At the 1984 Republican National Convention held in Dallas, Jeanne Kirkpatrick delivered one of the most devastating speeches in modern American politics. She railed against the Democratic Party, whose own convention met in San Francisco the previous month. As a lifelong Democrat, Reagan's former representative to the United Nations explained that it was the first Republican convention she'd ever attended.
She went on: "When the San Francisco Democrats treat foreign affairs as an afterthought, as they did, they behaved less like a dove or a hawk than like an ostrich -convinced it would shut out the world by hiding its head in the sand. … When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States. But then, they always blame America first."
The irony of Al Gore's speech in San Francisco Monday (SEPT. 23) extends past mere geographic coincidence. Jeanne Kirkpatrick was a so-called Reagan Democrat, but the reality is that Reagan didn't pull her out of the Democratic Party, the San Francisco Democrats chased her out. There were some Democrats -gluttons for punishment -who considered themselves heirs to Truman and Marshall who stayed in the party hoping to beat back the dominance of the San Francisco Democrats.
Many of those gluttons -honorable and decent people -pinned their hopes on Al Gore. He was one of the first "new Democrats." In the 1980s, he mastered the Byzantine minutiae of arms control and supported the MX missile. He supported the Contras in Nicaragua and military action against Libya and Grenada. In 1990, he was one of only 10 senators in his party to support the Gulf War.
Now, I'm no fan of Al Gore. I've long believed that these positions were based upon equal parts conviction and rank political calculation. Gore has been groomed from birth to be president, and he believes anything that gets him there is justified. More than any mainstream presidential contender since at least Richard Nixon, Gore is willing to paint his opponents as not merely wrong, but motivated by base and evil motives.
This, of course, is just my opinion. Others believed Gore was the real McCoy, chief among them the editors of the New Republic who touted Gore for president with an almost self-parodying fervor. Well, here's what they thought of Gore's recent speech: "In the 1980s and 1990s, Al Gore consistently battled the irresponsibility and incoherence on foreign affairs that plagued the Democratic Party. And it was partly out of admiration for that difficult and principled work that this magazine twice endorsed him for president. Unfortunately, that Al Gore didn't show up at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Monday."
The New Republic may think this was a new Gore, but to me it was the same old Al. He unfairly leveled the accusation that "the timing of this sudden burst of urgency" for war during this "high political season" was intended for narrow partisan advantage. But, as usual, he didn't have the courage to leave his fingerprints on the accusation meekly asserting, "I have not raised those doubts, but many have."
As for Gore's "foreign policy," it's almost impossible to find. Because Gore had to work around his own extensive record of favoring regime change in Iraq and the use of force to rid Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction, the whole speech reads like a mouse running through a brick of Swiss cheese.
Gore doubles back, crisscrosses and zigzags -between favoring force, opposing force, opposing multilateralism, opposing unilateralism -the only conclusion one can reach is that this speech wasn't written to reveal his convictions. It was crafted as an attack on Bush and an attempt to win the Democratic nomination. The overriding theme wasn't to depoliticize the war but to blame George Bush, at all costs.
Bill Bennett, another Reagan Democrat chased out by the San Francisco Democrats, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Gore's speech was an act of "political suicide" because it revealed that "if he were president the war against terrorism would be conducted in a radically different manner."
Bennett is wrong. The speech revealed something we always knew: Gore will say anything to be president. And that makes him even less principled than an original San Francisco Democrat, and it makes his defenders nothing but gluttons for punishment.