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Strident Gore Speech Ignored Need for Compromise

Column by David D. Hsu
News editor

On Saturday, Vice President Al Gore spoke at the Institute. Using the MIT seal as a backdrop, he could have announced America's lasting commitment to new technologies by unveiling some profound new government policy. Instead, Gore chose to take the safer approach and denounce the Republican Congress.

Before Gore walked out on stage, I expected a speech heavy on concrete facts, statistics, and policy. After all, Gore is a Harvard graduate and well-read on technological issues. This was the same man who coined the term, "information superhighway" and, when armed with facts, won a debate with Ross Perot concerning the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Unfortunately, the pure facts took less time to tell than his scripted, opening jokes borrowed from David Letterman. Gore used the rest of his time bashing Republicans.

Gore is apparently ready to accept government gridlock. "If the majority is in favor of it, there's not much we can do," he said. That defeatist attitude has unfortunately become the administration's motto. Gore seems satisfied at the prospect of no further environmental advances being made during his term.

Gore mentioned several pieces of legislation that would ease or eliminate environmental regulations Congress had passed and chided Republicans for falling into an "extremist, ideological agenda." Although he said the administration is "anxious to work in a bipartisan way" to save the environment, he failed to mention any efforts to reach moderate Republicans. That is ironic, since not too long ago President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) appeared in front of a senior citizens group, shaking hands and promising to work together.

In his speech, Gore chose to close the option to negotiate and compromise. "The Republican Congress is devastation with misrepresentation," he said. He must have felt that Congress would pass legislation if he attacked them stridently, rather than taking a conciliatory position.

During the question-and-answer session following his speech, Gore managed to evade most questions by using vague generalities. On questions of global environmental policy, he made no strong declarations, only citing a token effort at the Rio Earth Summit.

Global policy is under the jurisdiction of the president and not under Congress. When asked about concrete steps the United States is taking against the global issue of climate change, Gore only restated scientific information on global warming. In front of an educated audience, he was given a chance to clearly state a well-thought-out, detailed plan or even just state his intention to form one. Instead, Gore merely held out hope that some future Congress would pass such legislation. What happens when an administration is so weak that it must wait for a new Congress to pass laws? Gore was willing to sit around and accomplish nothing until the next election.

In 1992, Clinton and Gore ran on a platform of change. A few months after being elected, Gore had pledged to reinvent government. However, as the concept of reinventing government faded from the public eye, it became clear that the administration would practice politics as usual.

The Republican Congress has recently passed several bills on the budget. Clinton has vowed to veto all of them. Congress seems unlikely to override the vetoes. America is left without a budget, mired in Washington gridlock, no better off than before.

The executive branch has a certain dignity and aura attached to it. After all, the offices have been established for over two centuries and serve to oversee the execution of laws. As president and vice president, Clinton and Gore should take advantage of their positions.

Gore complained about special interests lobbying Republicans. But lobbying is not something exclusive to the special interests. Clinton, Gore, and other Democratic leaders can also lobby Republicans and discuss the issues. Earlier in his term, Clinton called up Democratic congressmen to support his budget and also to support NAFTA. In the end, both bills passed.

Perhaps it's too much to ask for a president who can persuade Congress to get something done. It's been a while since the last strong president - since Franklin Roosevelt passed his New Deal legislation, or since Lyndon Johnson pass his Great Society legislation.

Gore had said that Theodore Roosevelt would be turning in his grave had he heard of the Republicans' attacks on the environment. This may be true. But Roosevelt also said the office of the president could be used as a "bully pulpit," that a president could pressure and persuade Congress and not sit idly by. Roosevelt would also be turning in his grave if had seen the diminishing powers of the president.

David D. Hsu, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, wishes he could blame Democrats for his 10.213 grades.