As in, the power that comes out of an electrical socket. But first:
My name is Rogier, and I used to be a liberal. (Hi, Rogier!)
Admittedly, I still have a few liberal tendencies (but way fewer illusions as to what they might accomplish), and while I probably would have voted for Harry Browne in 2000 if I'd been permitted to enter a voting booth (I wasn't a citizen yet), I could conceivably have given the nod to Al Gore. That's mostly because the Republican candidate — you know of whom I speak — was considerably less palatable to me. I certainly don't love Gore, but he seems like a thoroughly decent guy who's likely to do less to damage to our Constitution and our liberties than 75 percent of the politicians out there. Which isn't much of an endorsement, but it's the best I can muster.
OK, so now that my cards are on the table, let me weigh in briefly on the latest Gore controversy.
I have a couple of liberal journalist friends who are upset by the revelations of a Southern think tank that Gore's household uses twenty times the energy that an average American family does. They accuse the Tennessee Center for Policy Research of perpetrating a "far-right-fringe" smear job, and of "swiftboating" the man.
And they're eager to repeat the defense of a Gore spokesperson:
"What Mr. Gore has asked is that every family calculate their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible. Once they have done so, he then advocates that they purchase offsets, as the Gores do, to bring their footprint down to zero."
I don't buy it. Literally. That whole 'buy offsets' approach has always smacked of elitism to me. At least two-thirds of the people in this country consider themselves lucky that they can afford to pay their utility bill month after month. The idea that they should then also buy offsets is — hell, you might as well ask everyone, for the sake of the environment, to switch to a car that runs on Veuve Clicquot.
Ordinary people earn their 'credits' the old-fashioned way. They turn down the thermostat, wear a sweater, don't heat rooms that aren't in use, switch off non-essential lights, power down the computer at night, and so on. What Gore's spokescritter seems to be saying (but maybe he was just phrasing it inartfully) is that rich people may be as wasteful as they like as long as they whip out the checkbook and buy absolution in the form of carbon offsets. It's a little, well, Marie Antoinette, no?
And I'm disappointed by the easy characterizations of those who've taken Gore to task on this one. "Far right fringe" — really? I guess that means I'm a wacko wingnut, then, because I believe in the same things that the Tennessee Center for Policy Research says it stands for. You know, weird far-right stuff like an accountable government; free markets; free choice; respect for property rights; and individual liberty that's grounded in responsibility. Collectively, these tenets have typically been known as 'libertarian'; I wasn't aware that they're just a step or two away from the principles espoused by neo-nazi scum (talk about a smear job!).
Anyway, if it emerged that George Bush habitually rents out the Lincoln bedroom to wealthy Taliban officials, liberals would be having a field day (as would I). I thought that pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians who display a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do mindset is something that every intellectually honest person can get behind. No, I'm not saying (yet) that Gore is a hypocrite, but there are legitimate questions about how (or even if) he practices what he preaches.
One of the few non-kneejerk responses on Daily Kos was this bit of advice:
Assuming that Gore really does practice what he preaches then I'd like to see him invite ABC News for a tour of the house. Show us how easy it was for him to cut the electric bill by 30% from what would be typical for a house of that size. Show us that living an environmentally responsible lifestyle does not require living in a mud hut.
Works for me. Nothing wrong with him opening up, is there? On the contrary, I should think. If Gore has a clean conscience and nothing to hide, he should unreservedly release a few years' worth of energy bills, as well as honest estimates of what his less enlightened neighbors are paying. Maybe he could indeed invite a couple of TV crews to take stock of his personal commitment to creating the smallest possible carbon footprint. It would serve as an inspiration to others, and knock the wind out of his critics' sails. He could go from being attacked to being on the attack, by issuing a challenge to Republican politicians to match his own stripped-to-the-bone energy consumption
If, on the other hand, he keeps hiding behind hurt, defensive statements written by his handlers, he's doing incalculable damage to his reputation, reinforcing the lingering notion among the fencesitters that he is timid and weak, and not 'his own man,' and that he has learned precious little from the 2000 elections.
This is do-or-die time for Gore, assuming he wants to be a candidate again. No doubt the American electorate wants a leader with a proven ability to take the bull by the horns. If Gore isn't media-savvy or aggressive enough to fight off the accusations of some pesky local think tank, how is he going to take on Congressional Republicans, or, um, al Qaeda?
And I hope my liberal friends will forgive me, but for now, I'm rather enjoying the spectacle of watching the usual advocates for the common man sputteringly defend what looks for all the world like the conspicuous, carbon-wasting lifestyle of a mansion-dwelling millionaire.
That said, I hope I am wrong. I hope Gore will come out swinging after all and do his supporters proud with a great explanation — warm and humorous and, above all, factual.