An Evening With Al Gore and Harry Shearer--Exclusive to Crooks and Liars
On Tuesday night here in Los Angeles, Academy Award winner, Al Gore acted looser, looked thinner and sounded funnier than any public appearance in recent memory. In fact, one could say he seemed downright Clintonian – in the good way that is. The evening at the Wilshire Theatre sponsored by Writers Bloc/ Los Angeles was structured as a Q&A and hosted by Simpson’s voiceover artist and more famously, Spinal Tap rock star. Harry Shearer. (He also has a new book out, a novel, “Not Enough Indians” and announced that Spinal Tap would reunite for Live Earth this summer.)
Kicking back in his black Tony Lamas, the former Vice President and some believe, President, was ostensibly on hand to launch the initial release and sign copies of his new book, “The Assault on Reason.” But there was more to it than that. This was a chance for a packed house of his core supporters to see and hear him up close and personal. The event had the chaotic air of a campaign stop with media, family, Gore ’08 posters, t- shirts and chants of “Run Al, Run,” scattered throughout the venue.
In a wide-ranging discussion propelled by the plucky (and bearded) Shearer, Gore gave as well as he got. Shearer went right at him about giving up on the 2000 Presidential election recount in Florida. Gore took his time to explain he had called for a complete recount of all votes in Florida, but when he learned that BOTH candidates had to agree to a full recount in the state of Florida (and after calling George Bush to no avail), he retreated to the four county recount strategy. Ultimately the entire event was halted by the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore on December 11, 2000.
Shearer joked that he had recently grown his own beard because he had lost a close election. Gore quipped, “Oh was the Supreme Court involved in that decision as well?” The crowd roared with approval.
Shearer steered the conversation towards Gore’s television project, Current TV and particularly how Gore had bought an unknown station (only Shearer and a handful of people in Canada actually watched) New World International and replaced it with Current TV. When Shearer sheepishly admitted he had stolen the signal and now his Current TV signal was scrambled, Gore had a good laugh and offered to sell him Current TV programming, “ala carte.”
Gore explained the workings of Current TV; it’s philosophy as well as, its function. He feels that the 4 ½ hours a day of commercial television watched by the average American has been devastating to society.
“The well-informed citizenry has become the well-amused audience,” opined Gore.
“One third of Current TV’s content,” Gore stated, “is made by our viewers. The audience selects ideas and we put them on the air.”
He then went into a brief erudite history of media itself, taking the audience back to the days of the Guttenberg printing press and how it simultaneously altered and empowered society.
This was the kinder, softer Al, not the stern lecturer of past campaigns. This was the “professor” whose class you did want to take. Not the one whose class you slept through with a hangover. The inconvenient truth is, you actually felt you could hang with this guy. Bullshit with him. Throw down a few beers with him.
Gore explained how government, seeing the power of radio as a propaganda tool in the 1920’s implemented the Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time provisions to keep things kosher. The Reagan Administration, as Gore pointed out, savagely gutted both.
Gore did not spare the rod when it came to the media today.
“Media was afraid to question the argument by the other side of whether to go to war. Too many news organizations were afraid to lose ratings,” he claimed. The audience cheered in approval.
Turning to torture and the Bush administration, the editorial onslaught continued. Gore explained to the audience that America’s anti-torture policy extended all the way back to George Washington. General Washington himself forbade torture by constantly reminding his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom and that the rights of humanity they were fighting for must be applied to their despised British enemies as well.
Claiming his book, “The Assault On Reason” was not simply an indictment of Bush; Gore added it would be “too simple and too partisan to lay the blame on President Bush. The problem is with the news media and the politicians, everyone who has not spoken about torture and climate change. The fact that these problems are shunned to the side.”
Gore then sternly stated, “There is a crack in the foundation of democracy and it has to be fixed.”
With that, chants of “Run Al, Run” again rose from the rafters.
Turning to the nuts and bolts of the war, Gore explained the political mindset of the Bush people in their run up to the invasion. Gore proved a storyline that before 9/11 Bush was way down in the polls. After that, he soared back up as we all know. But a year later, his numbers were back down again “as the War on Terror was losing it’s pizzazz.”
Gore drew laughter when he informed the audience that, “ Paul Wolfowitz committed candor when he said they had done a careful study of what would work (in selling the war) and WMD was the one argument that worked.”
He then added, “Karl Rove’s participation was also a factor.” It should be noted that any time the former Vice President mentioned an administration figure, the entire audience would HISS loudly as if watching an old time silent movie.
Gore went on, “Andrew Card committed candor (more laughs) when he said ‘that you usually roll out a new product after Labor Day.’”
The new product was the invasion of Iraq.
However, Gore said he was “more troubled by the fact that we were so easily manipulated by a strategy of that kind,” than presumably the war itself.
Asked directly by Shearer, “Why do you think we went to war?” Gore began a multi-layered answer built around the movie, The Perfect Storm (He is after all an Oscar Winner and this was a Hollywood audience he was addressing). But for the most part he said, “It was a confluence of events. Not one reason.”
He referred to Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force as an influence as well as a “legitimate concern for strategic oil reserves,” for going to war.
However, he finished the segment by claiming that the Iraq
War, “was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.”
You can draw your own conclusions from that statement.
But a true performer saves the best for last. Gore compared the Bush governing philosophy to the Divine Right of Kings. “His rigidity is based on his ideology, not religion. He’s an ideologue who went masked in religious symbolism.”
In concluding Gore stated, “If anyone says God has ordained any policy, this is heresy.”
To the final question about the power of documentaries, Gore replied: “I hope Michael Moore’s movie will help pass National Health Insurance in America.”
(If Gore’s new book is as good as this Q&A it should be an instant best seller.)
As the crowd rose to head into the lobby to buy his new tome, Gore and Shearer joined them for a brief ovation and then headed towards what I am sure was a long evening of pen work.
Chants of “Run Al, Run” again filled the theatre. Whether they have fallen on deaf ears is yet to be heard. The Iowa caucuses are nine moths away and Al Gore did look rather thin.
One could only wonder what America, and the world for that matter, would have been like with a two term Al Gore presidency beginning in 2000.
If the news media hadn’t called the election of 2000 for George Bush.
If every vote had been counted in Florida.
If the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t overstepped its powers.
If, well, if Joe Lieberman was vice president for that matter.
Let’s face it. It’s alot of ifs.