Thursday, October 06, 2005

Al Gore addresses We Media conference

For anyone who missed it, here is a link to the transcript of Howard Dean's appearance on Hardball.
I got this link from a post on My Left Wing

Al Gore addresses The Media Center's We Media conference at AP headquarters in NY.

There is a link where you can download the full 48 minute, 20 MB MP3 of the speech. What you see here is about 10 minute of it...

I'm here today because I believe in the purposes of this conference, and admire the work that so many of you are doing, and because I truly believe that American democracy is facing a grave danger. And it is a danger that is sometimes hard to describe in words. But I'd like to start this is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know that I'm not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" is now functioning. I wonder how many of you have had a friend of a family member remark at some point over the past few years that it's almost as if America has entered an alternate universe. Have you ever heard that phrase? I see a lot of nods, and, if there weren't so many journalists here I'd probably see more.

I thought, for example, that it was an aberration when three quarters of Americans reported that they believed that Saddam Hussein was the one responsible for attacking us on September 11, 2001. But here we are more than four years later, and between a third and a half still believe it. That's strange. Strange, because they believe something that's just not true.

To take another example. At first I thought that the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked a rare and unfortunate departure from what I do consider to be the normal good sense and judgement of our television news media. But now with the perspective of time, we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time. That's strange, isn't it? I think it is.

To take a third example...are we, as Americans, still routinely torturing helpless prisoners? And if so, does it feel normal that we as American citizens are not expressing outrage at this practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of whether or not this abhorrant medieval behavior is being carried out regularly in the name of the American people?

Or to take another example...if the gap between rich and poor is widening steadily, and economic stress is mounting quickly for low income families, why is apathy and lethargy in our role as citizens increasing right alongside this distress? That seems strange to me.

Or to take a final example...on the eve of our nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia stood on the Senate floor and famously asked, "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent? The decision that was then under consideration in what used to be called the world's most deliberative body, turned out to be a fateful one. Indeed, just a few days ago, the respected former head of the national security agency Lt. General William Odom said "The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history.

But whether you agree with General Odom's assessment or not. Even if you believe that this was a wise policy, still, Senator Byrd's question has direct relevance, and his questions are like the others that I posed a moment ago. He was saying, in effect, here we are on the eve of war, a lot's at stake, big questions haven't been answered, and nobody's debating it. Nobody's talking about it. The Senate chamber is empty. That's strange, isn't it? That's what he was saying. Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debate in our democracy about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?

Those of us who served in the Senate, incidentally, and watched it change over time, could volunteer answers to Senator Byrd's two questions. The Senate was silent on the eve of war because senators have now come to feel that what they say on the floor of the Senate really doesn't matter that much any more. And the Senate chamber was empty because the senators were somewhere else. They were in fundraisers, collecting money mainly from special interests, in order to buy 30 second television commercials for their next re-election campaign because 30 second television commercials are just about the only thing that matters in political campaigns any more. That's strange.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was at least for a short time, a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans, including many journalists, that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.

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