11 December, 2007

I call upon Al Gore...

You must watch Al Gore's Nobel peace prize lecture.

(As an aside, it seems clear from his initial words that he is more than done with politics.)

UPDATE: You absolutely must watch this. Wow. I think I have to watch this again.


Elliot said...

Random thoughts on the speech:

You're right, wow, an impressive speech. And herein the paradox of Al Gore. His eloquence and passion (as well as experience!) would make him the star of the Democratic race. I was so sure he was going to run.

But, as I think this speech shows, Gore was only able to find that eloquence and renewed purpose once he left the douchebaggery of politics.

So maybe its good he won't run. I think a lot of his effectiveness comes from his being a voice from outside of the political system. One of the main reactionary lines - that climate change is a scare tactic to manipulate people - makes less sense if its main proponent isn't running for office. (And if you think that is a marginal belief, I will take you to meet my family in Iowa.)

I also recognize in myself, examining my hope for a Gore presidency, a desire for a Hero, someone in whom I can place my hopes, look to for guidance - and, perhaps, someone to whom responsibility can be affixed.

Inasmuch as this is a religious impulse, it is not to be trusted in politics. Gore, in staying out of politics, seems to be defusing that possible personalization of the issue, which could be bad for the movement in the long run once we realize our Hero is human like anyone else. Gore is stepping up and acting like a great leader, a once-in-a-generation type leader - but he is not a savior. I think Gore in the White House right now would lead to unreasonable expectations that, in turn, would lead to an especially counterproductive disillusionment.

But then again, if the Democrats fail to win the White House, what kind of anti-climate change policy will we have then?

Eremita said...

It is true that hoping for a hero in the White House can lead to some disappointment and, worse, to rash politcal will behind putting someone in office who has a convincing ideology but terrible skills. However, for a generation that is coming to own its political will during the time of Bush, the fact that can still entertain hero-worship feelings about our candidates at least shows that we have kept alive some glimmer of hope that politicians can be moral examples instead of seasoned liars.

With this observation I feel equally divided between a cynicism that says the possibility of believing in candidates representing real (moral) change is already gone (and with it the existence of those candidates), and a hope that Americans are capable of demanding their liberty back. I am tempted to believe that the successes of change-oriented candidates like Obama and Ron Paul is evidence that many voters do feel the desire for a candidate they can place their hope in as a hero. I also see a shift from the desire for real changes during the Dean/Kerry primary campaigns to a greater willingness to mainstream the demand for change. Will this shift be adequate? Whether or not it is adequate is important in its own right, but I think that this election is crucial for the future of political will in this country as well.

If our country is able to exit the Bush era and immediately elect a candidate who inspired the hope for change in voters, rather than someone who was "electable" and not quite as bad as the other candidate, we will not just have elected a better president for the next four years, but we will have shaped the ability of a generation to believe in future political candidates. If, however, we do not make good of this opportunity to reinspire our concept of citizenship, then whatever generation makes this change isn't likely to be ours.

Elliot said...

But I think the desire for a hero is not a good thing in democratic politics. It leads to one of two things: demagoguery or disillusionment. What I was realizing in myself was that, at root, the desire for a hero is the desire for someone else to take responsibility, to take away your doubts and make you feel that you are on the right side of things.

A leader does these things, too, to some extent, but the difference seems to me to be that a Hero does so in a manner that goes beyond rationality, that seeks to harness the mythical, emotional, religious.

Hero-izing politics does all sorts of bad things. It favors charisma over policy, it has us see our leaders as infallible, etc. But I think the worst thing it does is inspire passivity. It is a way of relating to politics that makes us followers rather than "political entrepreneurs" to use a phrase I rather like. And when things go wrong, it is the fault of our fallen heroes, those immoral politicians, rather than our own failing.

I don't want to overstate the case when it comes to Gore. But I would say it is this heroizing tendency that more likely leads to such as the Bush era, not what will save us from it. Everyone wants change, but what change everyone wants is different.

I like Gore because he pockets the old tropes like "change" and "hope" and the like, and gets specific on what the challenges are and how we're going to mobilize our scarce resources to meet them. Thats what we should demand from all of our politicians - and that has little to do with them being heroes.

spencer said...

Aren't Heroes only viewed as such in hindsight anyway? Lincoln was certainly no hero at the time, neither was FDR. Yet these myths have been built up around both of them.

Elliot said...

No, I don't think its just hindsight. I think its a kind of politics where more power/trust/respect is placed in the person than the institution, and in which that person is viewed with a savior-like mentality. Its what drives populism, in which "the people" are avenged against an evil system by a redeeming David. Its a narrative about what politics is.

The argument would be that is bad for democracy because it erodes institutionality. Although, of course, institutions could be anti-democratic - they are necessary but not sufficient. It is also a way of looking at politics that breeds disillusionment and cynicism.

A la Eremita, we are so disappointed in our politicians because we expect them to somehow be rescuers, people who are more moral than average, when really people who spend their lives seeking power probably going to be less moral than average. I don't think we should hope to one day think of our politicians as moral exemplars. Rather we should assume they are people that need to be interrogated and held accountable at every step of the way - thus institutions.

Anyway, I don't think that is the case with Gore (though maybe a bit with Obama). I was just noticing the temptation in myself to hope for someone to come riding in on a white horse and fix everything. The point being, that urge is to be distrusted, especially in politics.