Monday, January 16, 2006

Men Feared Witches and Burned Women

(Crossposted at The American Street)


Al Gore Rips the Imperial Executive -- Jingo-Eye View. Photo by XTCFan.

It's a privilege of living in the DC area that you can break off a humdrum winter holiday, zip on into the DAR Hall and watch a Constitutional Crisis begin.

Strange bedfellows made politics today rather than the other way around. Hosted by the Libertarian Liberty Coalition, Al Gore addressed a crowd that appeared to be about 80% liberal and 20% Libertarian. This extremely cursory estimate was based on the number of people who clapped madly at certain themes and sat on their hands on others. I think I was most amused by the yawning gulf between factions in the audience when on Gore's line, "I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program," absolutely the only person within view who shot to his feet to try to goose a Standing O was Michael Ostrolenk, director of the very selfsame Liberty Coalition.

But the very strangeness of the bedfellows packing the DAR Hall provided a vital clue about the urgency of the matter under discussion -- George Bush's patently unconstitutional -- imperial -- refusal to be ruled by law. That this brought out passionate Americans from both sides of the political spectrum to watch Gore deliver this speech on a normally sleepy holiday Monday is an indicator of just how deeply we all feel that our country has been hijacked by a dangerous and malignant loon.

Gore traced the gradual erosion of the regulatory powers of both the judicial and the legislative branches of the government and the concomitant rise of the executive, in a litany that has become by now so familiar to those of us who've been alarmed by it since the backlash against the Watergate reforms that began under Reagan. The willing complicity of the Congress in its own defanging came under particularly withering contempt: "There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is," he scathed, and scrotums tightened all the way down Constitution Avenue. It's a measure of the paucity of our times that the biggest foot-stomping, whistling, yee-ha-evincing line of the night came when he simply reminded Congress of its Constitutional duty:

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by our Executive Branch which now threatens a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you're supposed to be.

But for me, I must tell you, my reaction to this next passage, near the end, began as a pang in the tear ducts, followed by a low growling noise in my throat through the middle grafs that grew to an unstoppable, inarticulate yowp as I rose to my feet and cheered. I do believe I choked out quite a lot of rage, paying obeisance to ghosts of history from Normandy to Abu Ghraib, as I leapt to my feet and jumped up and down, applauding and whistling:
One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?
Your man Al. He can wind a stem.

Transcript at Raw Story.

Video at C-SPAN.com

12 comments:

Neil Shakespeare said...

Yeah, that last bit is great! Thanks for the eyewitness account. Nice to get a taste of the feeling in the Hall.

XTCfan said...

And, for this boy, hope for 2008.

Bill said...

Don't get me wrong-- I'm a fan-- but where was this oratorical flair when it counted?

A big part of the problem that right thinking candidates have consistantly backed off from confronting the current President and his henchmen with the real names from what they are doing. Good for Al that he's doing it now-- that puts him in a class with Howard Dean and a bunch of bloggers. I don't see that he is forging a path out of the wilderness. Yet.

Neddie said...

Bill:

In among the rock-n-roll rhetoric, Gore laid out a five-point plan that is eminently reasonable and commonsensical:

1. Appoint a Special Counsel
2. Expand whistleblower protection
3. Have real Hill hearings
4. Stop the reauthorization of Patriot Act
5. Make telecom companies obey the law

Of course, Citizen Al can't make any of these happen -- only your local Congresscritter can do that. Perhaps he or she might hear from you on the topic.

But from where this wretched yuppie sits, it looks like path-forging.

Matt said...

So cool that you were there, Neddie.

I watched it at home, and clapped along with you.

What struck me the most, I think, was Gore's erudition. The concept of a politician who is also a student of American history, and who is able to bring his knowledge to bear on our current situation, seems almost alien after five years of rule by "a dangerous and malignant loon."

Sadly, I wonder if such articulate intellectualism still has currency in our political arena, for the reasons that Al himself described. Indeed, that section of the speech was one of my favorite parts:

"And it is 'We the people' who must now find once again the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution.

"And here there is cause for both concern and great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by television - a distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

"Lincoln's memorable call during the Civil War is applicable in a new way to our dilemma today: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

"Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal source of information. Its dominance has become so extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes place within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements.

"And the political economy supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America's first century as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages."

It was a historic day for those of us who have already disenthralled ourselves.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

We live in a scary time, and one of the scariest things is that I have high school students living in my own home who are more articulate than the President of the United States.

There was a time when you HAD to be speak with eloquence to be taken seriously. There was a time when intelligent discourse was expected from our leaders.

Al Gore's speech from a technical stand point alone, apart from the content, stands as a glaring reminder of just how little we expect from President Bush.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Hey, he BETTER give a good speech. He was elected PRESIDENT, right?

hhuhbhdh- wow. what are th' odds.

Decatur Dem said...

You're so fortunate to be able to stroll in to the hall for a speech like that. I just chanced to turn on C-SPAN in the middle of the speech, and by the end I was alternately dabbing tears from my eyes, and pumping my fist.
Gore has turned out to be quite the orator. But it's not only style: it's brains and lots of heart, qualities that I expect these days only when Howard Dean gives a speech. The speech was reasoned, historically informed, forceful, and just beautiful. If he runs in '08, I'll be ecstatic.
And I'll bet no one had to swear loyalty to Gore before they were admitted to the hall!

XTCfan said...

Dem, funnily enough, though the original e-vite warned of no handbags, the need to show picture ID matching the names on the printed ticket, etc., there was NO security when Ned and I sauntered in at 10:30 a.m. How refreshing is that?

This kind of freedom -- the security of anonymity -- is, I believe, a big part of what enabled Gore to speak so well and so forcefully on the subject. Will he be able to keep it, if he decides to run in '08 (as I hope he will)? Bill asked where "this oratorical flair" was "when it counted," and the answer is, of course, that he was moderating himself -- with the help of handlers who hopelessly bungled the job -- to appeal to the widest possible audience. I hope Al now knows that he doesn't need to do that -- given what's happened to us since 2000, he can present himself as he is, he can run on his record, and he can win the presidency.

I hope.


lzlsq (the gurgle of hope trying to once again rise to the surface)

Anonymous said...

I hope the NSA doesn't have access to the names printed on the tix to get in to hear GOre speak

The Subversive Librarian said...

I found this via a link from Redneck Mother. Wonderful post, and wonderful blog!

When Reagan's last term was winding down, I used to have this nagging feeling that maybe he was going to refuse to leave the White House when it was time. Maybe the premonition was just a few years too early.

Susan said...

I wish I'd known you were there. I would have enjoyed meeting you.

Yes, it was amazing. I was over in the press section with the Beltway whores, who looked askance at the bloggers who lept to their feet, applauding. I mean, how gauche.