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So, Like Frank Rich Is Down With Al Gore, Yeah, NOW He Is

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Twas not always so. Actually, it's not really all that "so" even now.

This Sunday, as you may have heard, Frank Rich put his imprimatur, (a somewhat muddy paw print as it turns out), on the possibility of a 2008 Gore run for President.

A more insulting endorsement would be hard to imagine.

I know that Frank Rich has become something of a hero to many of us who populate the left-of-center blogisphere, but let me be clear; the hero referenced in the tag "Heroes and Heroines" is Al Gore, not Frank Rich.

If you think that Frank Rich is on the side of any configuration of political beliefs that could be called liberal or progressive, if you think that Frank Rich is one wit different from any of the dim bulbs who make up the firmament of American punditry, you just haven't been paying attention.

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First the caveats to my critique. Yes, I admire Rich as a writer; his memoir of growing up in Washington D.C. is a delight. He was by far the best theater critic ever to grace the pages of the New York Times, (though no Stark Young, who I'll identify for you in another post some day), and yes, Rich has written many incisive columns about the multiple failures of the Bush administration, but even reading Rich at his best, I am always left with the question, on behalf of what values does he make his critique? The answer, to my mind, is decidedly unattractive, and just as decidedly typical of all of our celebrity pundits.

Here's how Rich begins his Sunday column:

LET it never be said that the Democrats don't believe in anything. They still believe in Hollywood and they still believe in miracles. Witness the magical mystery comeback tour of Al Gore."

Like Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" before it, Mr. Gore's new documentary about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," has wowed the liberal caucus at Cannes (who needs landlocked Iowa?) and fueled fantasies of political victory back home. "Al Gore Takes Cannes by Storm ? Will the Oval Office Be Next?" Arianna Huffington asks on her blog, reporting that the former vice president was hotter on the Croisette than Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Penelope Cruz. In a "fantasy" presidential poll on the liberal Web site Daily Kos, Mr. Gore racks up a landslide 68 percent, with the closest also-ran, Russ Feingold, at 15. Liberal Washington pundits wonder whether the wonkishness that seemed off-putting in 2000 may actually be a virtue. In choosing a president, Margaret Carlson writes on Bloomberg.com, maybe "we should give a rest to that old saw about likeability."

Let's try and rephrase that opening: "To how many can I express how I do loath thee? Let me count the ways."

Can you count the standard clichés in the standard right-wing narrative Rich has managed to wedge in there? Democrats don't believe in anything; they are besotted with and by Hollywood; Cannes has a " liberal caucus," being decadent Europeans and all; Democrats, typically, would rather be in Cannes than deal with Kansas; Gore is an off-putting wonk; Daily Kos, by virtue of running a series of unscientific polls for its million plus readers to gather an impression of their preferences for the Democratic nominee in 2008, is part of this "magical mystery" Gore revival, (surely among the most meaningless of cultural references in the context of Rich's column).

Rich goes on to claim that the "unexpected rebirth of Al Gore" says more about the Democrats' desperate absence of likely candidates than about Gore himself, whom Rich characterizes as the beneficiary of "a perfect storm of events, the right man in the right place at the right time."

You see, it's all about Democrats being disenchanted with Hillary Clinton, and worrying about her position as the front runner.

If Senator Clinton is the Antichrist, might not it be time for a resurrected messiah to inherit (and save) the earth? Enter Mr. Gore, celebrated by New York on its cover as "The Un-Hillary."

And Rich avers that there is "a certain logic to all this," since Hillary as Senator hasn't shown herself to be a leader on the issues near and dear to the hearts of liberal Democrats. To be sure, Rich makes sure to make fun of all those crazed right-wingers who can't wait to trash Hillary all over again, but between them and those dopey Democrats, Rich finds little to choose.

Since no crowd-pleasing Democratic challenger has emerged at this early date to disrupt Mrs. Clinton's presumed coronation, the newly crowned movie star who won the popular vote in 2000 is the quick fix. Better the defeated devil the Democrats know than the losers they don't.

Do you see what is so remarkable about Rich's entire approach to Al Gore's reemergence on the political stage? It's entirely based on Rich's total ignorance, or his decision to ignore, that there is nothing sudden, desperate, or ill-considered about the place that Al Gore has won in the hearts of grassroots liberal Democrats, nor are there any lack of potential candidates besides Hillary. In fact, since his public reemergence in October of 2002, Al Gore has proved himself to be a far more incisive, passionate, committed, and influencial critic of the Bush regime than Frank Rich could even dream of being.

To be fair, Rich doesn't entirely ignore that series of riveting, gutty, brilliant speeches Gore has given since that first one he gave at the Commenwealth Club in San Francisco on the issue of Iraq; in fact, Rich's personal certification that a potential Gore presidential candidacy might just be a valid one is based on that one speech.

An anti-Hussein hawk who was among the rare Senate Democrats to vote for the first gulf war, Mr. Gore forecast the disasters lying in wait for the second...

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He saw that the administration was jumping "from one unfinished task to another" and risked letting Afghanistan destabilize and Osama bin Laden flee. He saw that the White House was recklessly putting politics over policy by hurrying a Congressional war resolution before the midterm elections (and before securing international support). Most important, he noticed then that the administration had "not said much of anything" about "what would follow regime change." He imagined how "chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam."

Rich goes on, rightly, to excoriate the way not only Bush & co, but also the Democrat party, and the staff of The New Republic "blew off" Gore's sagacity. Oddly, though, there is one person who goes unmentioned in this litany of dunces, and that person is Frank Rich.

Yes, Frank Rich had a perfect opportunity in real time to make note of Gore’s extraordinary speech that October, nor was his failure to do so attributable to the fact that such a busy man-about-town just never got around to talking about Gore at all.

No indeed.

Rich devoted an entire column in November of 2002 to Al Gore's reemergence into public life, mere weeks after that October speech, but the speech went unmentioned in the column.

In part 2, which I'll post no later than tonight, we'll look at that November column; prepare yourself, it isn't a pretty sight.

I've saved a copy of Rich's current Sunday column at my account on LookSmart, which I hope you'll be able to access, if you haven't ponied up for TimesSelect; I did, so I've come by the copy honestly.

One hopes you'll able to access it by clicking here.

You should also consult the Daily Howler; I haven’t been able to check it out the last two days, probably due to the vagaries of my DSL connection, but I’d put hard money on Bob having something brilliant to say about Rich’s column

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