I don’t know how he did it.
When Vice President Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election to Texas Governor George W. Bush fifteen years ago today, he would have been well within his rights to deliver a fierce and forceful speech condemning the judicial chicanery that deprived him of his chance to become the 43rd Commander in Chief. He would have been more than justified in rhetorically savaging the man who stole a victory from him, to declare in front of an international audience that Bush could go to hell.
Yet he did not. Instead, he delivered one of the most graceful speeches of modern times, a stirring call to place patriotism above partisanship, a moving tribute to America’s best ideals.
You have to wonder what was going through Bush’s mind as he watched Gore’s beautiful speech: Guilt and shame over the fact that he and his right-wing cronies had, in essence, committed robbery with intent to murder democracy? Fear over realizing that he lacked the competence needed to be an effective leader of the free world? Any ideas at all?
Remember that tragic scene from Michael Moore’s classic documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in which the Congressional Black Caucus protested the certification of the results of the 2000 election? Fifteen years later, we should thank every member of the CBC for their wisdom and foresight. They knew the horror that was to come over the next eight years.
We should also thank Gore for the amazing grace he exhibited the night he conceded to Bush–and the grace he has demonstrated every single day since that awful night. Gore not only became an eloquent voice against the moral depravity of the Bush administration, he also compelled the world to pay necessary attention to the climate crisis–and won a little prize called the Nobel.
Days after Gore’s Peace Prize win, Paul Krugman explained why the American right had declared Gore Public Enemy Number One:
What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?
Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.
And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.
The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.
But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.
We don’t often appreciate the folks who devote their entire lives to bringing about positive change; the thick fog of cynical American politics usually obscures the unique light of hope. Gore represents that hope; his life is an iconic example of turning profound negativity into positivity. Think about it: the most powerful political and financial forces in the world did everything within their power to destroy Gore and his message–and they just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t stop Gore from inspiring millions around the world, from raising international consciousness about the abuse the fossil fuel industry has wantonly inflicted upon our precious planet. They couldn’t stop him from winning even after they forced him to lose.
Or as Krugman put it back in 2007:
[This] brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.
Keep drivin’ em crazy, Al–and keep up this great and noble work on behalf of future generations.
UPDATE: Al Gore on the Paris climate agreement.
Fifteen years after the controversial 2000 election, there are still significant threats to our democracy–and the Washington Monthly needs your help to report on and analyze those threats. Please consider a tax-deductible donation today to ensure that this work continues. Thank you.