The change we need
After eight long, tiresome years, President Al Gore won't be missed. Even if he did save the planet
TA Frank, The Guardian, Wednesday 14 January 2009
No one thought Al Gore would be a loveable president, but, after eight years in the White House, he has gotten truly tiresome. The droning voice, the purchase of an eco-friendly robot dog, the campaign for carbon-free diamonds - all these things were hard to take, and he has been way too smug about reversing global warming. I think we've gone too far in the opposite direction, especially in light of the glacier that recently crushed Wasilla.
I think I started to dislike Gore when he stirred up a media storm after the Feds broke up the terrorist ring conspiring to fly airplanes into buildings back in 2001. He could have let it pass quietly, as Bill Clinton did with the millennium plot arrests in 2000. Instead, Gore held a press conference to milk it for political gain and scare us into a 15 cent per gallon gas tax. But who can afford to pay over a dollar and a half per gallon? No wonder we're resorting to electric cars these days.
And why did he pressure the universally admired Fed chairman Alan Greenspan to step down early in 2002? Replacing him with that old warhorse Paul Volcker was a nasty surprise, especially when Volcker choked off a promising housing boom in 2002 and imposed old, outdated regulations on lenders. Some properties lost as much as 8% of their value that year. Now housing prices are rising really slowly, and GDP barely grew by 3% this year.
To be sure, Gore did accomplish some good things in foreign policy. The Middle East is definitely better off now that Israel and Palestine are separate states. It was clever to transfer the most diehard West Bank settlers to the Gore Biosphere in North Dakota. But in Iraq, even after the demise of Saddam from virulent salmonella, Qusay has proved to be no more agreeable than his father, and Uday is simply out of control. (Grinding up the players of the national football team and roasting the remains on a stadium-sized spit was the nadir of his coaching.) When a group of foreign-policy luminaries - from Bill Kristol to Paul Wolfowitz and Kenneth Pollack - urged Gore to invade Iraq and remake the entire Middle East, the president didn't even listen. That's rude.
Then, of course, there were the countless scandals and ethics problems. Recall that in 2003 a department of justice official failed to report receiving a bottle of Bordeaux wine from the French government, even though experts agree that its value would be in excess of the amount permitted as a gift. Then there was the case of politicising federal agencies, when Gore officials were accused of changing the wording in a report on global warming to say that it was a "severe" rather than a "serious" threat. The Republicans held hearings on that for weeks.
Of course, the biggest disappointment was Gore's failure to handle Hurricane Katrina properly. Not only did the massive evacuation of New Orleans prove a costly and time-consuming overreaction, since the levees - fortified in 2003 - held up fine. The emergency management agency also took over 24 hours to set up trailers for evacuees along the Gulf Coast, leaving them without government housing assistance for a full day. And Gore's decision to single-handedly venture into a flattened house in Mississippi and free a trapped two-year-old showed him to be an irresponsible showboat. Sure, President Gore knows CPR, hears like a German shepherd, and has the strength of 10 men - but we didn't need to see it.
All in all, the Gore combination of psychodrama and condescension won't be missed. It's also time for the Democrat stranglehold on power to end. What we need now is a bit of adult behaviour: a Dick Cheney presidency won't be eventful, but at least it will be calm.
• TA Frank is an Irvine fellow at the New America Foundation