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The Gore Gutlessness Lesson for Mousavi

A friend of mine, someone I respect a great deal, just observed that Mousavi calling for more demonstrations was sad, given that it isn’t his head that’s going to be cracked.  Leaving aside the fact that I’m not so sure he’s sacrosanct, if things go far enough, my response is “so what?”

Because, with all due respect it’s that sort of attitude that let Bush get appointed as President in 2000 and thus lead to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.  Nothing’s worth getting heads cracked to most Westerners.  Certainly not an election which was even more unquestionably stolen than the Iranian one (which may or may not have been.)

For all the good Gore has done since then, I’ll despise him to the day I die for his gutlessness in 2000.  Democratic crowds, including leg-breakers from the unions and other sources were ready to roll, and he told them to stand down.  If there had been large protests, there is a very good chance that Sandra Day O’Connor would have blinked, and voted against Bush.

The price of Gore’s gutlessness was a lot of deaths.  A hell of a lot of deaths, and the gutting of the US constitution, which the country may never recover from.

I don’t know if Mousavi is making the right decision in continuing to keep the fight going.  But I do know that whether it’s the right decision or not is not determined by whether or not his opponents will use violence.  If you are unwilling to stand up to violence, then anyone who is willing to use it controls you.  You become their slave, and a slave to fear.


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  1. exactly!
    Gore behaved like a guest at a cannibal’s banquet who felt it was more important to maintain a strict decorum than to avoid becoming the main course.

  2. tc

    My impression was that Gore didn’t realize how reckless and hell-bent the R’s were, and probably thought the truth would hurt the R’s when it came out. Anyway I doubt that anything he could have done would have done much good. The truth about the elections did eventually come out (for those who even cared anymore), but the reckless tax cuts, the criminal war and the incompetence that likely helped 9/11 happen all helped Bush to get elected in 2004. Let’s face facts: the US is a country with a strong desire for self destruction.

    I would not have been surprised if the military mutinied against Gore (it seemed that every letter to an editor from military personnel included a statement that the writer would not acknowledge Gore as his commander in chief) . At the very least Congress would have thrown out the electoral college results and stolen the election that way, and any violence would have been used as an excuse to impose some sort of martial law. If he had been assassinated (which seemed very likely to me) he would never have been regarded as a martyr. Even if the Gore supporters had not done anything violent, the R’s would have manufactured some excuse to crush dissent.

    There was no choice between divergent paths. It was like an unstoppable river finding its way to the sea: the course was not entirely predictable, but the ultimate destination was. If I had been Gore I would have looked around at my fellow countrymen’s behavior during that debacle and decided they weren’t worth getting killed for.

  3. Yep. Got a link or a source on that union legbreakers standing ready thing? I didn’t know that, and I’d like to get it on the record.

  4. Ian Welsh

    Lambert. Sadly, no. Was told it by someone involved at the time.

    However, this article has some confirmation

    “Problem was, Democrats weren’t fighting like Democrats. They staged no counter-demonstrations that day in Miami. Why? Because the vice president himself, fearing bad press, expressly ordered that unionists, civil rights activists, and other liberal ground troops should stay out of Florida.”

  5. BDBlue

    “fearing bad press” – kind of says it all about the last 30 years, doesn’t it?

  6. senecal

    tc: you said it all, better than I’ve heard it said before. Ian’s basic comparison between Mousavi and Gore seems simplistic to me, almost irrelevant. The two situations are in no way comparable: Mousavi, if anything, is closer to the Bush camp, maneuvering the Florida issue into the Supreme Court, than Gore, who let it happen.

    More important, Mousavi is a secondary figure in this drama, which appears to be a political fight within the clerics, and between the clerics and elected leaders. Which side (Mousavi or Ahmadinejad) represents “democracy”, the people, reform, justice, workers, or what’s good for Iran, is almost impossible to sort out at this point.

    Maybe I’m misreading this post, and Ian is only using the situation in Iran as an occasion to raise an old gripe against Gore, rather than using Gore as a lens for looking at Iran.

  7. Ian Welsh

    I was fairly narrow in my application of the lesson, and did not expand it to include things like clerical fighting. The question was just whether Mousavi was justified in calling for people to continue protesting when he knew that might lead to violence. The parallel with Gore is applicable to that question BUT the larger point is simpler–if you let fear of violence determine your behaviour, then those who are willing to be violent control you. Gore did not want violence to occur. As a result of his unwillingness to allow some violence, much greater violence (a full blown war) later occured.

  8. senecal

    “Gore did not want violence to occur.”
    I’m not sure such a world-historical event could be determined by the moral sensitivity of a single person. The die was probably already cast, maybe long before the actual election. I’d accept the statement that Bush/Rove were simply more aggressive, more Machiavellian, at this point, and prevailed over someone who was still playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules.

    Also, I see Gore’s hesitation here as continuous with his earlier backing away from populist positions which caused his poll numbers to rise, but certainly displeased his funders. And that in turn is pure post-Clinton Democratic politics, on writ large again in the new administration.

  9. Democrats had settled into a permanent cower long before Gore, as embodied by his gutless disgrace of a running mate. Gore wouldn’t just have had to have been an unusually courageous US politician, but a member of a class you could probably have counted on your hands at the time: a courageous Democrat.

    That doesn’t let him off the hook for everything that happened, for being willing to let all our votes be ignored. He does deserve that blame. But he also had virtually no one to stand with him in DC.

    Gore shouldn’t have had to call for demonstrations, the whole Democratic Party should have beaten him to it.

    All I’m saying is there was a lot of chickensh*ttery to go around.

  10. senecal

    Forgetting the Gore parallel, I’m not sure Ian’s fundamental position makes sense (“if you let fear of violence determine your behavior, those who are willing to be violent will control you.”)

    What if the violence is purely symbolic, intended to produce a martyr? What if, at the same time, the cause is dubious? What if the reaction — an excessive display of force, for example — doesn’t have the effect of encouraging further protest, but actually stifles it.

    Use of violence by a revolutionary group is only justified when the opposition is so entrenched there’s no other way — as in Israel/palestine — or when there’s truly a chance of changing the balance of power.

  11. Alfred di Genis

    The election stolen from Gore and the eight years of the incoherent Bush were worth not having had Lieberman for VP and potential President. The Gods were kind to America.

  12. Ian Welsh

    And when do you know if violence is necessary? It’s always a judgment call. But my judgment in America is this—your elites treat you the way they do because they know that unlike French or Iranians you won’t do anything meaningful about it.

  13. Formerly T-Bear

    Drone attack in Pakistan, dozens killed, many more injured, some seriously maybe 5 militants included whilst POTUS is mouthing “And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.”

    And not a sign of cognitive dissonance to be heard

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