Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Al Gore, who I am still not convinced would have been anything but an excellent president. There's really no doubt in my mind that he would have been better for our country than George Bush, but I think it goes beyond that, and did during 2000 also -- I believe Al Gore was one of the smartest, most dedicated men who has run for the presidency in some time. These traits would have led him to perform with infinitely more poise, deliberation, and subtlety than the bull in the china shop we now have. Notwithstanding Gore's utter mediocrity as a speaker on the campaign trail (in my mind, the sole reason he lost the election), he's turned in some stemwinders since. On Friday, at the Sierra Club Conference in San Francisco, he gave another one, an excerpt of which follows.

We're told this is not a time to hold our national government accountable because there are more important matters that confront us. This is not an either/or choice. They are linked together. As our nation belatedly finds effective ways to help those who have been so hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, it is important that we learn the right lessons of what has happened, lest we are spoon-fed the wrong lessons from what happened. If we do not absorb the right lessons, we are, in the historian's phrase, doomed to repeat the mistakes that have already been made. All of us know that our nation - all of us, the United States of America - failed the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast when this hurricane was approaching them, and when it struck. When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic floodwaters five days after a hurricane strikes, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe but to hold the processes of our nation accountable, and the leaders of our nation accountable, for the failures that have taken place.

The Bible in which I believe, in my own faith tradition, says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Four years ago in August of 2001, President Bush received a dire warning: "Al Qaeda determined to attack inside the US." No meetings were called, no alarms were sounded, no one was brought together to say, "What else do we know about this imminent threat? What can we do to prepare our nation for what we have been warned is about to take place?" If there had been preparations, they would have found a lot of information collected by the FBI, and CIA and NSA - including the names of most of the terrorists who flew those planes into the WTC and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. The warnings of FBI field offices that there were suspicious characters getting flight training without expressing any curiosity about the part of the training that has to do with landing. They would have found directors of FBI field offices in a state of agitation about the fact that there was no plan in place and no effective response. Instead, it was vacation time, not a time for preparation. Or protecting the American people.

Four years later, there were dire warnings, three days before Hurricane Katrina hit NOLA, that if it followed the path it was then on, the levees would break, and the city of New Orleans would drown, and thousands of people would be at risk. It was once again vacation time. And the preparations were not made, the plans were not laid, the response then was not forthcoming.

In the early days of the unfolding catastrophe, the President compared our ongoing efforts in Iraq to World War Two and victory over Japan. Let me cite one difference between those two historical events: When imperial Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt did not invade Indonesia.

I personally believe that the very fact that there has been no accountability for the horrendous misjudgments and outright falsehoods that laid the basis for this horrible tragedy that we have ongoing in Iraq, the fact that there was no accountability for those mistakes, misjudgments and dissembling, is one of the principal reasons why there was no fear of being held accountable for a cavalier, lackluster, mistaken, inadequate response to the onrushing tragedy that was clearly visible - for those who were watching television, for those who were reading the news - what happened was not only knowable, it was known in advance, in great and painstaking detail. They did tabletop planning exercises, they identified exactly what the scientific evidence showed would take place. Where there is no vision, the people perish.


It is time now for us to recover our moral health in America and stand again to rise for freedom, demand accountability for poor decisions, missed judgments, lack of planning, lack of preparation, and willful denial of the obvious truth about serious and imminent threats that are facing the American people.

Abraham Lincoln said, "The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country." We must disenthrall ourselves with the sound-and-light show that has diverted the attentions of our great democracy from the important issues and challenges of our day. We must disenthrall ourselves from the Michael Jackson trial and the Aruba search and the latest sequential obsession with celebrity trials or whatever relative triviality dominates the conversation of democracy instead of making room for us as free American citizens to talk with one another about our true situation, and then save our country. We must resist those wrong lessons.


[T]his, in Churchill's phrase, is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until there is a supreme recover of moral health. We have to rise with this occasion. We have to connect the dots. When the Superfund sites aren't cleaned up, we get a toxic gumbo in a flood. When there is not adequate public transportation for the poor, it is difficult to evacuate a city. When there is no ability to give medical care to poor people, its difficult to get hospital to take refugees in the middle of a crisis. When the wetlands are turned over to the developers then the storm surges from the ocean threaten the coastal cities more. When there is no effort to restrain the global warming pollution gasses then global warming gets worse, with all of the consequences that the scientific community has warned us about.


The other problems are known to you, but here is what I want to close with: This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations. To rise to this new occasion. To see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for. To disenthrall ourselves, to shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that were clearly given, and hearing the ones that are clearly given now.

As much as I reproduced, you should read the rest.

When was the last time a President spoke so eloquently, with such erudition and common sense, with such a broad-sweeping appeal? And how striking would it be if someone with very very little to lose and the vision and ability to strike out into relatively non-partisan territory, appealing to the people's moral sense of first principles instead of its spoon-fed indignation over the many tempests in teapots that tend to feed contemporary campaigns, were to stand up and say -- Do you really want someone different, or do you just say that sometimes?

I adamantly supported Al Gore for president in 2000, and I was crushed long before his defeat when I watched the catastrophic result of too many handlers kneading his countenance and his presentation into a gruel of inoffensive, insubstantial talking points, as happens to most national candidates these days. But ever since then I've watched him bang on podiums, talk to people like the immensely popular smartest regular at some small town bar instead of like the stuffed shirt we watched lay down before the GOP railroad in 2000. And I still think he's as qualified for the job as anyone who has sought the office in my lifetime.

And if he were to run, he'd be my guy, hands-down -- as long as he kept talking like this. Imagine -- a democrat, in name at least, who co-opted the emotional appeal that's been so effective for the right and married it to sensible, inspired, and ambitious policy initiatives. It just might be the perfect storm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What indication is there of any intelligence on the part of Al Gore? His lack of any record in the House or Senate? His failures in divinity school and law school? His pampered childhood in Washington hotels?

3:01 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

When Bush strings together a hundred words half as eloquent as those posted above, I'll recant. With an army of speechwriters, however, he can't do it; he couldn't deliver that many polsyllabic words in one afternoon let alone about 20 minutes.

As for the rest, what's your point? Bush was a mediocre student, a failed businessman, and couldn't even stick around to meet his Air Guard obligations. Meanwhile, Al Gore was on the ground in Vietnam, has written intelligent, well-researched books (actually has written them) about the things that mean the most to him. Bush doesn't even read, and he brags about it.

Pampered childhood? Which one at least tried to do the things that unpampered children were forced to do during the Vietnam era. Nobody in the Bush admin, that's for damned sure. Bush himself never bothered to try to be anything other than what he was: just another silver-spooned man of mediocre intelligence, mediocre ability, and a knack for creating, and then calling in, favors. It's not so hard to do when you're daddy's an oil magnate who becomes President.

Again, I ask as I already have: when was the last time any president spoke this eloquently about matters that concern us all, about science, our moral obligation to our home planet and the meanest citizens among us.

Hell, I'll go one step further: when was the last time a president spoke that eloquently from or about the Christian principles Bush likes to tout most loudly when his ineptitude is about to spill more blood, ostensibly in the name of Christ?

I want citations, excerpts, quotations, so we can have a real discussion. Otherwise, I'll assume you have no idea what you're talking about.

Alas, "Anon" -- may I call you
"Anon" -- in my heart I know you won't be back. And what a pity at that.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Ol' Froth said...

Great post Moon, and great writing to boot, your own as well as Gore's.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.

7:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker