VP vs. VP: Why Al Gore Should've Been More Like Dick Cheney
By Simone.Brunozzi, via Flickr/CC license
I love Al Gore. I've spoken of this before. I am almost irrationally attached to the man, and his 2000 loss was as crushing to me as... some great, crushing thing, like an anvil -- no, like 50 anvils falling on your dreams of justice in the world, if you'd decided to store those dreams in a hollowed-out egg.
But he's currently making an argument, and being used as the basis for an argument, that I disagree with: he's saying Dick Cheney should lay off because he laid off the Bush administration from 2000-2002.
Wait wait wait.
First, to make that argument, you have to believe that it was valuable for Gore to lay off Bush for those first two years. These were terrible years. The election left the country divided (and half of us very, very hopeless). Then came 9/11, which left us scared and hopeless, and vulnerable not just to external threats, but internal threats under the guise of protection. The Patriot Act passed -- and it took Gore three years to call for its repeal.
Throughout 2002, the Bush administration was planning -- sometimes quite publicly -- a war with Iraq. And Gore was silent. He was silent until September 23, 2002 -- well after war planning had gone public. (I assume that someone with Gore's government contacts would or could have known more about the planning earlier than nearly anyone in the press). Everyone hid behind a "we support the Commander in Chief" banner, probably partly from fear that to do differently would hand the GOP the chance to question their patriotism. When Gore did speak out, his speech was factually quite fiery -- but also of the typical, tepid Gore-ese, a dork-wonk's paradise, but not the kind of rhetoric that was going to overcome the "you're either with us or against us" line popular at the time.
Six weeks later, the GOP took control of both parties of Congress.
How were we served by Al Gore's silence? Poorly.
So, then, let's make the opposite argument. I read Dick Cheney's speech today [.pdf], and predictably, I disagreed with almost every word of it. I would love to never hear anything from Dick Cheney again. I'd love to see him retire peacefully to Wyoming, or Texas, or anywhere he wants, to fly fish and write scary letters to his grandchildren. In fact, I'd be happy not to hear from him again until the day he's called to testify before the Leahy Truth Commission.
But if he wants to talk -- if he feels it's necessary to talk, and to talk over the current president -- then I think he should go for it. I don't think it's particularly damaging to President Obama's efforts for Dick Cheney to make the talk show rounds or speak at friendly think-tanks. (Whether it's damaging to my overall faith in journalism that he's getting the access and coverage that he is makes for an entirely different and more curse-filled post). Obama has a much bigger platform to speak from -- and, hey, he has a Vice President of his own that he could send out to meet Cheney on these shows.
What I really don't understand is why the Obama administration isn't using these opportunities to openly debate Cheney's positions. Send Joe Biden -- or better yet, Hillary Clinton -- to every think tank and talk show and radio station and newspaper reporter to whom Dick Cheney speaks with. Make a standing offer that the administration will gladly answer any charges Cheney makes. This guy is wrong, but ignoring him doesn't prove that. Wishing he would go away -- or suggesting that he has a duty to do so -- doesn't prove it, either. And since the media is clearly still willing to give him attention -- the Washington Post, for instance, is letting him share the front page with President Obama at the moment -- it seems like it's time for the administration to step up and answer.
If Gore had made a similar tour in 2002, if he'd aired his complaints on TV, if he'd shown just how wrong the administration's stances were on any number of issues, if he'd insisted he be heard... would we be where we are today? If we'd had an open debate on whether the Iraq invasion was a good idea instead of long, obvious silence from the only party leader Democrats really had -- what would America look like today?
Maybe it would be the same. But maybe things would be better. And if the Obama administation believes in what they're doing, that they're making the world safer, that they're trying the right things, then they should welcome Dick Cheney's criticism, because it can only make us stronger, as a country and a party.