The strongest voice of the new year belongs to former Vice President Al Gore, whose speech last Monday bore a powerful message for all Americans.
Referring to George W. Bush’s policy of warrantless spying on American citizens, Mr. Gore did not mince words: "What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government." Mr. Gore called for an independent counsel to investigate the wiretapping. (A call instantly rejected by Mr. Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.)
Gore continued: "[T]he president has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation…The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen - any American citizen he chooses - indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned…No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution."
After reading through a list of other offenses, Mr. Gore asked, "If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?" To answer his own question, Gore quoted from Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School: "If the president has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."
What Dean Koh is describing - what Mr. Gore is warning us about - is a military dictatorship.
Mr. Gore made it clear: George W. Bush has engaged in a systematic and unconstitutional usurpation of power, while the House and Senate have willfully abrogated their Constitutional responsibilities. Beyond that, Mr. Bush is stacking the Supreme Court with men who believe the president is virtually exempt from judicial oversight.
It should be noted that Al Gore does not hold political office, nor is he considered (at this time) a presidential candidate for 2008.
This presents an interesting contrast with another speech given the same day as Mr. Gore’s, one that drew even more attention. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) - generally considered the Democratic presidential frontrunner - spoke at a Harlem church. Her assessment of the Bush administration? "We have a culture of corruption, we have cronyism, we have incompetence. I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."
These are distinctly different charges being leveled by Ms. Clinton and Mr. Gore.
Clinton is engaging in political criticism; the very phrase "one of the worst" suggests we group the Bush administration with that of Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding, which diminishes the actual dangers we are currently facing.
Gore, on the other hand, is engaging in an outright attack. He clearly understands the situation - that George W. Bush is a criminal who is actively undermining American democracy. Gore is declaring that this administration’s efforts at securing limitless executive powers are both illegal and unprecedented.
To his credit, Gore does not stop at blaming Bush for seeking dictatorial powers, nor with the legislators and judiciary that enable him.
"There is yet another constitutional player whose faults must also be taken and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that has accompanied these efforts by the executive branch to dominate our constitutional system. We the people, collectively, are still the key to the survival of America's democracy…America is based on the belief that we can govern ourselves and exercise the power of self-government…As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established by the people and will flourish more vibrantly than ever."
Al Gore is challenging the American people to be their own savior. It is no exaggeration to say that how we respond to this challenge will determine the fate of our nation.
While George W. Bush plays to our fears, Al Gore encourages our strengths.
With George W. Bush, we have the man who would be king. With Al Gore, we have the man who should be president.