Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Gore to appear in Seattle on Monday"

Bothell Times:

The event is sponsored by Town Hall and the Elliott Bay Book Co. Tickets are $5 and will be available beginning Thursday at 10 a.m. only at or 800-838-3006. Purchases will be limited to two tickets. For more information, go to

The author of "The Assault on Reason" will appear at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Seattle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Impeach Gonzales, Part 2: The Crimes" (video), with video (1:59):
Petition: It's time for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to go. Bush won't fire him -- but YOU can.

"Obama outlines healthcare plan"

LA Times:
Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday offered an ambitious plan to curb healthcare costs and expand insurance coverage, in the latest example of Democratic presidential candidates honing strategies to achieve coverage for all.
Among the top three Democratic contenders, the Illinois senator joins former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in outlining a comprehensive health plan. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has the most experience with the issue, has offered some ideas to rein in costs and is working on a plan.

Republicans have thus far largely shied away from healthcare but are expected to weigh in with ideas that stress individual responsibility and market reforms instead of reliance on government. "It's a Goldilocks story, where the Democrats have gone way too far, and I don't think Republicans are doing enough," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff.

Obama's plan would expand the federal role in regulating insurers and paying for healthcare, particularly for the costliest cases. But it would stop short of creating a Canadian-style system in which the government paid all the bills. The proposal would require most employers to contribute toward workers' coverage and require parents to obtain insurance for their children through an employer, a government program, or on their own.

The plan's most far-reaching aspect is a set of cost-containment changes that Obama said could save a typical insured family up to $2,500 a year by wringing out much of the inefficiency and waste that make the U.S. healthcare system the world's costliest.

"We have reached a point in this country where the rising cost of healthcare has put too many families and businesses on a collision course with financial ruin," Obama said in a speech at the University of Iowa. "Democrats and Republicans, small-business owners and CEOs have all come to agree [it] is not sustainable or acceptable any longer."

Obama's plan is more a vision than a blueprint, but it could buttress his standing with Democratic primary voters who may be skeptical of his level of experience.

"He's finally responding to the criticism that he's a theme in search of a program," said Democratic political analyst William A. Galston. "The fact that he's getting specific is more important than the precise substance of the specifics."

But some experts said the plan was short on specifics, particularly regarding the hoped-for savings and the costs of providing coverage to the estimated 45 million uninsured.

"The numbers don't seem to work very well," said health policy analyst John Sheils, senior vice president of the Lewin Group, a top healthcare consulting firm. "I think [the savings] are just dramatically overstated."

Consultants to Obama said in a memo released by the campaign that $200 billion or more in annual savings were possible through a combination of changes to increase efficiency, including converting to electronic medical records, better coordination of care for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, and a dramatic reduction in duplicative tests and medical procedures of dubious benefit.

But Sheils said most major employers and government healthcare programs were already pursuing such reforms, and the jury was still out on how much money could be saved. Moreover, some of Obama's proposals would require doctors to change the way they treat certain medical conditions, a reeducation process that could take years.

"They don't explain how they are going to get at the inefficiency," Sheils said. "I don't see anything [in Obama's plan] that changes the fundamental incentives of the system."

The Edwards campaign also criticized the plan, saying the lack of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance means it will not achieve universal coverage.

Edwards' proposal includes a so-called individual mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance, and employers would have to help pay for coverage for their workers.

But Obama campaign officials said the senator thought it would be unfair to impose an individual mandate unless healthcare costs could be reined in. The Obama plan should cover at least 98% of U.S. residents, the officials said, and Obama would fine-tune it to get the remainder. Obama has pledged that, if elected, he would sign legislation guaranteeing coverage for all by the end of his first term.

Under his plan, the government would create a public insurance program for workers and their families who do not have access to group coverage through their employers and do not qualify for other programs such as Medicaid. Small businesses could get coverage from the program for their employees, which would offer benefits patterned on those available to government employees.

The proposal calls for the creation of a National Health Insurance Exchange, which would act as a clearinghouse for people wishing to purchase private coverage, but also set and enforce standards for the industry. Obama would prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

To help lower the cost of private coverage, the government would pick up the cost of insuring against catastrophic illnesses — a proposal that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) made in his 2004 presidential campaign.

With savings from healthcare efficiency, Obama's campaign estimated it would cost $50 billion to $65 billion a year to cover the uninsured. That sum could be raised by allowing President Bush's tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers to expire, the campaign said.

That cost estimate is too optimistic, Sheils said. "If you want to have universal coverage, it's $100 billion to $115 billion," he said.

"Obamas Tour Northern N.H." (video)

WaPo, video (video, 5:00):
Barack and Michelle Obama along with their daughters Sasha, 5, and Malia, 8, made campaign stops across northern New Hampshire over the Memorial Day weekend.

"Al Gore on Iraq" (with video)

Al Gore talks with Keith Olbermann about the media, our politics and the war in Iraq (video, 13:40).

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Cindy Sheehan Quits Peace Movement: Good Riddance Attention Whore"

Cindy Sheehan on
I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called “Face” of the American anti-war movement. Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such “liberal blogs” as the Democratic Underground. Being called an “attention whore” and being told “good riddance” are some of the more milder rebukes.
I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a “tool” of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our “two-party” system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the “left” started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of “right or left”, but “right and wrong.”

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt “two” party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an “attention whore” then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a “grateful” country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children’s children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It’s for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford, Texas? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too…which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the “face” of the American anti-war movement. This is not my “Checkers” moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America…you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now.

"Memorial day political blowout." (with video and audio)

MSNBC covers Edwards and Clinton in Iowa while CBS2 Chicago and AP cover Obama in New Hampshire.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Dithering Democrats"

Joe Conason:
In a political showdown, stupidity can be even more crippling than timidity. Unfortunately, congressional Democrats have displayed both as they backed down from their confrontation with the Bush White House over the war in Iraq.
It was completely predictable that Democrats would divide over supplemental appropriations for the war, which are so easily defined as "funding for the troops," and it is also understandable, if not excusable, that some Democrats would balk at voting no on such a measure. Such divisions may have been unavoidable, especially when the new congressional leaders had done so little to present serious alternatives to the president's policies.

The defeat represented by this week's supplemental vote can be traced directly to the Democratic leadership's failure to shift the debate six months ago. Looking back, the critical moment came when the Bush administration rejected the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report.

At that point, handed the perfect bipartisan opportunity to demand negotiation and withdrawal, the Democrats stumbled, saying nothing of consequence. And Bush seized the initiative again with his announcement of a "surge," sending 20,000 additional troops into the Baghdad area and asking the public to give his latest "new strategy" a chance to succeed.

If there is anything the American people have learned since the beginning of the war in Iraq, it is to distrust the president and his advisors. Last winter, the cycle of new strategy followed by disappointment followed by still another supposedly new strategy had been going on for years, without noticeable improvement.

The first "new" plan proposed by the Bush administration dates back to September 2003 (several months after the president declared that the mission had been accomplished). For everyone who has forgotten that long-discarded plan, it contemplated a much larger international presence in Iraq, a commitment of support from the United Nations and a huge increase in spending by the United States. Only that last part, now expected to reach a trillion dollars or more someday, ever panned out.

Then came the next new plan, which sought to shift responsibility to the Iraqis themselves, by promoting local sovereignty and improving the capacity of the new national army and police force. Accompanied by wildly optimistic estimates of the size, competence, cohesion and loyalty of those forces, that strategy sank as violence across the countryside intensified. It included strange and contradictory diversions, such as the sudden decision to reemploy some of Saddam Hussein's old generals from the disbanded Iraqi armed forces. That didn't work either.

All that pseudo strategizing was sufficient to see President Bush and Vice President Cheney through to reelection against an inept Democratic opposition, but the situation continued to deteriorate after their second inauguration -- and so did their poll numbers. By December 2005, the administration's approval ratings had sunk low enough to require the announcement of a fresh "strategy for victory," in reality a mere repackaging of old, stale strategies. Even then, experts regarded the 35-page summary as "too little, too late." As for the Democrats, their leaders and strategists had nothing interesting to say about the war, largely because they were afraid that dissent would permit the Republicans to brand them as weak and unpatriotic. So they continued to say nothing.

Disrupting this political and intellectual stagnation, at long last, was the arrival of the Iraq Study Group -- with a bipartisan membership that ranged from former Attorney General Edwin Meese on the right to former Bill Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan on the center-left, and included former CIA director Robert Gates, soon to be appointed secretary of defense. Although the obvious purpose of any group chaired by James Baker III had to be the rescue of George W. Bush, the president spurned their sound advice before it even reached his desk.

Proud, stubborn and messianic, Bush acted as anticipated. But his foolish decision provided an opening for the newly empowered Democrats that they should not have missed.

The Democratic leaders' first mistake was their failure to educate the public about the real contents of the Iraq Study Group's report -- a short document that was nevertheless too lengthy and demanding to be thoroughly examined by the news media. Its most important finding was that there is no military solution to the American dilemma in Iraq and that the only way out of the quagmire is negotiation. Although most of the report's references to this reality appear under the euphemistic category known as "national reconciliation," the conclusions are clear. Any changes in military policy were deemed ancillary to negotiations among the warring Iraqi religious and political factions (and their foreign sponsors).

The report explicitly recommended that the governments in Baghdad and Washington sit down with their armed opponents to talk about every relevant issue -- including a date for the withdrawal of American troops. Only by negotiating a departure date would the U.S. and the Iraqi authorities succeed in drawing insurgents and militia leaders into a "national reconciliation dialogue."

Had the Democrats endorsed the Iraq Study Group report immediately, and linked future funding of the war to the president's full acceptance of its recommendations, they would find themselves in a different position today. Rather than being perceived as weak and divided, they would at least have identified themselves with a plausible alternative to administration policy -- and isolated the White House even further.

Now the Bush administration can turn around -- as Washington Post defense expert William Arkin predicts -- and accept the Iraq Study Group recommendation to begin withdrawing troops. After all the carnage and waste, the Republicans may yet escape responsibility for the most significant strategic failure in decades, because the Democrats hesitated and dithered.

"Democrats Prepare for Another Funding Battle"

After a contentious, three-month battle with the White House over Iraq, congressional Democrats limped out of Washington Friday with their sights trained on July for the next round -- but antiwar activists are spoiling for a fight far sooner than that.
The Democratic rank-and-file left for the week-long Memorial Day break with a slate of talking points on Congress's accomplishments whose top bullet point boasts of "working responsibly to end the war." In the past 100 days, virtually every Democrat has voted to demand troop withdrawals, and a majority of them effectively voted Thursday night to cut off funds for the war.

But to antiwar groups, the only tally that mattered was Congress's easy approval of a $120 billion war spending bill that was stripped of timelines for troop withdrawals. A majority of House Democrats may have voted against it, but the Democratic leadership in both chambers facilitated its passage.

"Voters elected this Congress to lead the country out of the mess in Iraq," said Eli Pariser, executive director of the liberal activist group Political Action. "We expect great political fallout for all of the representatives -- Republican and Democrat -- who stood in the way."

Democratic leaders argue that for the first time Congress had required the Bush administration to track military and political progress in Iraq in 18 prescribed areas and to report back to Congress as soon as July. Some nonmilitary aid could be jeopardized if the Iraqi government fails to make progress.

The funding bill's passage "was the start of a whole new direction in Iraq," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). "I think that the president's policy is going to begin to unravel now."

But that message was undermined by her vote against a measure she herself had dismissed as "a fig leaf" and "a token." Pelosi praised the 140 Democrats who voted against the bill.

She said the "no" votes communicated "No more funding."

But the praise struck a dissonant note, since she was flanked by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), all of whom had voted for the funds.

"There are 232 Democrats in the House of Representatives," Hoyer said. "There are 232 Democrats that believed that our policies in Iraq are failing."

Activists declared they would remain focused on Republicans but would hold Democrats accountable. Television advertisements, financed by an antiwar coalition, will target Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), both up for reelection next year. And MoveOn organizers said Democrats also are likely to see skirmishes in their districts. MoveOn asked its members Friday to send Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) protest letters in the form of tea bags, reminders that he had called the Iraq bill "weak tea" before he voted for it.

"This is not partisan anymore. This is not about staying away from Democrats to make them look good or attacking all Republicans to make them look bad," said Susan Shaer, co-chairman of the Win Without War coalition. "We don't care who you are or whether we usually like you. This vote was wrong."

Such sentiment is only being compounded by Democratic presidential candidates who are reveling in their opposition to the war funding bill as they appeal to core Democratic voters. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) established a Web site,, to encourage voters to mobilize during Memorial Day weekend.

And when Republicans hit front-running Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for their votes against the war spending bill, the Democrats hit right back.

"Governor Romney and Senator McCain are still supporting a war that has cost us thousands of lives, made us less safe in the world, and resulted in a resurgence of al-Qaeda," Obama said, after Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and the Republican National Committee all accused him of abandoning the troops. "It is time to end this war."

Eager to address other issues, such as soaring energy prices, and to complete unfinished business on homeland security and ethics bills, House leaders hope to give Iraq a rest. Chairman John P. Murtha (Pa.) of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense plans to strip Iraq issues from the 2008 defense spending bill when it comes up in July and prepare a separate war funding measure for consideration in September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, is to report to Congress on the war's progress.

But the Senate will return to the war in late June, when it is scheduled to take up a defense policy bill. The Armed Services Committee released the legislation Friday, and although it includes no Iraq withdrawal language, Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.) said Democrats would seek to require troops to begin leaving within 120 days of the bill's passage

"The Iraqi leaders will realize that their future is in their hands only when they are forced into that recognition," Levin said.

Another Senate war bill, expected to be introduced early next month, would adopt the Iraq Study Group recommendations as official policy. The group was headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.).

The legislation, which has gained bipartisan backing, would establish conditions for a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq and require specific steps to be taken by the Iraqi government. The list is similar to the benchmarks in the funding bill, but more detailed in its requirements.

Co-sponsors include Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Republicans Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.). Bush spoke favorably last week of the study group report after more or less ignoring it when it was released in December. He said then that he views the report as a framework for finding common ground with Democrats, and praised a provision that would shift U.S. forces to more of a training role.

"Can raging moderate make any difference?"

Seattle Times:
It was nearly 10 o'clock on a cold February night when Congressman Adam Smith got his moment in the sun.
Smith was helping manage the House vote against President Bush's planned troop escalation in Iraq when a senior Republican argued that opposing the "surge" was tantamount to retreat — something that George Washington never did.

"Well, as it happens, I just read a biography of Mr. Washington," Smith countered, "and not to go puncturing holes in ... our great nation, but he retreated a fair amount, actually.

"I don't know where we got this idea that the great leaders of our time only went forward," he continued. "It does sort of portray the thinking of the president that the only way is forward, regardless of the details. A little more thought, I think, might help us."

The speech was slightly smug, but off the floor Democrats stopped whispering and nodded at Smith.

After a decade toiling in the minority in Congress, this should be Smith's time to shine. The Tacoma Democrat is in his sixth term, having won re-election in the 9th Congressional District last year with 65 percent of the vote.

With the country at war, he is perfectly perched in the House Armed Services Committee, representing a district that includes Fort Lewis, the largest Army post in the West.

Last fall, his party won both the House and the Senate, and Smith landed a chairmanship of an Armed Services subcommittee this year. He's also a vice chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 44 moderate House members who champion economic growth and fiscal responsibility.

But Smith's subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats doesn't appropriate money, doesn't conduct oversight and isn't a powerful policy board.

And the New Democrats aren't driving the agenda in a Congress that is tilting left and consumed by the war in Iraq.

All of which raises some questions: Can Smith turn his ambition and growing seniority into a more powerful role in the House? Can a raging moderate really make a difference in this Congress?

Earnest and hardworking

Smith recently was rated 174th out of 233 House Democrats in the annual power rankings by, a nonpartisan group that analyzes members' clout.

That puts him behind Washington Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen — even though he has more seniority than both Inslee and Larsen. Only Rep. Brian Baird has lower power rankings among the state's Democratic delegation.

One reason may be his low-key style.

He is earnest and hardworking. But most of his efforts are offstage. Having played straight man to the voluble McDermott for years, the laconic Smith admits he is sometimes perceived as dull.

His voting record is mixed. He supports "fair trade" over "free trade" — aligning him with unions that blame recent trade agreements for sending jobs overseas.

But he's veered to the right on other issues. He was one of a handful of Democrats who opposed importing prescription drugs from Canada in 2003.

McDermott, Seattle's longtime liberal congressman, says he and Smith actually have a lot in common. For instance, Smith has introduced a bill for three years running to stem global poverty — one of McDermott's key issues.

"Adam wants to cultivate an image of not being as far in front on some things as me, but we agree on more than you probably realize," McDermott said.

Still, the National Journal rates Smith's votes as 70 percent liberal, compared with McDermott's 94 percent.

"I always look serious"

Smith was born with a poker face. There's a permanent worry mark near his receding hairline. He seems older than his 41 years, which has led to a few Democrats' references to him as "old sourpuss."

"I know, I always look serious," he said.

Ask Smith or his staff what he is passionate about and they reply, "Bringing people together."

That explains why he leaped onto the Obama-for-president bandwagon in April. Smith says he and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are a natural fit: They both prefer measured discussion to rhetoric flambé.

"The media looks for flamboyant members; they want to cover the battles, but not consensus-building," Smith said. "That is not how I operate.

"I love the art of the deal. I'm a pragmatist."

He's also driven.

Smith has been writing a book for 13 years. It's called "Youth and Ambition."

"It's about a young man who wants desperately to make a difference, to make his mark on the world, and is desperately afraid he won't be able to," said Smith, explaining the book and himself in one sharp bite.

He is one of the few members whose spouse and children remain back in his district. For most of the past decade, Smith has flown to Tacoma on weekends, missing congressional fact-finding trips and outings that help form bonds.

In D.C., he sleeps on a pull-out bed in a closet in his office.

"Family means something more to me than to some other members, and there's a reason," he said.

His dad, Ben, a union baggage handler at Sea-Tac International Airport, died when Smith was 19.

Smith lived with his mother as he finished law school. She was his cheerleader in 1990 when he decided, at age 25, to run for state Senate.

But just days before the election, she had a stroke and died.

A couple of weeks later, Smith received a letter from his father's sister revealing that he had been adopted.

His aunt was, in fact, his birth mother.

"My aunt placed me in her brother's care," Smith said. "I think that is why my father felt it was so important for him to encourage me to make a difference with my life."

The Iraq challenge

The Iraq war has tested Smith's politics and style.

He voted for the invasion in 2002. Two years later, he was one of only four Democrats who supported expansion of the Patriot Act. After the outcry from constituents and other Democrats, he admitted it was a mistake.

In late 2005, he conceded his vote on the Iraq war itself was wrong.

"I think about it every single day," he said recently. "I feel responsible for it every day."

Now, he's almost as outspoken as McDermott in his opposition.

"We have 160,000 U.S. troops refereeing a civil war," he said in an interview. "It doesn't get worse if we start to withdraw, and we have to."

Now Smith is pushing legislation that can be describe as radical — an adjective not usually associated with him.

In March he introduced a bill to revoke the original 2002 resolution for the Iraq war and make Bush return to Congress for permission to keep fighting. Reps. Jane Harman and Ellen Tauscher, two pro-defense Democrats from California, joined him as co-sponsors.

In typical Smith fashion, he has moved the legislation quietly like a chess piece in the back row, despite a similar proposal a month later by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., that got far more publicity.

Smith said the Democrats' first priority was to pass the supplemental war spending bill, which was approved Thursday, and then tackle the 2008 defense budget package this summer — both with firm benchmarks for drawing down U.S. forces.

His bill to revoke the 2002 war resolution might have a chance later, he said.

"If I push this ... now, it becomes veto-bait and we lose it all," he said.

When frustrated Democrats withdrew benchmarks from the supplemental spending plan last week, it was assumed Smith would join other moderate Democrats and vote for the bill anyway.

But at the end, Smith changed his mind and voted with the losing minority, providing one of the surprises of the roll call on Thursday. He joined McDermott and Inslee as the only members of the state's congressional delegation to oppose the bill.

"I ultimately decided to vote no ... in order to keep the pressure on the president and his Republican supporters in Congress," he said in a statement after the vote.

Then Smith jumped on a flight to Afghanistan, where he would have 18 hours on a plane to think about the perpetual pull between pragmatism and principle.

Local Bloggers Spend Twenty Minutes With Bill Richardson (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Dan Kirkdorffer correctly observes that the young people in the photo above are not the local bloggers with whom Richardson met. I found the photo with him and some young students in New Hampshire, and thought it showed a willingness by Richardson to connect with younger people.
Daniel Kirkdorffer:
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is running for President and the question I have is will he be a contender?
There is no doubt that his resume should make him a contender. He's a Governor, he's been U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., he was Secretary of Energy in Clinton's administration, and was a member of Congress for 14 years. His diplomatic and executive credentials are top notch.

He's also a minority candidate of Mexican heritage. With minority voters in the Southwest expected to play an increasingly large role in the outcome of the 2008 election, Bill Richardson could be a big beneficiary.

However, he's not considered a front runner for the Democratic Party nomination. Polls show him running a distant fourth to Obama, Clinton and Edwards. Fifth if you include Al Gore, who has yet to declare.

And that's his biggest problem.

In 2003 we saw with Howard Dean that when other candidates couldn't inspire, a dark horse candidate could emerge. Certainly Richardson is better known than Dean was, so there is still hope that he can break through the media barrier. But to do so he will have to stick out and garner support from the uncommitted, and to do that he needs to get more exposure.

Richardson was in town on Thursday and I was fortunate enough to meet with him for about 20 minutes, along with a few other bloggers (thanks to Ken Camp at Washington for Richardson). That he would take 20 minutes of his busy day to talk to bloggers is both an indication of his underdog status, and of his savvy. A candidate will often spend as much time talking to a small crowd of people before or after an event, but this particular crowd of bloggers happen to have a combined readership of several thousand people every day, and that's not an inconsiderable audience.

Up close, Richardson strikes me as very comfortable in his skin. He listened to our questions and gave forthright answers. This is a man who has a lot of experience, and has worked both inside and outside Washington D.C., and isn't trying to figure it out as he goes. We asked him questions about habeas corpus, energy policy, transportation infrastructure, drug policies and his own electability, and he was clear and concise with every answer, never waffling with a "we need a committee to investigate this issue" type response.

His first answer regarding civil rights shot straight to the point:

"I would dedicate [my sixth day in office] to civil rights, restating my support for a woman's right to choose, restating my support for laws that ban discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. That I would shut down Guantanamo. That I would restore habeas corpus. That I would stop eavesdropping on citizens without a court order. That I would rejoin the International Criminal Court. That I would abandon our policy of condoning torture. That I would respect the Geneva Conventions. That I would shut down Abu Ghraib."
He went on...

"You know what I'll do on my seventh day? Take off! Take off, man. Iraq the first day, energy independence the second day, and climate change the third day, restore American education, and these are plans, four, economy, five, universal health plan, sixth day a restatement of where we stand."
He spoke about the war on drugs, and thehim at Blog Reload covers that in a blog posting, so I'll skip that here.

Regarding the current Iraq war funding debate, and leadership, he said:

"If you're going to cave you do it after you've had a bunch of fights. They haven't even had a fight. I would deauthorize the war on the basis of Article I. But a lot of it is tone.


"I'm also optimistic. A lot of people are negative. I think we can restore ourselves. Bring people together fairly quickly with a different President. You know, inspiring people, saying hey, you know, energy conservation, that's what I'm going to say, we're going to sacrifice a little bit, and everybody's got to do their bit to becoming more energy efficient. Lighting, air conditioning, vehicles. And I'd say we need an Apollo program to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We're going to need to go 20% on greenhouse gas emissions, and 90% by 2050. But with mandates! You've gotta do it! You can't just have goals, you've got to do it.


"Remember Kennedy? Well he said two things to us. He said we're going to the moon in 10 years, and we did. That was a call to action. And then he said, you know his famous quote about 'ask not what your country can do for you...' that was a call for citizen action. We're all in this together. So we'll create a Peace Corp and AmeriCorp, you know, help others, we're all a community of people. And so people were inspired to go into public service, and the military and the Peace Corp. I'm not a Kennedy, but I would try and bring that at least when it comes to energy independence. If we're going to reach a goal of reducing our dependence, which is 65%, it's Iraq, it's Iran, It's Venezuela, it's nut cases that can squeeze us, so it's a national security priority."
Richardson went on to say he was against increasing the federal gas tax, and also didn't support a carbon tax. He'd have a mandate: you have got to reduce by a cap and trade system. For example, New Mexico gets credit for selling wind energy to Arizona.

The conversation quickly turned to transportation. Richardson declared himself a strong backer of federal support funding of local and regional transportation projects, such as light rail, roads, or regional rail, recognizing that while he would run transportation systems like Amtrak more efficiently, you don't make money in transportation systems.

"I would be a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation. It would not just fund highways and would work with states. I'd say, 'this is what I'll put in, how much will you put in Seattle?'"
He recognized that Seattle has an emerging problem with traffic from his own difficulties getting around on his visit.

The Governor soon had to move on to talk with local labor representatives, but it was clear to me that as our conversation went on he was always sure of himself and his abilities to inspire the nation to pick up the pieces of the past years and optimistic we could together restore ourselves.

Democrats have a lot of good candidates to choose from this year, and hopefully a candidate like Bill Richardson will have a chance to make his case to people with fair and equal media coverage. Clearly he has the chops to be President, the question is simply weather he can convince enough people that he's a front runner. For my part he definitely should be.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Barack: "Truth On Iraq" (video)

Markos with video (1:28):
Obama slams McCain and Romney. More of this, please. Mock the other side. They deserve nothing less.

"No blank Iraq checks" (video)

Darcy Burner, video (1:28):
Darcy Burner, candidate for U.S. House in Washington's 8th District, asks Congress to refuse to give the President a blank check for Iraq.
Howie P.S.: John Murtha explains his "yes" vote.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


David Postman, quoting Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott:
McDermott is waiting for Al Gore to join the race.

"I want Gore and Obama. That's my dream team."

He said he realizes that a lot of Gore backers "were folding" but he is still holding out and "thinks that's a real possibility."

"Not a "Compromise," It's a Blank Check"

John Nichols:
The question is not whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flinched in their negotiations with the Bush administration over the continuation of the Iraq occupation.
They did. Despite some happy talk about benchmarks that have been attached to the Iraq supplemental spending bill that is expected to be considered by Congress this week, the willingness of Pelosi and Reid to advance a measure that does not include a withdrawal timeline allows Bush to conduct the war as he chooses for much if not all of the remainder of his presidency. This failure to abide by the will of the people who elected Democrats to end the war will haunt Pelosi, Reid and their party -- not to mention the United States and the battered shell that is Iraq.

This "compromise" legislation is such an embarrassing example of what happens when raw politics overwhelms principle -- and political common sense -- that House Democrats have divided the $12O billion measure into two sections. That will allow Republicans and sold-out Democrats to vote for the president's Iraq funding, while anti-war Democrats and their handful of Republican allies can vote "no." Then both Democratic camps can vote separately for the second section -- including a federal minimum-wage increase and more than $8 billion in funding for domestic programs -- while Republicans oppose this section.

Presuming that both parts pass the House, they will then be sent to the Senate as a single bill for members of that chamber to accept or reject. The end result of this confusing set of legislative maneuvers will be twofold: Lots of House members will be able to avoid accountability for their votes, while Bush will get his blank check. Even Pelosi says she'll vote against the Iraq funding section of the House bill because it lacks "a goal or a timetable" for extracting U.S. troops from the conflict. But, no matter how she votes, Pelosi will have facilitated a process that gives the president more war funding than he had initially requested

But the real story now is not the refusal of the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to hold steady in the face of the president's cynical claim that refusing him a blank check to maintain his war through the end of his presidency somehow threatens U.S. troops. That has happened and no matter what games are played with voting procedures, the reality is that the Democratic leadership has failed to lead at the most critical juncture.

The question that remains to be answered is a frustrating but significant one: How many Democrats and responsible Republicans will refuse to accept this ugly political calculus?

What we know is that there will be opposition., which provided critical cover for the Democratic leadership during earlier fights on the supplemental and related matters, is now urging all Democrats to vote "no" on the war funding -- and it is threatening in-district ad campaigns against Democrats and Republicans who back the measure.

The most genuinely anti-war members will not need any encouragement to reject the deal.

Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has led the fight to get Congress to use the power of the purse to bring the troops home, immediately announced that he would not follow Reid into the abyss of surrender to a White House that is getting everything that it wants.

"Under the president's Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President's open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war," says Feingold. "I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history."

Anticipating the cynical gamesmanship of the debate that will play out this week, the Wisconsin Democrat says, "There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq."

Feingold is, of course, right. But how many senators will join him in voting "no"? That question is especially significant for the four Senate Democrats who are seeking their party's presidential nomination: New York's Hillary Clinton, Illinois' Barack Obama, Delaware's Joe Biden and Connecticut's Chris Dodd. Dodd says he is "disappointed" by the abandonment of the timeline demand; if he presses the point as he did on another recent war-related vote, he could force the hands of the other candidates. If either Clinton or Obama do go ahead and vote for the legislation, and certainly if both of them do so, they will create a huge opening for former North Carolina John Edwards, who has staked out the clearest anti-war position of the front runners for the nomination. But this is about more than just Democratic presidential politics: A number of Senate Republicans who are up for reelection next year -- including Maine's Susan Collins, Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Oregon's Gordon Smith -- may well be casting the most important votes of their political careers.

Collins, Coleman and Smith have tried to straddle the war debate. If they vote to give George Bush another blank check, however, they will have removed any doubt regarding how serious they are about ending the war -- as will their colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

"A Conversation with Al Gore" (with audio)

Taylor Marsh:

In a snide comment about Al Gore's new book, Tony Snow said this today: “I don’t know if they’re going to do a reprinting of the book to try to get the facts straight. The fact-checkers may have to take a look at it.”

Ahem. Oh, the irony. Oh, what an easy pitch.

This afternoon in a blogger call with former Vice President Al Gore, he didn't miss a beat responding.

"This book, unlike the President's State of the Union Address, has been fact-checked." - Vice President Al Gore

Score one for Gore.

Needless to say it was a remarkable conversation, talking about Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason. We even got to talk to him before Larry King, where he'll be tonight.

The whole conversation, a full hour, is taped for you to listen. Enjoy. (Note: I've been doing some tech changes, so my voice is a bit louder and couldn't be fixed in time for the call. But the audio is good.)

It was quite an opportunity, with all of the questions thought provoking, which you'll hear in the audio. Not a single blogger asked Gore the Sawyer question: Are you running in '08, blah-blah-blah. Repeat question and recycle it again. Oh, and no questions about how much weight he has lost either. We know our jobs even if the corporate hack pack does not.

I asked him a tough question on Iraq, which most are these days. Gore had been traveling all morning, which I knew, so it was impossible for him to know the details, but it was important to get his take on what was developing on the Iraq spending bill.

"I have enormous respect for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and how the new majority is trying conscientiously to come to grips with the power of the legislative branch; how to wield it in a way that validates the mandate they received from the American people to bring about a change, especially in this catastrophically mistaken war policy. The instruments available to the legislative branch are blunt instruments, often difficult to use, awkward in their executions. And I think there has to, there should be an appreciation for how difficult it is to wield these tools. I think that they have been doing a really conscientious job of trying to use these blunt instruments deftly. I don't know what the latest twists and turns are, but I have confidence in their bona fides and intentions and I wish them well." - Vice President Al Gore

I followed up:

TM: How do you combat it when the media comes back and says the Democrats caved?

GORE: Well, the hypothetical presumes that they did and I don't know that they are.

TM: So, you just come back with that?

(insert laughter here)

GORE: Are you convinced that that's what's happening?

TM: No, no, absolutely not, I'm saying it's already starting in the media to say that is what's happening--

GORE: Even before it actually happens?

TM: Pretty much already, in the headlines.

GORE: I, well... you know... --insert priceless moment here--

It's right about here you really need to hear the tape. It was, well, classic (cont. here).

I got to ask a second question that was also on my mind. Gore has a chapter in his book entitled Assault on the Individual. It brought to mind for me the GOP debate and the talk of torture.

TM: "When you talk about the 'assault on reason,' I think of the GOP debate where Mitt Romney said 'double Guantanamo.' And you've got a chapter in your book, I was looking at it, called The Assault on the Individual. I was wondering if you'd talk a little bit about that and just Gitmo and the torture thing and where the Republicans stand and where we stand today that presidential candidates can stand up there and say 'double Gitmo,' and the audience erupts in applause."

You simply must hear Vice President Al Gore's response, because it goes to the heart of his book. It's about the very fundamentals of our country and how America was founded and upon what values and ideals. Those values and ideals have nothing to do with the Republican idea that torture has anything to do with our democratic republic or that a double Gitmo would be George Washington's idea of America.

"I put my heart and soul into this book. ... What this book is is an effort to really lay out, not only a diagnosis but also a prescription. Those of you on this call are part of the group in America that I do see as on the cutting edge of the change I hope is coming on strong." - Vice President Al Gore

It was a remarkable hour, especially on this very tough day. It reminds you that politics is a worthy means by which to change this country, as well as hold our politicians accountable. Gore's book also just might show us the road back. Because we've lost so much in these last years under George W. Bush and the Republicans. It might be a beginning back to the road where America began. Al Gore offers hope. What we do with it is up to us.

A conversation with Al Gore on his book The Assault on Reason.
(The full hour.)

Howie P.S.: John Zogby says
But the path is not cleared for a Gore run and he still faces a major obstacle: almost four in five Democratic primary and caucus voters in early states -- as well as nationally -- tell us that they are satisfied with the crop of candidates out there already. And the Big Three -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- are almost each receiving that share. My latest poll in new Hampshire has Richardson at 10 percent. So in order for it to make sense for Gore to to enter the fray, one (or even two) of the top three are going to have to decline in the polls or drop out by September.

"Democratic Caucus Split by Iraq Troop-Withdrawal Concession"

A decision by Democratic leaders in Congress to drop a troop-withdrawal timeline from Iraq war- funding legislation outraged anti-war Democrats and will force the party to depend on Republican support to pass the measure.
Democratic leaders said that they didn't have the votes to overcome a threatened veto of the troop-withdrawal plan and instead will compel President George W. Bush to report on whether Iraq is reaching benchmarks toward ending the war.

Anti-war Democrats criticized the decision. ``We've given everything away,'' Virginia Democrat Jim Moran said. ``It will split the Democratic caucus.''

The House is likely to vote tomorrow on the measure, which provides almost $100 billion in funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the next fiscal year begins Sept. 30.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said that she is ``not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable or a goal of coming home.''

California Democrat Lynn Woolsey, the co-founder of a congressional anti-war caucus, said many Democrats will oppose the measure because the benchmarks are ``meaningless.''

``The anti-war Democrats who care about Iraq have reached their tipping point,'' Woolsey said. ``They're at the end of their rope.''

A Split

The internal dispute over the Iraq measure illustrates a split between Democratic leadership and the party's liberal wing on issues beyond the war, said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington public policy group.

Earlier yesterday, some Democrats in a closed-door meeting also criticized a new framework on trade negotiations that party leaders reached with the Bush administration, saying it doesn't go far enough to reverse a record U.S. trade deficit and save U.S. factory jobs.

``It's clear that it's a problem and it's not going away,'' Ornstein said.

Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern said that while he backed earlier Democratic war-funding proposals, which narrowly passed the House, he will oppose the latest version.

``There are no timetables, there's no accountability,'' McGovern said. ``The president doesn't have to pay attention to any of this stuff.''


Anti-war groups also expressed frustration. ``Continuing to fund the war without setting timelines or benchmarks is another step toward endless war,'' said Susan Shaer, national co-leader of Win Without War, an activist group.

In addition to the $100 billion in funding for military operations, the proposed measure will likely include about $20 billion in domestic funding and an increase of the federal minimum wage, which has been a top Democratic priority.

The House will hold two separate votes on the measure, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin told reporters, one on the military spending with Iraqi government benchmarks and then a separate vote on the domestic spending.

The measures will then be combined and sent to the Senate for its approval later this week. Congress is scheduled to leave Washington for the week-long Memorial Day recess on Friday.

The conditions attached to the war spending are based on a proposal by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia that the Senate backed 52-44 last week. It establishes 18 benchmarks for Iraq and requires the president to make regular reports to Congress on the war.

It also ties economic aid to the Iraqi government's progress in meeting the goals, but would allow the president to waive that condition.

Both Chambers

Republican leaders in both chambers have indicated they are willing to tie funds for Iraq reconstruction to the Iraqi government's ability to reach benchmarks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that a funding measure with benchmarks still is ``a lot more than the president ever expected he'd have to agree to.''

Democrats in both chambers vowed to continue their fight to change war policy by attaching conditions on other pieces of defense legislation, including 2008 spending bills Congress will take up later in the year.

``We are doing the next best thing, which is to transfer this issue to the next two defense bills that are coming down the pike,'' Obey said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said that Democrats ``have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops.''

Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia said most Republicans would probably support the proposal.

Woolsey said the measure will require Republican support to pass because of Democratic opposition.

``The president prevailed,'' she said.

Video: "Edwards pushes plan for exit from Iraq"

MSNBC, with video (5:35):
John Edwards is interviewed by Matt Lauer this morning on the "TODAY" show.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Candidates lengthen their reach on Internet"

Chicago Tribune:
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The morning was rainy and cold, and the kickoff site was awash in mud, but the weather wasn't the biggest obstacle facing organizers of the first door-to-door canvass on behalf of presidential candidate Barack Obama over the weekend.

A significant number of the volunteers had been identified by way of the campaign's Web site and several social networking sites, and no one was sure how many of these invisible supporters would actually show up.
When more than 550 people turned out in their rain ponchos and Gore-Tex jackets, event organizers were relieved -- and stunned by the size of the crowd.

"People had signed up to come, but the weather has been in question for about a week," said Reid Cherlin, the New Hampshire press secretary for the Obama campaign.

"This shows that they are just as serious in their commitment as people you reach through another medium."

Uncertainty is nothing new in campaigning. And with online matchmaking offering all kinds of new possibilities, politicians are happy for the chance to find like-minded people and interact with them in the comfort of their own homes.

But as valuable as the new virtual tools are, they also pose a special set of challenges, along with one very big unknown: How does virtual interest turn into real-world activism?

The answers are hard to discern, though political activists are gleaning what they can from recent experience.

One of the first campaigns to organize through the Internet was that of Republican John McCain, who in his 2000 presidential bid raised millions of dollars and attracted 40,000 people to join his online supporter database.

Broadband availability improved over the next four years, and Howard Dean took things several steps further in his 2004 bid for the Democratic nomination for president, signing up some 650,000 supporters and raising millions online.

Campaigns now are studying what worked and what failed in those earlier templates, essentially trying to marry use of the new tools with old-fashioned outreach.

One result thus far is greater fundraising online -- a tangible way for voters to have an impact with just a few strokes of the keyboard.

"There is only one medium in the world that allows 5 million Americans to decide tomorrow morning they are going to give Barack Obama a hundred bucks," Joe Trippi, who led Dean's breakout digital campaign, recently told the audience at a Harvard University Institute of Politics program. "Television can't do that, the radio can't do that."

Increasingly, campaign organizers are realizing that they don't have to lift a finger to make it happen -- and that maybe it helps if they don't. Acting independently of the official operations, supporters organizing their own Facebook pages have attracted thousands who rely on friends and not politicians for candidate recommendations. "It's a pretty amazing thing that somebody out there using tools totally on their own, not involved in the campaign, can get that many young people and others in Facebook to sign up," said Trippi, who is now working to elect Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Young voters make up a significant part of the digital demographic, and experience shows that they respond to invitations from people they know.

"We know from field work and from political science that peer-to-peer contact is the best way to get a young voter engaged," said Kathleen Barr, research director for Young Voter Strategies, a non-partisan group working to increase the electoral participation of young adults. "A candidate's Facebook page won't be as useful as a young person spreading the word to 10 or 20 of their friends."

The Obama campaign challenged that principle recently when officials seized control of a MySpace page run by an enthusiastic supporter. After the page hadgathered 160,000 friends, campaign officials decided they should control content and responses to users who sent messages.

Obama called the supporter to try to make amends. But in a development illustrating another peril of the new digital autonomy, the young man said the campaign's decision made him question whether he still wanted to support Obama.

No matter how a candidate tries to leverage the online database, he or she still has to provide the same thing that voters have always demanded, said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

"You can have the best list in the world, but if the candidate can't turn on people, then it doesn't work," Sabato said. "They're not going to reply to the e-mail. They're not going to post comments. And they're not going to vote for that candidate."

As hundreds of volunteers gathered for the canvass event on Saturday morning, several of them said they'd originally made contact virtually.

Maeve McEneny, a graduate student from Albany, N.Y., joined up with other Obama supporters on a social networking site. After one of the site's friends suggested that they all meet at a local coffeehouse, she and a few other people started talking about also volunteering in person.

Braving the elements on Saturday in a pair of sandals and a woolen sweater, McEneny said she was a little reluctant to take part in the canvass. Knocking on doors to pass petitions and hand out literature makes her nervous, she said.

But when she got to the event and met other Obama supporters, she started to get her nerve. And then Obama gave the crowd a fiery pep talk, which he concluded by shaking hands and talking with the volunteers.

"I was terrified, up until he spoke," she said. "Then he shook my hand and looked me in the eye. He said things I believe in.

"And he has that energy. ... That changed my mind."

"Al Gore with Diane Sawyer" (with video)

Crooks and Liars, with video:
Al Gore tries to explain his book to Diane Sawyer on GMA, but can't get her to stop asking about him about he '08 election. Oh, and how fat is he? Here's the link to his book: The Assault on Reason.

"The Haircut That Won't Die"

Paul Rogat Loeb:

The John Edwards haircut won't go away. The Republicans resurrected it most recently in their second debate, when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said, in a quote that the national wire service story called "the most memorable sound bite of the night," "we've had a Congress that's spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop." Republicans have been focusing on symbolic character attacks since Nixon branded George McGovern, who'd flown 35 B-24 bomber missions in World War II, "the candidate of acid, amnesty, and abortion." They've been branding their opponents as limousine liberals of questionable masculinity since Nixon's Vice President, Spiro Agnew, called anti-war critics "an effete corps of impudent snobs." If the attacks aren't adequately answered, too often they work.

Think about John Kerry's refusal to answer the Swift Boaters until far too late. Together with Kerry's more general distancing himself from his Vietnam-era protests (and endless mixed messages on the Iraqi war), it made a key difference in the election. The Edwards haircut is trivial, but needs to be dealt with because it speaks to a long-cultivated narrative that anyone with money who tries to make this country more equitable must ultimately be a hypocrite. (Those without money are dismissed as marginal whiners.) "I can't trust anyone who gets a $400 haircut and then says they're for ordinary Americans," a fellow commercial fisherman told my oldest friend last week, shutting off any discussion before it began.

I heard John Edwards in person a couple weeks after the haircut story broke. It was a labor rally in Seattle, and though the audience was presumably most interested in economic issues, Edwards led with the need for the Senate to force a prompt Iraqi withdrawal. He spoke eloquently about poverty and global warming, health care, disappearing pensions, and how to build a more just economy. Then he spent an hour carefully listening and responding to questioners from the floor. Over the past few years, none of the major candidates have taken stronger or more passionate stands. I'd already donated to his campaign, but went home and donated some more.

It's going to take strong stands like those of Edwards to overcome the manufactured distractions and distortions. You can't do it with mealy mouthed platitudes. But so long as Republicans and a compliant media keep bringing up the haircut, Edwards also needs to do more to neutralize the incident's power as a symbol to be used against him. And he and other Democrats need to be ready for future irrelevant attacks.

As Edwards explained in a North Carolina Town Hall meeting, the haircut was scheduled by staff, squeezed in between the nonstop timetables of campaigning. "When you are a presidential candidate going all over the country, you do what you have to do where you have to do it -- you don't have any choice. And they get people, because you don't have any time, they get people to come to you -- they don't give you the bill, they send the bill so I didn't know it would be that much. I knew it would be expensive now, I don't want to mislead -- when a haircut guy comes to your hotel to do your hair, it's not going to be cheap, so I knew that, but I did not know it was this expensive... nobody should be paying four hundred dollars for a haircut."

With pseudo-populist resentment a foundation of the political right, the Republican echo machine made much of the cost of Clinton's and Kerry's haircuts as well. Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review even picked up an anonymously sourced Drudge story to claim that one Kerry haircut cost $1,000. However much Republican candidates spent looking good for TV was irrelevant. The false or inflated character attacks happen to other candidates (as in the false Fox story claiming Obama was educated in a fundamentalist Madrassa). And even to non-candidates as in the way that right wing talk of Al Gore's massive electrical bill has become a staple of those who global warming deniers. (His bill is high because he has staff using the house as an office and because he buys more costly green power -- he isn't running 27 electric dryer loads a day.) Edwards is just the latest example, fed by the media pile-on. The original AP story even tried to make an issue of $75 charges to an Iowa beauty salon (adding the not so subtle implication that anyone who goes to a "beauty salon" is less than a real man). It turned out to be for TV makeup, something stations insist on even for non-celebrity guests so the lights won't make them look like creatures out of Night of the Living Dead. So the issue isn't Edwards's haircut, but how to respond to the lies and exaggerations that now masquerade as politics.

It's a credit to Edwards that he didn't just scapegoat the staffer who lined up the unkind cut. But given the debasement of our current political culture, he can't just ignore it when Republicans continue to pound away. It's good that he can joke about the incident. But so long as the Republicans keep trying to hang it on him as a key framing issue, he needs to keep putting it in its context. Maybe he could poke fun of it on The Daily Show. He could definitely get a direct response up on his Web site where it will come up on the search engines -- instead of requiring someone mining through two dozen pages to piece things together. (Gore should do this on his site in terms the pseudo-issue of his electricity use -- it's similarly difficult to find a direct explanation in a single accessible place). I'm not suggesting Edwards drop his core stands to turn his campaign into a 24/7 politics of hair channel. But so long as prominent Republicans continue to use the image, he needs both to neutralize the incident as much as possible. That means continuing to publicly laugh at it. It also means talking about how it fits the larger patterns of Republican character attacks and our more general cultural focus on the politics of personality over discussion of what our prospective leaders might actually stand for. He needs to make clear that those making such issues their focus do so because they have no vision to get this country out of the disasters their policies have helped create. Edwards needs to get that response out in the media, on the Web, and in every possible venue.

In a culture that wasn't so distracted to death, and where men such as Karl Rove weren't weaving a constant fabric of distortions, the issues like the Edwards haircut would be irrelevant. But until American voters unequivocally reject such manufactured distractions, candidates can't prevail against these kinds of attacks by simply ignoring them. They need to respond as clearly, comprehensively, and saliently as possible, while highlighting the bankruptcy of the politics represented by those who would promote them. Only then will they have a chance to address the real issues that we face.

The Other Bill is Officially "In" (with videos)

Bill Richardson for President, with video:
Watch Governor Richardson's online candidacy announcement.
Washiington for Richardson is the local site. "The Pro-Familia Candidate" is how the WaPo frames their story today. The New York Times puts this video (4:54) on the front page of their online edition: "Bill Richardson's Candidacy."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"The Last Temptation of 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. But you would also want a candidate with the operational toughness of Hillary Clinton—someone with experience and credibility on the world stage.
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. There's only one problem. The former Vice President just doesn't seem interested. 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. That changes a man forever.

It changed Gore for the better. 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. So now the question becomes, 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. "Like many others, I have tried my best to convince him. So far, no luck."

"It happens all the time," says Tipper Gore. "Everybody wants to take him for a walk in the woods. He won't go. He's not doing it!" But even Tipper—so happy and relieved to see her husband freed up after 30 years in politics—knows better than to say never: "If the feeling came over him and he had to do it, of course I'd be with him." Perhaps that feeling never comes over him. Maybe Obama or Clinton or John Edwards achieves bulletproof inevitability and Gore never sees his opening. But if it does come, if at some point in the next five months or so the leader stumbles and the party has one of its periodic crises of faith, then he will have to decide once and for all whether to take a final shot at reaching his life's dream. It's the Last Temptation of Gore, and it's one reason he has been so careful not to rule out a presidential bid. Is it far-fetched to think that his grassroots climate campaign could yet turn into a presidential one? As the recovering politician himself says, "You always have to worry about a relapse."

For now, at least, Gore is firmly in the program. He's working mightily to build a popular movement to confront what he calls "the most serious crisis we've ever faced." 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. 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 day that poll was published, in April, I spent some time with Gore, 59, in his hotel room in Buffalo, N.Y., during a break between two slide-show events at the state university. Draped across an easy chair, he looked exhausted—not as heavy as he has been (he is dieting and working out hard these days) but flushed and a little bleary. He was in the throes of an eight-show week—4,000 people in Regina, Sask.; 1,200 in Indianapolis; 2,000 near Utica, N.Y.; a flight to New York City the night before for a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; then back to Buffalo this morning for a matinee for 4,000 and, soon, an evening show for 6,000. 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. "And I've seen public interest wax and wane before—but this time does feel different."

So Gore is turning up the pressure. He has testified before both houses of Congress, recommending policies and warning the lawmakers that the Alliance for Climate Protection, his nonprofit advocacy group, will be running ads in their districts next year. He has been meeting privately with the presidential candidates (but won't talk about the meetings or handicap the race). He has trained a small army of volunteers to give his slide show all over the world. And 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. Since Gore is sometimes accused of profiting from the climate crisis, it's worth noting that he donates all his profits from the Inconvenient Truth movie and book to the alliance. He can afford to: he's a senior adviser at Google and sits on the board of directors at Apple. He's also a co-founder of Current TV, the cable network that was an early champion of user-generated content, and chairman of Generation Investment Management, a sustainable investment fund with assets approaching $1 billion. "I'm working harder than I ever have in my life," he says. "The other day a friend said, 'Why don't you just take a break, Al, and run for President?'"

That night, at the University of Buffalo's Alumni Arena, there was a moment when Gore seemed to be doing just that. After the people—students, middle-aged men and women, retirees—took their seats, images of the earth appeared on three giant screens, and a natural-born teacher took them on a two-hour planetary tour. He was playful, eloquent, fully restored from his afternoon lull. He has given this presentation some 2,000 times yet still imbues it with a sense of discovery. 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!" Yet he was optimistic. There's still time to act—two decades at most, according to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—and by rising to meet the challenge, this generation will achieve "the enhanced moral authority" it needs to solve so many other problems. 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.

"I'm trying to say to you, be a part of the change," he told the crowd. "No one else is going to do it. The politicians are paralyzed. The people have to do it for themselves!" 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?"

As it happens, these are the themes that animate The Assault on Reason, Gore's new book (an excerpt follows). The crowd seemed to like them—people were hollering and stomping on the aluminum risers—and 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. 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."

Sorry, Jessica, there is no stealth campaign. Despite what you may have read, there are no shadowy meetings in which Gore and his operatives plot his path to power. There is no secret plan. There's only a vigorous draft-Gore movement that he has nothing to do with (two independent websites— and—have gathered almost 150,000 signatures so far) and, from time to time, social events at which old Gore hands get together and play a few friendly rounds of what-if.

Some people who know Gore assume he's biding his time, waiting to pounce; since he's at 12% in the polls—tied with John Edwards, without even being in the race—he would easily get on the primary ballots if he declared before the deadlines. He may not be rich enough to self-finance, but with his Apple and Google stock, Web following and Silicon Valley connections, money wouldn't be a huge problem either. "He just has to say the word," says a wealthy friend. But those who know him well would be very surprised if it happened. He hasn't built a shadow organization. His travel isn't calibrated to the primaries. And he's just not thinking much about politics anymore. "He used to be intensely interested in political gossip—who's up in the latest poll, and did you hear about so-and-so," says Carter Eskew, an old friend and former media adviser. "I haven't had a conversation like that with him since 2002 or 2003 [around the time he decided not to seek a rematch against Bush]. He's moved on, at least for the time being." In recent months, as Gore moneymen were recruited by other campaigns, they checked in with Gore. "I said, 'If I'm raising money for the wrong person, please tell me,'" says one. "Everyone asked that question, and his answer was always the same: 'Don't keep your money in your pocket waiting for me.'"

People looking for signs that Gore has a secret plan often point to the fact that he has lost a few pounds and hopes to lose many more. They mention that he hasn't asked the draft organizers to stop, the way he did before the 2004 election. They point out that in May, a group of former Gore fund-raisers met at the Washington home of his onetime chief of staff, Peter Knight. (Someone handed out buttons that said Al Gore Reunion 2007, but it was just a social event; Gore didn't attend.) They cite October as a good time for him to get in, since that's when the Nobel Committee announces its Peace Prize. Finally, they point to The Assault on Reason, the sort of book that could be a talisman of intent, since it takes aim at George W. Bush from multiple directions, diagnoses what's wrong with our democracy and offers ideas for curing it. Why else would you write a book like that, they say, if you weren't laying down a marker for 2008?

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. The Gores bought the old place five years ago and are still retrofitting it, making it energy efficient with new windows, new heating and cooling units, solar panels on the roof. (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.) A new addition has a slate-floor family room (with a pool table and a flat-panel TV; Tipper's drum set and some nice acoustic guitars are nearby) and a gym and an office suite upstairs; there's a set of his-and-hers hybrid Mercury SUVs in the garage. 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." He props his black cowboy boots on a brightly painted folk-art coffee table, scratches his mutt Bojangles behind the ears and talks about The Assault on Reason.

"The real reason I wrote the book," he begins, "is that I've tried for years to tell the story of the climate crisis, and it has taken far too long to get through. When the best evidence is compiled and there's no longer room for dragging out a pointless argument, we're raised as Americans to believe our democracy is going to respond. But it hasn't responded. We're still not doing anything. So I started thinking, What's going on here?" While Gore was mulling that, another test of American democracy presented itself—the walk-up to war in Iraq—and American democracy flunked again. "In both cases, our democracy was pushed around by false impressions and wasn't able to hold its focus," he says. "That's the common denominator. Once I'd thought through all of that, I couldn't not write this book."

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 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. 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. 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, 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. For anyone who stepped into the Oval Office now and tried to end the war, he says, "it would be like grabbing the wheel of a car that's in mid-skid. You're just trying to work the wheel to see what pulls you out of it." But the mess we're in can't be blamed solely on the President or the Vice President or the post-9/11 distortion field that muzzled the media, immobilized Congress and magnified Executive power. "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. As such, it's not the sort of problem that legislation is going to fix. Gore hopes that the Internet, which is so good at inviting people back into the conversation, will be the key to restoring American democracy. "It's going to take time," he says. "After all, we've been veering off course for a while."

If that sounds like a reference to 2000, so be it. But some will be disappointed to learn that Gore's book does not contain his long-suppressed account of that contentious year. 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. He has never indulged in postmortems—not even in the immediate aftermath. His psychological survival depended on looking ahead. "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."

Gore often compares the climate crisis to the gathering storm of fascism in the 1930s, and he quotes Winston Churchill's warning that "the era of procrastination" is giving way to "a period of consequences." To his followers, Gore is Churchill—the leader who sounds the alarm. And if no declared candidate steps up to lead on this issue, many of them believe he will have a "moral obligation"—you hear the phrase over and over—to jump in. "I understand that position and I respect it, but I'm not convinced things will evolve that way," says Gore. "If I do my job right, all the candidates will be talking about the climate crisis. And I'm not convinced the presidency is the highest and best role I could play. The path I see is a path that builds a consensus—to the point where it doesn't matter as much who's running. It would take a lot to disabuse me of the notion that my highest and best use is to keep building that consensus."

What it would take, specifically?

"I can't say because I'm not looking for it. But I guess I would know it if I saw it. I haven't ruled it out. But I don't think it's likely to happen."

His wife is more blunt. "He's got access to every leader in every country, the business community, people of every political stripe," says Tipper. "He can do this his way, all over the world, for as long as he wants. That's freedom. Why would anyone give that up?"

Gore knows it's in his interest to keep the door ajar. It builds curiosity. Before he could get serious about running, however, he would have to come to terms with the scars of 2000 and accept the possibility that he could lose again in 2008. That prospect may be too much to bear. "If he ran, there's no question in my mind that he would be elected," says Steve Jobs. "But I think there's a question in his mind, perhaps because the pain of the last election runs a lot deeper than he lets most of us see." There's an even deeper issue here, and with Gore, it's always the deepest issue that counts. What's at stake is not just Gore losing another election. It's Gore losing himself—returning to politics and, in the process, losing touch with the man he has become.

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." But now his scientific bent has been vindicated. The Internet is as big a deal as he said it would be. Global warming is as scary as he had warned. He wasn't being messianic, as people used to say, just prescient. And today he's still the same serious guy he always was, but the context has changed around him. He used to spend his time in Washington, but now his tech work takes him to Silicon Valley, to the campuses of Apple and Google, where his kind of intellectual firepower is celebrated. At Apple, where Jobs invited him to join the board in 2003, Gore patiently nudged the CEO to adopt a new Greener Apple program that will eliminate toxic chemicals from the company's products by next year. Last summer, Gore led the committee that investigated an Apple scandal—the backdating of stock options in the years before Gore joined the board—and cleared Jobs of wrongdoing. Political people were surprised Gore took that controversial assignment. "That's silly," he says.

Gore's role at Google is less formal. He started as a senior adviser when it was still a small company, before the IPO. "I assumed he'd give us geopolitical advice," says CEO Eric Schmidt, "and he did—but he was also superb at management and leadership. He likes to dive into teams that don't get a lot of attention—real engine-room stuff, like problems inside an advertising support group. He offers his strategies and solutions and then goes on his way. It's fun for him."

"It aggravates me when people say, 'He's the real Al Gore now' or 'He's changed,'" says Tipper. "Excuse me! He hasn't changed that much. This is somebody I have always known." The old Gore, she says, "was an unfair stereotype painted by cliques in the media and Republican opponents. Now, yes, there were constraints"—the vice presidency, the Monica mess, the campaign—"that weighed on him. And, yes, you grow and you change and you learn. So I see the same person, and I also see a new person who is free and liberated and doing exactly what he wants to do. And that is fabulous."

That's the person Gore would risk losing if he re-entered politics. "He learned something from his very difficult time after 2000," says Schmidt. "I think he got more comfortable with who he is. He had to go through a difficult personal transformation in order to achieve greatness. That sets him up for the next chapter. I have no idea what he'll do. My advice is to do whatever he's most passionate about. Because that is working."

"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.

It has been five years since Tipper first urged her husband to dust off his slide show. The couple was still climbing from the wreckage of 2000, and she was convinced that his survival depended on reconnecting with his core beliefs. He assembled the earliest slide show in 1989, while writing Earth in the Balance—carrying an easel to a dinner party at David Brinkley's house, standing on a chair to show CO2 emissions heading off the charts. She wanted him to find that passion again. They were living in Virginia, and the Kodak slides were gathering dust in the basement. So he pulled them out, arranged them in the carousel and gave his first show with the images mostly backward and upside down. Tipper said, "Hey, Mr. Information Superhighway, they have computers now. Maybe you should use one."

A year passed before they realized what a phenomenon this was becoming. "We were on tour, doing the slide show, and men and women would come up to Al after," Tipper says. "Silently weeping." The weather started getting unmistakably weird, and Gore kept working on the slides, making the show more powerful. Producer Laurie David and director Davis Guggenheim saw it and asked him to turn it into a film. Gore didn't think it would work as a movie. It has now grossed $50 million globally and sold more than 1.5 million DVD copies, and its viral effect continues. In Los Angeles, producer Kevin Wall saw it and decided to put on the global extravaganza called Live Earth. In Washington, a retired Republican businessman named Gary Dunham—in town from Sugarland, Texas, for his wife's Daughters of the American Revolution convention—saw it and started giving his own version of the show to anyone who would listen. Dunham became the first of more than 1,200 to be trained as presenters. "All the trainees will tell you the same thing," he says. "That movie changed our lives."

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.") Even more important is the hope budget. "You're telling some not only inconvenient truths but hard truths, and it can be scary as hell. You're not going to get people to go with you if you paralyze them with fear."

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 was always better at political combat than people give him credit for. Later, a woman stands up in the back of the big room and asks the Question. "Not to put any pressure on you," she says, "but, by golly, we deserve a leader like you." They've got one—whether or not he runs.

"I have enjoyed the luxury of being able to focus single-mindedly on this issue," says Gore, back on the patio at his Nashville home. "But I am under no illusions that any position has as much ability to influence change as the presidency does. If the President made climate change the organizing principle, the filter through which everything else had to flow, then that could really make a huge difference."

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. To get there, he would eliminate the payroll tax and replace it with a carbon tax, so the cost of pollution is finally priced into the market. "I understand this is considered politically impossible," he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "But part of our task is to expand the limits of what's possible." He would adopt a cap-and-trade program that would allow U.S. industry to meet reduction targets in part by trading pollution credits. Critics often dismiss carbon offsets as the green equivalent of religious indulgences, but in fact they stimulate the market—moving entrepreneurs to find dirty plants, clean them up and sell the CO2 reductions. Gore also wants a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants that don't capture and store their carbon emissions and much higher fuel-economy standards for cars. 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.

I ask Gore if he regrets not having made climate change the organizing principle of his cautious 2000 campaign. Doing so might not have won many votes by itself, but it might have helped free him from the consultants, unleashing a more authentic Gore—and that could have made all the difference. "There's a tree-falls-in-the-forest factor here," he says. "Because the many speeches that I made about this were not really reported. More than half the articles written about global warming that year said it might not even be real. But I take responsibility for not having the skills needed to break through the clutter. At least not then. Perhaps I still don't."

But what if he does? What if he could take who he is now, all that he's learned, and carry it back into the maelstrom? Could he stay as he is or would he revert? What if he launched a new kind of campaign: no handlers, just the liberated Gore talking about what really matters to him? Would he seem too squishy? These days he improvises, giving freer rein to matters of the heart and spirit than he ever could as a candidate. 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. 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, where he was introducing a series of environmental films that will be shown at Live Earth. "We have to make it through an uncharted region, to the outer boundaries of what's known, beyond the limits of what we imagine is doable." Then he recited a famous line from the poet Antonio Machado: "Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk." I once heard him get tangled in that line during the 2000 campaign, but this time, he wasn't trying too hard. "We must find a path that we create together, quickly," he said. "With truth force. To seize the opportunity that lies before us." His words were simple, direct and powerful. One clue to how he found that power lies at the end of the poem, in a line Gore doesn't recite, as the poet reveals his desire "to be what I have never been ... a man all alone, walking with no road, with no mirror."

Gore is not carrying a mirror. He's not selling himself; he's selling a cause, a journey. There are no consultants fussing at him, telling him how to be himself. "There's no question I'm freed up," he says. "I don't want to suggest that it's impossible to be free and authentic within the political process, but it's obviously harder. Another person might be better at it than I was. And it's also true that the process is changing and that it may become freer in time.
Obama is rising because he is talking about politics in a way that feels fresh to people ... But anyway, I came through all of that"—he waves a hand that seems to encompass everything, the advisers pecking at him, the attacks in the media, his own mistakes, the unspeakable Florida debacle—"and I guess I changed. And now it is easier for me to just let it fly. It's like they say: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." What would this Gore be like as a candidate? This Gore is just not all that tempted to find out.