Richard — Gore's Speech at NYU

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Thank you, Michael Phillips (ph) and Eli Pariser (ph). A special thanks to my former colleague John Brademas (ph). I appreciate your kind words and Tipper and I are delighted to be with you today.
Some of you may remember that the last time I talked formally on the topics that we’re here to talk about today was a little less than a year ago in San Francisco, when I argued that the president’s case for urgent and unilateral preemptive war in Iraq was less than convincing and needed to be challenged more effectively by the Congress.
In light of developments since then, you might assume that my purpose today is to revisit the manner in which we were led into war, and to some extent that will be the case, but only as part of a larger theme that I feel very strongly needs to be explored on an urgent basis.
The direction in which our nation is being led now is deeply troubling to me, not only in Iraq, but also here at home, on economic policy, social policy and environmental policy.
Millions of Americans now share a feeling that something pretty basic has gone wrong in our country and that some important American values are being placed at risk. And they want to set it right.
The way we went to war in Iraq illustrates this larger problem. Normally, we Americans lay the facts on the table and talk through the choices before us and make a decision. But that didn’t really happen with this war, not the way it should have.
And as a result, too many of our soldiers are paying the highest price for the strategic miscalculations, serious misjudgments and historic mistakes that have put them and our nation in harm’s way.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons we did not have a better public debate before the Iraq war started is because so many of the impressions that the majority of the country had back then turned out to have been completely wrong.
Now, leaving aside for the moment the question of how these false impressions got into the public’s mind, I think it might be healthy to take a hard look at the ones that we now know were wrong and clear the air so we can better see exactly where we are now and what changes might need to be made.
In any case, what we now know to have been false impressions before the war, include the following.
Number one, Saddam Hussein was partly responsible for the attack against us on September 11th, 2001, so a good way to respond to that attack would be to invade his country and forcibly remove him from power.
Number two, Saddam was working closely with Osama bin Laden and was actively supporting members of the Al Qaida terrorist group by giving them weapons and money and bases and training, so launching a war against Iraq would be a good way to stop Al Qaida from attacking us again.
Number three, Saddam was about to give the terrorists poison gas and deadly germs that he had made into weapons which they could use to kill lots of Americans. Therefore, common sense alone seemed to dictate that we should send our military into Iraq in order to protect our loved ones and ourselves against a grave threat.
Number four, Saddam was on the verge of building nuclear bombs and giving them to the terrorists, and since the only thing then preventing Saddam from acquiring a nuclear arsenal was access to enriched uranium, once our spies found out that he had bought the enrichment technology he needed and was actively trying to buy uranium from Africa, it seemed like we had very little time left.
Therefore, it seemed imperative during last fall’s election campaign to set aside less urgent issues like the economy, and instead focus on the congressional resolution approving the war in Iraq.
Number five, our GIs would be welcomed with open arms by cheering Iraqis who would help them quickly establish public safety, free markets and representative democracy, so there wouldn’t be that much of a risk that U.S. soldiers would get bogged down in a guerrilla war.
Number six, even though the rest of the world was mostly opposed to the war, they would quickly fall in line after we won, and then contribute lots of money and soldiers to help out, so there wouldn’t be that much risk that U.S. taxpayers would get stuck with a huge bill.
Now, of course, everybody knows that every single one of these impressions was just dead wrong.
For example, according to the just-released congressional investigation, Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11th. Therefore, whatever other goals it served–and it did serve some other goals–the decision to invade Iraq made no sense as a way of exacting revenge for 9/11.
To the contrary, the U.S. pulled significant intelligence resources out of Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to get ready for the rushed invasion of Iraq, and that disrupted the search for Osama at a critical time. And the indifference that we showed to the rest of the world’s opinion in the process undermined the global cooperation we need to win the war against terrorism.
In the same way, the evidence now shows clearly that Saddam did not want to work with Osama bin Laden at all, much less give him weapons of mass destruction, so our invasion of Iraq had no effect on Al Qaida other than to boost their recruiting efforts.
And on the nuclear issue, of course, it turned out that those documents were actually forged by somebody, though we don’t know who.
And as for the cheering Iraqi crowds that we anticipated, unfortunately–very unfortunately–that did not pan out either, so now our troops are in an ugly and dangerous situation.
Moreover, the rest of the world certainly is not jumping in to help out very much, the way we expected, so U.S. taxpayers are now having to spend $1 billion every week.
In other words, when you put it all together it was just one mistaken impression after another, lots of them.
And it’s not just in foreign policy, because the same thing has been happening in economic policy, where we’ve also now got another huge and threatening mess on our hands.
I’m convinced one reason we’ve had so many nasty surprises in our economy is that the country somehow got lots of false impressions about what we could expect from the big tax cuts that were enacted, including: one, the tax cuts would unleash a lot of new investment that would create lots of new jobs; two, we wouldn’t have to worry about a return to big budget deficits, because all the new growth in the economy caused by the tax cuts would lead to a lot of new revenue; three, most of the benefits would go to average middle-income families not to the wealthy, as some partisans claimed.
Unfortunately, here, too, every single one of these impressions turned out to be wrong. Instead of creating jobs, for example, we are losing millions of jobs: three years in a row of net losses. That hasn’t happened since the Great Depression.
As I’ve noted before, I was the first one laid off.
And you never forget something like that.
And it turns out that most of the benefits of the tax cuts actually are going to the highest-income Americans, who, unfortunately, are the least likely group to spend money in ways that create jobs during times when the economy is weak and unemployment is rising.
And, of course, the budget deficits are already the biggest ever, with the worst still due to hit us. As a percentage of our economy, we have had bigger deficits, but these are by far the most dangerous we’ve ever had for two reasons. First, they’re not temporary; they’re structural and long-term. Second, they’re going to get even bigger just at the time when the big baby boomer retirement surge starts. Moreover, the global capital markets have begun to recognize the unprecedented size of this emerging fiscal catastrophe.
In truth, the current executive branch of the U.S. government is radically different from any since the McKinley administration 100 years ago.
The 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, George Akerlof, went even further last week in Germany when he told Der Spiegel, and I quote, “This is the worst government the U.S. has ever had in its more than 200 years of history.”
I didn’t say that. That’s the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics.
He said, “This is not normal policy.” In describing the impact of the Bush policies on America’s future, Akerlof added, quote, “What we have here is a form of looting,” end quote. Now again, that’s the Nobel Prize winner in economics.
Ominously, the capital markets have just pushed U.S. long-term mortgage rates higher soon after the Federal Reserve Board once again reduced discount rates. Monetary policy loses some of its potency when fiscal policy just comes unglued, and after three years of rate cuts in a row, Alan Greenspan and his colleagues simply don’t have much room left for further reductions.
This situation is particularly dangerous for our economy right now for several reasons. First, because home buying, fueled by low rates, along with car buying, also fueled by low rates, have been just about the only reliable engines that have been pulling the economy forward.
Secondly, so many Americans now have variable rate mortgages, so the increases hit people quickly and hard.
And third, it comes at a time when average personal debt is at an all-time record high. A lot of Americans are living on the economic edge.
It seems obvious to me that big and important issues, like the Bush economic policy and the first preemptive war in U.S. history, should have been debate more thoroughly in the Congress and covered more extensively in the news media and better presented to the American people before our nation made such fateful choices. But that didn’t happen. And now in both cases, reality is turning out to be very different from the impressions that were given when the votes and the die were cast.
Since this curious mismatch between myth and reality has suddenly become commonplace and is causing such extreme difficulty for the nation’s ability to make good sensible choices about our future, maybe it’s time to focus on how in the world we could have gotten so many false impressions in such a short period of time.
At first, I thought maybe the president’s advisers were a big part of the problem.
Last fall, in a speech on economic policy at the Brookings Institution, I called on the president to just get rid of his whole economic team and pick a new group. And a few weeks later, damned if he didn’t do just that.
And at least one of the new advisers had written eloquently about the very problems in the Bush economic policy that I was calling upon the president to fix.
But now, a year later, we still have the same bad economic policies and the problems have, if anything, gotten worse. So obviously I was wrong: Changing all of the president’s advisers didn’t work as a way of changing the policy.
I remembered all that last month when everybody was looking for who ought to be held responsible for the false statements in the president’s State of the Union Address. And I’ve just about concluded that the real problem may be the president himself and that next year we ought to fire him and get a new one.
But whether you agree with that conclusion or not–and I see some of you here, do–whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, a Libertarian, a Green or a Mugwump, you have got a stake in making sure that representative democracy works the way it is supposed to.
I wanted to speak to this Internet-based organization of people who become active in representative democracy because I think this methodology represents one way of trying to fix things.