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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

“AL’S THE GUY”

Time’s Eric Pooley gives it up for Al Gore:

Let’s say you were dreaming up the perfect stealth candidate for 2008, a Democrat who could step into the presidential race when the party confronts its inevitable doubts about the front-runners. You would want a candidate with the grassroots appeal of Barack Obama - someone with a message that transcends politics, someone who spoke out loud and clear and early against the war in Iraq.

I should mention at this point that Pooley’s cover story is titled “The Last Temptation of Al Gore”. Because Gore is so obviously our new Jesus.

In other words, you would want someone like Al Gore - the improbably charismatic, Academy Award–winning, Nobel Prize–nominated environmental prophet with an army of followers and huge reserves of political and cultural capital at his command.

Gore isn’t Jesus ... he’s God! Too bad, according to Pooley, Gore doesn’t want the job:

He says he has “fallen out of love with politics,” which is shorthand for both his general disgust with the process and the pain he still feels over the hard blow of the 2000 election, when he became only the fourth man in U.S. history to win the popular vote but lose a presidential election. In the face of wrenching disappointment, he showed enormous discipline - waking up every day knowing he came so close, believing the Supreme Court was dead wrong to shut down the Florida recount but never talking about it publicly because he didn’t want Americans to lose faith in their system.

Nice of him. Remember that line about Al not wanting Americans to lose faith in their system; he’s lately changed his mind.

He dedicated himself to a larger cause, doing everything in his power to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, and that decision helped transform the way Americans think about global warming and carried Gore to a new state of grace.

Enough with the religious theme, already.

So now the question becomes ...

The question becomes: Why doesn’t Time capitalise the “h” in “he” when referring to Al “Last Temptation, Perfect, Transcendent, State of Grace” Gore?

How will he choose to spend all the capital he has accumulated? No wonder friends, party elders, moneymen and green leaders are still trying to talk him into running. “We have dug ourselves into a 20-ft. hole, and we need somebody who knows how to build a ladder. Al’s the guy,” says Steve Jobs of Apple.

Jesus was a carpenter.

[Gore]‘s working mightily to build a popular movement to confront what he calls “the most serious crisis we’ve ever faced.”

Not a single person has been killed by global warming.

He has logged countless miles in the past four years, crisscrossing the planet to present his remarkably powerful slide show and the Oscar-winning documentary that’s based on it, An Inconvenient Truth, to groups of every size and description. He flies commercial most of the time to use less CO2 and buys offsets to maintain a carbon-neutral life. In tandem with Hurricane Katrina and a rising chorus of warning from climate scientists, Gore’s film helped trigger one of the most dramatic opinion shifts in history as Americans suddenly realized they must change the way they live.

Hurricane Katrina arrived during hurricane season in a hurricane area. Why is it mentioned in association with climate “change”?

In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed - 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, 60% of Republicans - said they favor “immediate action” to confront the crisis.

The same poll found that people wouldn’t accept even a one dollar gas increase to deal with “the crisis”.

The day that poll was published, in April, I spent some time with Gore, 59, in his hotel room in Buffalo, N.Y. ... I congratulated him on the poll and mentioned the dozen or so states that - in the absence of federal action - have moved to restrict CO2 emissions. Gore wasn’t declaring victory. “I feel like the country singer who spends 30 years on the road to become an overnight sensation,” he said with a smile.

We’ll hear more about Al’s musical thoughts shortly.

On July 7, he will preside over Live Earth, producer Kevin Wall’s televised global rock festival (nine concerts on seven continents in a single day), designed to get 2 billion people engaged in the crisis all at once.

They’ll be engaged in causing it. Next, Pooley watches in moist awe as Al speaks at the University of Buffalo:

He has given this presentation some 2,000 times yet still imbues it with a sense of discovery.

Al discovers more rubes every time.

He laid out the overwhelming evidence that human activity has given the earth a raging fever, then urged the people to respond - “If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate the baby’s flame retardant! If the crib’s on fire, you save the baby!”

The crib! The crib! The crib is on fire!

Then, suddenly, Gore was laying American democracy itself on the couch, asking why the U.S. has been unable to take action on global warming, why it has made so many other disastrous choices - rushing into war in Iraq, spying on Americans without search warrants, holding prisoners at Guantánamo Bay without due process.

This is the same guy who doesn’t “want Americans to lose faith in their system”.

He was getting charged up now. “Our democracy hasn’t been working very well - that’s my opinion. We’ve made a bunch of serious policy mistakes. But it’s way too simple and way too partisan to blame the Bush-Cheney Administration. We’ve got checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a free press, a Congress - have they all failed us? Have we failed ourselves?”

Don’t lose faith, now.

Right on cue, a bright-eyed Buffalo student named Jessica Usborne stood up and asked the Question. “Given the urgency of global warming, shouldn’t you not only educate people but also help implement the changes that will be necessary - by running for President?” The place erupted, and Usborne dipped down onto one knee and bowed her head.

Presumably she was imitating Pooley.

Her dark hair fell across her eyes and her voice rose. “Please! I’ll vote for you!” she cried above the crowd’s roar, which sounded like a rocket launcher and lasted almost 30 seconds, all but drowning out Gore’s simple, muted, five-word response: “I’m not planning to run.”

Thanks for counting all those words, Time magazine. We’d never have managed it ourselves.

Al and Tipper Gore’s home, a 1915 antebellum-style mansion in the wealthy Belle Meade section of Nashville, is laid out a bit like Gore himself: a gracious and formal Southern façade; slightly stuffy rooms when you walk in the door; and startlingly modern, relaxed, informal living spaces to the rear.

Al Gore’s rear has startlingly modern, relaxed, informal living spaces. This I did not need to know.

The anti-Gore crowd zinged him recently because his electricity bill last August was 10 times the local average. The Gores pay extra to get 100% of their power from renewable sources, and their zealous retrofitting will no doubt bring their costs down. But it stung.

People shouldn’t be so mean.

Al Gore and I settle down on the patio, near the swimming pool and the barbecue. “Did some grilling last night with my friend Jon Bon Jovi,” he says. “His new record is great.”

At this point a weaker being might surrender, or possibly even kill himself. I am Australian. I will persevere.

The Assault on Reason will be hailed and condemned as Gore’s return to political combat. But at heart, it is a patient, meticulous examination of how the participatory democracy envisioned by our founders has gone awry - how the American marketplace of ideas has gradually devolved into a home-shopping network of 30-second ads and mall-tested phrases, a huckster’s paradise that sells simulated participation to a public that has all but lost the ability to engage.

Gore forbid Al would want anyone to lose faith in America.

Gore builds his argument from deep drafts of political and social history and trenchant bits of information theory, media criticism, computer science and neurobiology, and reading him is by turns exhausting and exhilarating.

Wow. It must be just like listening to ... Jon Bon Jovi!

One moment he is lecturing you about something you think you know pretty well, and the next moment he’s making a connection you had never considered.

Which is generally an indication you’re dealing with a delusional fellow. Say you’re discussing, I don’t know, the absence of ashtrays in modern cars, and suddenly the guy launches into a rant about his ex-wife and her dentist. It’s a connection you had never considered.

The associative leaps are dazzling, but what will stoke the Democratic faithful are his successive chapters on the Iraq war, each one strafing the Administration for a different set of misdeeds: exploiting the politics of fear ...

Stay away from the politics of fear, Administration! That’s Al’s turf.

... misusing the politics of faith, misleading the American people, throwing out the checks and balances at the heart of our democracy, undermining the national security and degrading the nation’s image in the world ... “I think this started before 9/11, and I think it’s continued long after the penumbra of 9/11 became less dominant,” he says. “I think it is part of a larger shift driven by powerful forces” - print giving way to television as our dominant medium for examining ideas, television acting on our brains in ways that scientists are just beginning to unlock.

An Inconvenient Truth has been showing on Australian pay TV this week. It’s acting on our brains. Curse those powerful forces!

He has never opened up publicly about the Florida debacle, and even in private he avoids the topic. Friends say he thinks the Supreme Court basically stole the election, but he won’t say it ... “It was all about what’s next,” says his friend Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman during the Clinton years. “He was not willing to be a victim - didn’t want to call himself that, didn’t want people to think of him that way. He didn’t want Americans to doubt America.”

Funny way he has of showing it.

Gore often compares the climate crisis to the gathering storm of fascism in the 1930s ...

That reminds me; isn’t there a gathering storm of Islamic fascism right now? Has Gore got anything to say about that? Anything at all?

He was never quite the wooden Indian his detractors made him out to be in 2000 (nor did he claim to have invented the Internet), but he did carry himself with a slightly anachronistic Southern formality that was magnified beneath the klieg lights of the campaign. And his fascination with science and technology struck some voters (and other politicians) as weird. “In politics you want to be a half-step ahead,” says Elaine Kamarck, his friend and former domestic-policy adviser. “You don’t want to be three steps ahead.”

Ordinary folk are too stupid to keep up. By the way, hyperintelligent Al isn’t smart enough to discover that American cars are sold in China.

“The slide show is a journey,” says Gore, standing beside his trusty screen in a Nashville hotel ballroom. It’s mid-March, and he’s addressing 150 people - students, academics, lawyers, a former Miss Oklahoma contestant, a fashion designer, a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ve come at their own expense to learn how to give the slide show. There’s an undeniable buzz in the room, the feeling that takes over a group that knows it’s part of something that’s big and getting bigger.

Scientologists know that feeling.

“We were on tour, doing the slide show, and men and women would come up to Al after,” Tipper says. “Silently weeping.”

Anoint the silent weepers, Al. Anointy nointy.

The weather started getting unmistakably weird ...

Now there’s a scientific observation.

In the ballroom, Gore gives the trainees some advice about the limits of time and complexity. (“Trust me on this. If audiences had an unlimited attention span, I’d be in my second term as President.”)

Inattentive fools!

And then, for the next five hours, Gore walks them through it, slide by slide, deconstructing the art and science, making it clear both how painstakingly well crafted and how scrupulous it is. He relishes the process, taking his time, bathing these people in a sea of data in which he has been splashing happily for years. He punctuates his presentation with pithy attention grabbers - “O.K., here’s the key fact ... Here’s your pivot ...” - and brings to bear much of what he knows about politics. “Here’s something you need to know about for defensive purposes,” he says, explaining the science behind a terrifying series of slides illustrating how a 20-ft. rise in sea level would swamp Florida, San Francisco, the Netherlands, Calcutta and lower Manhattan. The trainees are scribbling hard, arming themselves. Gore smiles.

He’s his own Leni Riefenstahl.

What would President Gore do? Well, on Capitol Hill in March, Citizen Gore offered his ideas. He advocates an immediate freeze on CO2 emissions and a campaign of sharp reductions - 90% by 2050.

Whoa there; 90 per cent by 2050? Kevin Rudd wants a 60 per cent reduction by the same year; only crazy George Monbiot (who desires a 90 per cent reduction by 2030) is aiming at anything near Gore’s society-disabling level. Gore is on the fringe of the fringe.

After Gore presented these views on Capitol Hill, critics assailed them as costly, unworkable economy cripplers. His reply: in a few years, when the crisis worsens, these proposals “will seem so minor compared to the things people will be demanding then.” And, of course, he’s not running for anything these days. He’s in the vision business now.

In the “vision business”, is he? Is that the modern way to describe a permanent hallucinatory state?

He draws from a number of faiths, from philosophy and self-help and poetry and from Gandhi’s concept of truth force, the idea that people have an innate ability to recognize the most powerful truths.

I used to work for the magazine that decided this was cover-worthy. If I worked there now, I’d be fleeing with truth force, let me tell you.

He often cites an African proverb that says, “If you wish to go quickly, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together.” Then he builds on it. “We have to go far, quickly,” he said in April at the Tribeca Film Festival ...

Don’t stop there, Al. How about “We have to quickly go together, far”, “We have to go alone, together”, and “We have to go far and quickly together alone”. C’mon; they’re all good.

Gore is not carrying a mirror.

He doesn’t need to. Time’s cover provides all the views Gore requires. You’ll notice one subject - a subject central to modern Western governance - isn’t directly addressed in this entire piece; despite being a perfect candidate, Gore has something of a blind spot. Far better coverage of the Al phenomenon may be found here.

Posted by Tim B. on 05/29/2007 at 12:20 PM
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