Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Al Gore's Take on Our National Intelligence Assessment

There's a nice profile of former Vice President Al Gore in the September 13, 2004 New Yorker by David Remnick -- a strange sort of "Where are they now?" piece which is as much a rumination on "Where's his head now?" as a profile piece. It's fascinating in that the depth of an intellect like Gore's can seemingly only be unleashed fully when freed of the requirements of attaining elected office. We often lament that we do not attract the best and the brightest to electoral politics, yet the piece makes it clear that in Gore we really did have the best and brightest -- but there's something about the system that literally couldn't elect him despite our best efforts to do so, something about the character of being essentially honest that kept him from fighting as dirty as his opposition, which is what was required to win. A scalawag like Clinton has enough of the buccaneer in him to be clever and occasionally nasty and be enough of a good old boy to win. A boy scout like Gore, with all his merit badges intact and fully-earned, can only get by if people care enough to read his resume. Which is not to say Clinton isn't an extremely bright man - he is. The Clinton-Gore administration is, without a doubt, the biggest combined IQ in executive office since Adams and Jefferson. But Clinton was sneaky, and Gore was not. Gore ran for national office in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000 -- a mark exceeded in the last century only by Nixon and FDR, and equalled by the first Bush. Like Nixon, he made his first try for executive office at the age of 39; unlike Nixon, at 54, Gore appears to be out of the game and happier than he's ever been and bitter at the same time. You won't have old Al Gore to kick around anymore. This is not just sad, because Gore clearly is at peace and enjoying life; it's tragic, for the nation, that we didn't have this guy at the helm for the past four years and we probably will never have his direct service.

But the freedom from the political process that has been granted to Gore may, at least, bring one truth-teller to the table. It would be interesting to see whether Gore can become a senior statesman in the way that Clinton may become a Hall of Fame political coach.

As a potential preview, embedded in the profile is a very concise assessment from Gore on Bush:

"I wasn't surprised by Bush's economic policies, but I was surprised by the foreign policy, and I think he was, too," Gore told me. "The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He's been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.

"I'm not of the school that questions his intelligence," Gore went on. "There are different kinds of intelligence, and it's arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today's world, that's often a problem. I don't think that he's weak intellectually. I think he is incurious. It's astonishing to me that he'd spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and like all bullies, he's a coward when confronted with a force that he's fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved is saying 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes' to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole -- that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don't see any other explanation for it, because it's not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they're willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation."

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