forever to a man best known as both Dracula and a heroin addict.

Alas, Duke’s pen stayed dormant. Doggedly, a few reporters noted Cheney was one of only a handful of far-right congressmen to vote against the Clean Air Act and banning cop-killer bullets. But unlike the top of the ticket, he can find both Slovenia and the Smithsonian on a map, so the high priests of the chattering class blessed his anointment. Which means Gore is in deep shit. Plummeting in the polls, flailing clumsily as he has all year, he announced he would reveal his vice-presidential choice Aug. 8 — then added he didn’t even know who that would be yet. Nothing like adding to the perception he is soulless, something that started with his alarmingly stupid flip-flop on Elian Gonzalez and has continued with his constantly changing parade of advisers.

This is especially bothersome personally, because once upon a time I knew Al Gore, slightly to be sure, but had a couple private dinners with him when he was a mere senator from Tennessee. He was a trifle stiff then, but less so off-camera, and he believed certain things passionately. For one thing, he believed we had to do something serious and radical about our environment, if the species were to survive.

He even wrote — himself, without ghostwriters — a pretty good book about this, Earth In the Balance. Yet we don’t hear much about that anymore. Apparently, Gore intends to run as a sort of not-quite-as-right-wing Republican. Yet it shouldn’t take his Harvard education to know when the voters get a choice between a real Republican and an imitation variety, they generally opt for the genuine article.

Yet what if he were to do the right thing and regard the present situation as sort of a liberating experience? Most of the experts expect the vice president to name some politically safe vice-presidential choice, like the senator from Florida.

Whoopee. Why not roll the dice, big-time? How about stunning the nation and offering the job, say, to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a magic name who has done some wonderful work in his own right with his environmental group Riverkeepers, a branch of which is now trying to save Lake St. Clair from being turned into a permanent toilet.

Why not make this a campaign for and about our future, naming the issues and taking them on in a way that — even if he didn’t win — would set the tone for the kind of campaign that we need to be waging if we are to have a livable 21st century?

Why not take on the Republicans over their pledge to brutally oppose anyone’s right to choose in the heartrending matter of abortion? Why not tell the truth about the threat the Republicans pose to our prosperity?

Nobody is talking about this, but Bush Minor promises massive tax cuts for his wealthy patrons, cuts which threaten the “surpluses,” which, as of now, exist only on paper. Those tax cuts are apt to result in the ever-watchful Alan Greenspan quickly jacking up interest rates to prevent inflation. Which at some point will mean good-bye, good times. Say what you will, the Clinton administration has managed our prosperity so skillfully that last week, inflation was still down, growth was up 5.2 percent instead of an expected 3.8 percent — and the stock market regarded that as bad news. We are spoiled.

FDR was, in a way, like Al Gore; somebody from a moneyed, connected and privileged background, who yet knew that to preserve his way of life he needed to not only to help those less fortunate, but to make them feel part of things.

Will Rogers said Roosevelt “could take such a dry subject as banking, and make everybody understand it, even the bankers.” Can the Nashville flash do anything like that? He might as well try. The shrink-wrapped, plastic product isn’t selling. He’s got little to lose by switching to the organic version instead.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to

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