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The former vice president moved out in front of his potential Democratic rivals yesterday by staking out a decidedly anti-Bush position on Iraq. While the other contenders for the Democratic nomination have either totally supported President Bush or given wishy-washy tepid support, Al Gore took a bold step. In a speech that would have made German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder proud, Gore staked out a position as the leading critic of President Bush’s foreign policy.
What makes this speech interesting is not the substance (it never is with Al Gore), but rather, the political strategy that underpins it. First, Gore has now dropped any pretense that he hasn’t decided on another presidential run in 2004. Private citizens do not make speeches that critical of a sitting president and then leak it to every major news organization in the country. The man is running for President of the United States. And he has decided to move further to the left of the 2000 version of Al Gore.
It began with Gore’s remarkable rebuke of his running mate, Joe Lieberman, who suggested that the Gore/Lieberman ticket might have won in 2000 if they had emphasized moderate “new Democrat” themes. Gore responded with an impassioned defense of his “people vs. the powerful” message. He chose the liberal New York Times Sunday Op-ed page to defend his decision to run to the left in 2000 and to criticize those in the Democratic Party (like his running mate) who suggested he had turned off swing voters. He has repeatedly told audiences that he didn’t emphasize the “people vs. the powerful” stuff enough in 2000 and if he ran again he would hit these themes even harder.
Could Al Gore really be that bad a political strategist? Remember, he would be president today if only he had won his home state of Tennessee. I don’t know anyone who thinks the reason he lost Tennessee was because he was too moderate. If he had moved farther left in 2000, like he vows to do in 2004, he would have lost Tennessee by an even wider margin. Same with Arkansas, West Virginia, and New Hampshire – and any of these states would have handed him the presidency. He won all of the left-leaning states like Massachusetts, New York, and California, so what does he think he could have gained by going further to the left?
The answer lies in the current state of the Democratic Party and the control exerted by the liberal, organized grassroots activist base of the party. First, the Democratic Party has run out of compelling ideas. They oppose things, but they’re not for anything meaningful. Take for example Social Security. It’s clear all good loyal Democrats oppose President Bush’s plan to save Social Security. They don’t like the idea of giving individuals ownership over a portion of their Social Security. But, it’s also clear that none of them have a plan to save the system from impending bankruptcy. Not Al Gore, not Joe Lieberman, not John Kerry or Dick Gephardt. The activist base of their party bitterly opposes any attempt to give citizens more control and a chance at a better return on their payroll taxes. No Democrat could expect to win the Democratic nomination for president without opposing personal retirement accounts.
The activist environmental fringe – many of whom broke with Al Gore and voted for Ralph Nadar – has made domestic energy security a litmus test for the Democrat candidates. Oil and natural gas drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has become a symbolic issue. Facts are not the issue – it is an ideological opposition to expanding the availability of fossil fuels.
The Earth in the Balance, author Al Gore can’t believe he wasn’t the radical environmentalists hero in 2000, and he has no intention of losing their vote again. Of course, no Democrat, including Al Gore has any plan to decrease our dependence on imported oil from rather dangerous and unstable regions of the world – but hey, they do oppose President Bush’s plan to find natural gas in an inhospitable frozen refuge. And that makes the radical environmental fringe happy.
Al Gore, the master strategist, has figured out that he doesn’t have a lock on the Democratic nomination in 2004. He knows he blew the 2000 race and the rank and file of his party remains upset and angry. He needs to fight to win the right to take on President Bush in 2004. So, he has decided he must move left and do it quickly and convincingly.
For those of us who believe in limited government, lower taxes, and private property - and - freedom, Al Gore’s continued march to the left presents a golden opportunity. In 2004 America may have the most liberal nominee for the presidency of the modern era. In a clear contest between defenders of freedom and champions of big government, freedom will win. Equally important, we can break out of this cycle of both parties rushing to sound as much like each other as possible. America will be presented with a choice and if we do the right things – educate, motivate, organize, and mobilize, limited government can strike as clear and convincing a victory as twenty years ago when Reagan won reelection.
Keep moving Al, and good luck in Tennessee.