The suits have been bugging me for a while to come up with some product ideas for the NRO store. So far, they’ve balked at some of my ideas. For example, I really like the Whittaker Chambers and Ralph De Toledano anti-Communist alarm clock based on the old Batman and Robin clock so widely advertised when I was a kid. Every morning you could wake up to one of five exciting declarations including, “Holy Pinko, Whittaker! The Commies have infiltrated the AFL-CIO!” “To the National Review, Ralphie!” or “Whittaker! Look out! Helen Gahagan Douglas and the Rosenbergs!” “No worries, Ralph, we’ve got the American people on our side!”
The good news, judging from the newspapers, is that we could have one surefire seller: the Delenda est Carthago
series of bumper stickers, baseball hats, and coffee mugs. Now, I know many of you are fairly recent arrivals to NRO so you may not be completely up to speed on what I’m talking about. So first, as we all know, Delenda est Carthago
was the phrase used by Cato the Elder at the end of every speech he gave before the Roman senate. It means, literally, “Carthage must be destroyed.” Cato started the practice after visiting Carthage in 157 B.C.; he saw the thriving Carthaginian economy and society — as well as their revolting practice of consuming a mud-like concoction derived from combining Pixie Sticks and Hi-C — as a potential threat to Rome. But Delenda est Carthago
has since taken on a proverbial meaning. According to the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
(arguably the greatest single book for reading in the smallest room in the house, if you get my meaning), Delenda est Carthago
is now taken to mean, “That which stands in the way of our greatness must be destroyed.” Which makes it actually quite fun to say every time someone puts a plate of buffalo wings in front of you.
But during the 2000 presidential race I modified the definition once more. You see, there was a presidential candidate who bragged about hypnotizing chickens and disposing of the internal combustion engine. He spoke of budgetary lockboxes as if they existed in space and time, and of how the Founding Fathers had established a giant parallel computing system to govern our lives — which, presumably, would be news to them. He insisted that anyone who disagreed with him was doing so because oil and drug companies were paying them to. He accused his opponents of racism and favoring bigoted violence, and sighed like a church lady watching Will and Grace. He lied like a rug stretching from sea to shining sea. He lied about fixing Love Canal and cosponsoring the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill. When he was criticized, he blamed others; when others got credit, he glommed it for himself. He sweated like he was trying to put out a fire, and seemed proud to show it off (perhaps because it was one of the few manly things he could convincingly do).
And this man was “from” Carthage, Tennessee.
(I put “from” in quotation marks because the jury is still out as to whether the man born nine months after aliens allegedly landed in Roswell, N.M., is in fact from this planet at all. This was another long-running election-year theme, but we’ll save that for another time).
THE “NEW” AL GORE
Well, the man from Carthage is back and he is everywhere: a hard-hitting interview with Barbara Walters — if by hard-hitting you mean, “like an old woman putting all of her strength into smacking a pillow with a Nerf bat” — a chat with David Letterman, a conversation with NPR, another with Larry King, two with Katie Couric, and exchanges with the Washington Post and Time magazine and, if trends continue, a heart-wrenching confessional in the Food Lion penny saver. And he’s come out in favor of a single-payer health-care system, which must be of little comfort to former opponent Bill Bradley, who favored such a system only to be relentlessly mocked and attacked for it by Gore.
As Michael Kelly also notes, Gore said to the Washington Post of the Florida recount mess: “I could have handled the whole thing differently and instead of making a concession speech, launched a four-year, rear-guard guerrilla campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the Bush presidency . . . And there was no shortage of advice to do that.” However, “I just didn’t feel like it was in the best interest of the United States, or that it was a responsible course of action.” Presumably this was said in his most statesmanlike voice.
Before I go on, I’d like to pat myself on the back about a few things too. When CNN announced it was going to pay Paula Zahn several million dollars a year to host that network’s new morning show, I could have handled the whole thing very differently. Rather than go on about my life and work, I could have put on a giant sandwich-board sign reading “Paula Took My Job” and marched up and down outside CNN headquarters throwing macaroni salad at anybody trying to enter. However, I concluded this wasn’t the responsible course of action. When William F. Buckley tapped Rich Lowry to be the new editor of National Review instead of me several years ago, I could have driven out to his house and slapped him across the face with a rotting Chilean sea bass. Sure, Mr. Buckley might have said, “Who the hell are you?” because he’d never heard of or met me, but I still could have done it. But, I took the high road.
So I know what courage it must have taken for Al Gore to decide not to commit himself to guerrilla action against the president of the United States and our governing institutions for four years (which would include the first three years of the war on terror, by the way). You have to wonder how this was received by the gang at the Post. I mean, did they all nod at Gore’s statesmanship? The media’s reaction to Gore’s heroic refusal to follow the advice of apparently a great number of Democrats to attack our government and destroy his own career in the process vaguely reminds me of Lionel Hutz’s exchange with Homer Simpson when Homer wanted to sue a restaurant for not providing all he could eat, as advertised:
Hutz: Mr. Simpson, this is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Never-Ending Story.
Homer: So. Do you think I have a case?
Hutz: Homer, I don’t use the word “hero” very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history.
GORE AS GOLDWATER
Anyway, what really interests me about all of this is Al Gore’s thinking. There’s an argument getting considerable play in lefty circles which says that this month’s crushing electoral defeat for Democrats not only repudiate Democratic centrism, but cleared the way for a new liberal renaissance in the Democratic party. Bizarrely, Barry Goldwater looms high in their esteem. The Nation recently declared of Barry G, “He lost huge but gave the GOP the sense of conviction that led to its ascendancy.” And here’s Katrina Van Den Heuvel on Chris Matthews’s Hardball:
There should be a vigorous debate in the party — comparable, Chris, to what happened maybe in 1964 when the Republicans, faced with a devastating defeat like Goldwater’s, sat back. The Democrats need to decide, what kind of party are we? What is our vision? I think this election was very much a referendum on the failed centrist leadership, the timidity of the Democratic party that, if it’s going to motivate its base and really be a winning party, needs to be tough, effective, opposition.
And here’s William Greider in the Washington Post:
The old GOP used to settle for that until finally it was rescued by a big loser — Barry Goldwater — who instilled the convictions that led to its eventual triumph. Democrats in Washington think they have a marketing problem: devising the right “message.” I think they are waiting for their Goldwater.
Now, there’s a lot of history being glossed over here. But there’s plenty of time to get into that another day. What I find interesting is the fact that Gore seems to believe this analysis. And he wants to be the Democrats’ Barry Goldwater. That’s why he’s tacking (even further) to the left on the war, economics, the environment, and health care. That’s why he told Time magazine that Bush’s economic policies are “catastrophic,” his foreign policy “horrible,” and his environmental stance “immoral” (you’ll note that I attribute all Gore statements to tactical considerations rather than actual belief). Borrowing from the Goldwaterian “A Choice, Not an Echo,” he tells interviewers that the Democrats have to recreate themselves in order to provide a “clear choice” or a “clear alternative” to the GOP.
Now, since Gore wants to get nominated by a party dominated by its liberal base, it only makes sense that he’d say all of these things — especially since he’s not burdened by the demands of either conviction or consistency. After all, most Dems run to the left in the primaries and to the center in the general. Republicans play a similar game.
But what makes the “Gorewater” analysis so amusing is that he wants to play all of the characters. He wants to be the former VP and mainstream pol looking to redeem himself after a painfully close election (many believed, and still believe, that Nixon actually won the 1960 contest against JFK). Actually, he is that — whether he wants to be or not. But he also wants to be the outsider-ideologue seeking to tear down the dilapidated party establishment and replace it with principle and intellectual vigor. But, he also — unlike Goldwater — wants to win the presidency and represent the activists.
In short, Gore is playing a kabuki dance in which he’ll switch masks as required according to a script written by tacticians. It’s reminiscent of when Bob Dole said he would be Ronald Reagan if that was what people wanted him to be. The only difference is that Gore is better at sticking to a script — and less embarrassed by the duplicity of it all.
And, in the end, all this means he’s the same Al Gore as ever, in the only way that matters. Who cares whether he says he’s for socialized medicine or for the free market, for war or for peace, for cats or for dogs — whatever. He’s not believable because he’s at best an ideological mercenary, willing to adopt any uniform that will get him where he wants to go. He isn’t the “New Al Gore” — as so many journalists have claimed — any more than Richard Nixon was the “New Nixon.” The man (or in this case the big, sweaty robot) remains unchanged. He is still the “man” From Carthage, and Carthage still must be destroyed. Delenda est Carthago bumper stickers will be available in the NRO store soon.