We have a healthy range of opinions here at The Last Chance Democracy Café over who would be the best Democratic candidate in 2008. Winston hopes for a new face. Tom is toying with supporting Hillary. Horace refuses to commit this early, although his heart belongs to Russ Feingold. But speaking as the principal owner of the café, I’m claiming the privilege of stating my own thoughts on the subject. And I’m doing so in the form of a public letter to Al Gore, in case, by chance, that gives you some hint of where I’m going with this.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 45: Run, Al, Run Like the Wind
by Steven C. Day
To: The Honorable Albert Gore, Jr.
Former Vice President of the United States
Dear Mr. Gore:
It is 3:30 on a crisp, clear November morning, as I write this letter. The Last Chance Democracy Café, my business and my passion, closed for the night ninety minutes ago. I stayed late to work on the books. My business office, if you want to call it that, is a converted closet on the second floor of the café, next to the banquet hall. It’s lighted by a single exposed 60 watt bulb: There used to be an inexpensive light fixture there — a globe with frosted glass, as I recall — but I broke it last year when I hurled my copy of The Emerging Democratic Majority at the wall in a fit of anger when Bush was reelected.
I never got around to replacing it.
The fixture that is; I still have the book. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
As you might imagine, my tiny closet-office is barely large enough to hold one chair and one very small desk; the desk is perpetually buried in papers, I’m afraid, with a picture of my wife and kids precariously perched on top of one of the deeper drifts, in constant danger of being carried away in a paper avalanche.
The only real accoutrement in “the space,” to use proper interior design lingo, is a window overlooking the street below. It might surprise you, Mr. Gore, but even at this ungodly hour, there are still quite a few cars on the street. As I’ve said elsewhere, these are the real people of the night. Late shift factory workers — the lucky ones who still have a job — night nurses, hotel workers, cops, street crews, cooks, bar tenders, office cleaners, convenience store clerks, truckers, grocery store cashiers, lawyers cramming for the next day in court, business executives under pressure burning that midnight oil, insomniacs, assorted late night partiers and on and on. Their headlights form a flickering parade below my little window: My countrymen, flying by at the rate of one every few seconds.
And in the philosophical mindset naturally inspired when such a scene is combined with late night fatigue, it occurs to me just how much this parade of lights is a metaphor for America itself, a land brought to greatness through the symbiotic interplay of two staunchly opposite tendencies — the lust for personal autonomy, and the dedication to communal duty. Each driver below my window is an independent actor, free to travel wherever she wills to go, if — and here’s the catch, of course — if, and only if, we as a community have chosen to build and maintain the roads needed to accommodate the journey. And she is free to drive there in relative safety only because of rules of the road adopted and made applicable to all.
We like to think of ourselves as an independent bunch, we Americans. But it is an independence built on the back of community organized in the form of government — local community, national community and, forgive me UN haters, but even, to the extent it currently exists, international community.
John Locke’s idea of an original state of nature, before the social compact, where individuals lived in relative isolation relying upon their own strength, was, of course, never anything more than a literary device: Both science and simple observation prove unequivocally that human beings are communal creatures by nature. And as much as we Americans cherish the idea of the rugged individualist, social and political progress is almost always brought about by the united action of large groups.
To paraphrase a fine senator (although one I personally fear has the potential to become a truly disastrous Democratic presidential nominee), it takes a village to build a great nation.
Let me tell you a story relevant to the status of the American village, Mr. Gore — one told to me by my friend Horace, one of the regulars here at the café — really our philosopher king. Horace has family in Wichita, Kansas, where he often visits. One visit took him there just a few months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As he tells the story, his daughter was driving him to her home from the airport on one of the major highways through town, when, to his surprise, he encountered a huge billboard which read, “WICHITA LOVES NEW YORK CITY.” Now, as a boy who grew up in part on the family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, I suspect you’ll understand what I’m saying when I tell you that in ordinary times one would be about as likely to find a billboard in a place like Wichita professing undying love for the bubonic plague, as for New York City.
But there it was, as big as life. And the sentiment was sincere — and not just in Wichita, Kansas, but in Fargo, North Dakota, Cedar Bluff, Alabama, Whitewater, Wisconsin and Applegate, Oregon. All across the country, Americans, setting aside their usual regional rivalries, were united in a way unseen since the Second World War.
Even those of us who refused to jump on board the Bush is now George Washington bandwagon, were, nevertheless, 100 percent committed to the broader quest to assist the victims, bring the terrorists to justice and take all reasonable and lawful steps to protect the nation against further attacks.
And the truth is, Mr. Gore, that for most Americans, something positive came out of this awful national tragedy — a sense of purpose. After all of the smallness in our national life, the politics of greed and the trivialization of public service, now, at long last, we as Americans had a common purpose; there was a battle to be won and something greater than ourselves to fight for. We had long heard the stories of the greatness of the generations before: There was the Revolutionary Generation, of course, who, as later brilliantly described in David McCullough’s most recent book, 1776, somehow managed to overcome unimaginable challenges and hardships to defeat the strongest military power in the world. More recently, as Tom Brokaw describes in his famously titled book, The Greatest Generation, Nebraska farm boys, New York cabbies and Mississippi housewives joined together with men and women from every other state and occupation, both on the home front and overseas, to win World War II, preserving hope and freedom in the world.
Now it was to be our turn to answer the call to greatness.
And while it was a stupid thing for a newsperson to say, Dan Rather was speaking for most Americans during those first days when he said, “George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions. He wants me to line up, just tell me where.”
We were a nation united looking to George W. Bush for leadership.
And he betrayed us.
Instead of working to keep Americans together in the battle against terrorism, he used 9-11 as a political weapon, challenging the patriotism of his opponents. He used his popularity, arising from his status as a wartime leader, to push through a radically conservative domestic political agenda — one never supported by anything approaching a majority of the American people. And most shamefully of all, he used the 9-11 attacks to deceive the nation into entering into an unnecessary and ultimately disastrous War in Iraq that had absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but which, in cruel irony, has actually served to strengthen the terrorists and greatly increase the threat they pose to the United States and the rest of the world.
And I suppose that’s a big part of why I’m writing to you, Mr. Gore — because I know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that if you had taken your rightful place in office as the winner of the 2000 presidential election, very little if any of this would have happened. No war in Iraq. No misuse of Sept. 11 for partisan political gain (assuming the attacks would still have occurred, which is far from certain, given all of the missed opportunities to stop them). No disgracing of our national heritage by officially sanctioning the torture of prisoners. No ignoring the danger of global warming and other environmental threats. No multibillion dollar tax giveaways to the wealthy. No ballooning national debt.
The thing is, Mr. Gore, I have kids — young kids; a six-year-old and a five-year-old. I got started late; the first one was born when I was 44. Let’s face it; I’m not going to be here forever. But my kids, God willing, will live to see most of the rest of the century. When we speak of global warming unleashing an Apocalypse of coastal flooding, population displacement, migration of diseases, crop failures and famine, possibly well before the end of the 21st century — this is my kids’ futures we’re talking about. When we predict that our economy will eventually tank under the weight of mountainous personal and government debt, leaving a poorer America, and one which offers our children much less opportunity, again, we aren’t just talking about some amorphous “future generation,” we are talking about my children. And when we talk about a world where people increasingly hate the United States because of the invasion of Iraq, and all that has followed in its wake, that’s the world my children will walk in.
And I’ll be damned if we’re going to let them down without a fight.
And, speaking of that fight, this much I know for certain: If there is to be any real hope of political change, it will have to come from the Democratic Party. The Republicans have long since passed the tipping point, hopelessly buried in corruption and ideological extremism. And as for talk of third parties, the truth is that that has always been pie in the sky — and we don’t have time for pie now.
So much depends on how well the Democrats do in the next two election cycles.
And surely you will agree, Mr. Gore, that in a battle of this importance it is absolutely essential that we put up the very best fight we can.
And although, as of just a few years ago, I would never have believed that I would one day be saying this, the truth is, Sir, in working to reclaim the presidency in 2008, the best we have to offer is you.
Forgive the pop psychology, Mr. Gore, but I am convinced that you went through some dark times following the 2000 election. How could you not have? First, you had to live through all the ridicule during the campaign, the bogus attacks on your character — the pack of lies about “inventing the Internet” and the book Love Story. Then, having won the election by 500,000 votes, you were forced to stand there stoically, being the good patriot, accepting the judgment of the Supreme Court — a judgment a man of your intelligence must have known could never be defended.
Many a strong person has become depressed over a stolen wallet or purse; it’s hard to even imagine what a blow a stolen presidency must have been.
Periods of darkness affect people differently, however. An unhappy childhood with neglectful parents, for example, will emotionally destroy some children for life; others, like Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt, it makes strong. I know next to nothing about your childhood, Mr. Gore, but I am aware that you’ve known other periods of darkness in your life — times of disappointment and personal loss. And your response has been remarkably consistent: Defeat, whether personal or political, brings out your creative side. You think. You write books. You jump into projects. You grow.
To be honest with you, Sir, I think you were at best a mediocre candidate in 2000. But the Al Gore I see speaking in public today is anything but mediocre; that Al Gore would have blown George W. Bush away in 2000. There’s a confidence and, dare I say it, charisma there I’ve never seen in you before.
And there’s something else — there’s truth. Of all the major political figures over the last few years, you are the one who has most consistently and courageously spoken the truth.
And, perhaps as a result of this commitment to truth, more than any of the others, you have been consistently right.
You were right about Iraq.
You were right about the news media.
You were right about Bush’s tax cuts.
You were right about the deficit.
You were right about global warming and the environment.
You were right about poverty and the diminishing middle class.
And the thing is, if we are really going to put up the very best fight we can for the presidency in 2008, we need a candidate who’s been right, especially on the War in Iraq, because, while it’s possible our active participation in the war will be over by then, the bloody aftermath and the broader damage the war has done to our society and our standing in the world almost certainly won’t be.
I know you say you don’t want to run. And I’ll take you at your word. But I don’t care. There’s simply too much on the line. And remember, a lot of our 140,000 troops in Iraq didn’t get to do what they wanted to do either.
So I say, run, Al. Run for our children’s sakes. Run for our country’s sake. Run for our planet’s sake.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at [email protected].
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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