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Al Gore's less-than-peaceful past

October 19, 2007 | Page 5

ELIZABETH SCHULTE tells the story of Al Gore's transformation from guardian of corporate interests to environmental crusader.

WITH THE announcement that Al Gore would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the talking heads in Washington were agog with conjecture about whether the "green maverick" might now step up for another presidential run.

The group Draft Gore issued this statement: "We believe that under these circumstances, he has no choice but to take the one step left to have the greatest impact in changing policy on global warming--run for president."

Many of Gore's newfound fans, however, would find it hard to reconcile his image today as an environmental crusader, with the Al Gore of the not-so-distant past--a loyal friend to Corporate America, a pro-war hawk and consummate Washington insider.

For those who wish he'd take another shot at the White House, it's important remember that he's already been there--and his record is hardly Nobel Prize-worthy.

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GORE ISN'T the first Democrat to leave the White House and remake himself in a new image.

What else to read

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's book Al Gore: A User's Manual, written for the 2000 election, extensively documents Gore's career as a right-wing Democrat and opponent of any number of progressive causes. Joshua Frank's "Nobel Al Gore: A Prime Time Hypocrite" on the Dissident Voice Web site looks at the peace prize in the context of Gore's environmental record.

Cockburn and St. Clair edit the CounterPunch Web site, an important daily source of political analysis. For the 2004 election, they wrote Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils.

For a more general analysis of the Democrats, you can download an ISO Web book by Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism.

 

Fellow Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter is now known for traveling the world to build homes for the poor, and calling the Iraq war "unjust" and conditions suffered by Palestinians "apartheid." That's a far cry from the president whose administration supported brutal regimes in Indonesia, El Salvador and Zaire, and vetoed UN attempts to stop the export of U.S. military supplies to racist apartheid South Africa.

For Gore, too, it's been a long and circuitous route from former chair of the conservative, pro-business Democratic Leadership Council to saintly political renegade.

For one thing, the Gore of yesteryear wasn't quite the shade of green he is today. "Let us also recall that as he ran for president in 2000, he downplayed his environmentalism, his consultants thinking it not electorally sage to emphasize on the stump," ABC News' Jake Tapper wrote in his blog.

"You may not be able to believe this, but at the time, the Bush campaign responded by claiming that Bush was actually more environmental than Gore. 'There are only two candidates in this race who support a mandatory reduction of emissions from older power plants--Gov. Bush and Ralph Nader,' said then-Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett."

As a member of Congress, Gore fronted for the nuclear power industry, especially the Oak Ridge nuclear laboratory in his home state of Tennessee.

In 1997, while vice president, Gore helped smooth the way for the administration's $3.7 billion sale of the Elk Hills oilfield in Bakersfield, Calif., to Occidental Petroleum, a company in which Gore was a shareholder. Journalist Ken Silverstein called the deal "the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history."

Occidental--a longtime interest of the Gore family--is better known for a bloody fight to force the U'wa tribe from their ancestral land in Colombia.

What goes for the environment goes double for poor people. In 1998, it was revealed that Vice President Gore had threatened the South African government with sanctions if it bought cheaper generic alternatives to brand-name AIDS drugs. This amounted to the difference between life and death for thousands of South Africans--and the guarantee of continued profits for the health care industry.

Gore cared little for the lives of U.S. workers either. The "Reinventing Government" program introduced during his years as vice president took aim at federal spending on agencies like the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Jettisoning the idea that the federal government was responsible for monitoring and ensuring safe working conditions for workers, the Clinton-Gore administration pushed the concept of a "partnership" between labor and business, in which companies voluntarily policed themselves.

The outcome was predictable. During the Clinton-Gore years, the number of OSHA inspections decreased to the lowest point since OSHA began in 1973--along with the percentage of serious charges filed against inspected companies.

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NO MYTH about Gore is more prevalent than the idea that he wouldn't have invaded Iraq if he were in the White House instead of Bush.

It's impossible to know exactly how Gore would have responded after September 11, but the evidence indicates that he didn't disagree with the goal of "regime change" in Iraq, even if he may have favored a different strategy.

As a senator, Gore broke with fellow Democrats to vote for authorizing the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. As vice president, he supported the administration's brutal regime of sanctions, which caused the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis, according to the UN. He also favored expanding the no-fly zones over the country, regular bombing campaigns and several attempts to encourage a coup against Saddam Hussein.

Gore also supported Clinton's signing of the 1998 Iraqi Freedom Act, which made "regime change" the policy of the U.S. government, setting the stage for the Bush administration to carry it through.

At a 2000 debate with Bush, Gore said, "We have maintained the sanctions. I want to go further. I want to give robust support to the groups that are trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Some say they're too weak to do it. But that's what they said about those opposing Milosevic in Serbia."

As that statement indicates, Gore celebrated the 1999 U.S.-led NATO war over Kosovo. Misnamed a "humanitarian" operation by the Clinton-Gore administration, the war resulted in massive ethnic cleansing; by its end, there were some 800,000 refugees.

Like many other Democrats, Gore's more recent criticism of Bush administration foreign policy has amounted to complaints that the crisis in Iraq has undermined the "real" war--the "war on terror."

If this comment after a 2002 speech at the Commonwealth Club of California is any indication, the world that Gore would have presided over after September 11 was hardly a less dangerous one.

"I will single out one thing that I think should have been done very differently," Gore said. "Once we pushed the Taliban out of power, I believe that we should have had a force of 30,000 to 35,000 international troops to come into Afghanistan and do like we did in Bosnia, and say, 'Okay, y'all, there's a new sheriff in town, and just calm down."

And he calls Bush a "cowboy."

Today, Gore is being credited with taking a principled stand on global warming. But he caved when another stand by him could have made a bigger difference--when Bush was stealing the 2000 election because of disenfranchised African American voters in Florida.

When it was time to demand that those votes be counted, Gore gave up. Even so, it took a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court to hand the presidency to Bush.

As Gore said in conceding: "Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, 'Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.'

"Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country...Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it."

When members of Congressional Black Caucus tried to raise formal objections to the vote, they couldn't get the support of a single senator, and were thus silenced. As vice president, Gore presided over the Senate's count of the electoral votes--and Bush's official victory.

"Al Gore needs to understand that what happened in Florida is not necessarily about him," Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings told CNN at the time. African American voters "suffered serious infractions and irregularities and disparities."

And it shouldn't be forgotten how Gore ran in Election 2000--as virtually a carbon copy of his opponent George Bush.

The Gore camp waged a relentless slander campaign against independent candidate Ralph Nader. But when it came to what Gore stood for, he positioned himself as closely as possible to Bush--following what Democratic Party leaders were convinced was the winning strategy, of remaining "electable" by appealing to right wing "swing votes."

As New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote this September, the 2000 model of Gore was "the cautious Gore whose public persona changed from debate to debate, and whose answers were often long-winded and equivocal (even about the Kansas Board of Education's decision to ban the teaching of evolution). Incredibly, he minimized both his environmental passions and his own administration's achievements throughout the campaign."

For now, Al Gore may appear to be above the fray of the Democratic Party political machine, as he is toasted for his Nobel--not to mention his Oscar and Emmy. But make no mistake--as a lifetime member of the Democratic Party elite, he wouldn't have very far to fall.

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