Martin Murie/ Al Gore/ Inconvenient Truths

Published online 15 February 2007.

Maybe Al Gore knows something we don’t about leadership, and this explains why he says he’s not running for President next year.  This was the conclusion I reached after reading Martin Murie’s critique of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

I’ve noticed that there has been a lot of talk on DailyKos about drafting Al Gore for a Presidential bid.  proudprogressive CA wants him to run, mcjoan has a diary about it, kos wants to discuss it, Nonpartisan wants to broadcast it to the skies.  Now, I read all this under the presumption that Al Gore is not planning any such bid.

But then I read Martin Murie’s critical review of Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and it got me to thinking about the distinction between “leaders” and “politicians” that I established in my diary on Gramsci.

We will need “leaders” to fight the war of position; politicians, however, are given the task of managing the state and the state’s portion of economic management.  Our leaders do not have to be our politicians.  Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, was enough of a leader to have a holiday named after him; but he never held public office.  If our politicians cannot lead the way to a better world, I concluded in my diary, then we must find leaders who can do so.

My distinction between “leaders” and “polticians” finds theoretical support in Kees van der Pijl’s article on the international decline of the Left.  In this article, he argues that, since politicians everywhere form a political class managing the state, they have left behind their Left supporters ’round the world:

Indeed the remarkable melt-down of the Left in the case of NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, a process already heralded by the weak response to the Western attack on Iraq in 1991, in my view can only be understood if we analyse the rise of the managerial cadre in advanced capitalist society, which finds its privileged expression in Social Democracy, but even less hampered by tradition, in the various Green formations. The Communists have either given up altogether in the wake of the Soviet collapse, or have survived in name only. As a cadre entrusted with the day-to-day management of politics and administration, the ‘political class’ of each state is an internally cohesive force, and the particular sources of the entitlement to occupy state management posts such as the class struggle of the labour movement, have increasingly been left behind by that part of the cadre which entered politics as representatives of the working class aspirations for socialism.

So, if we are the “Left,” he would argue, we can no longer count on our politicians to put our priorities above those of the “day-to-day management of politics and administration.”  We will, instead, need leaders.

Al Gore is trying, hard, to be such a leader.  An Inconvenient Truth, to be sure, is the product of Gore’s quest for leadership.

However, for Martin Murie, Gore has not yet taken the necessary steps to lead the way forward to a better world.  Part of the problem for Murie stems from the social context in which Gore is presenting An Inconvenient Truth.  Here is Murie’s plea to Gore:

Al, your big book, treating us as recipients of corporate waste and plunder, leans down to tell us ordinary folks what we can do about it.  That list of yours is well inside standard bounds that encircle advice to consumers, aka voters, many of whom love the book.  But the vast American majority are harassed by corporate dishonesty, underpaid jobs, unemployment, worry about what awaits our children as we endure a shameless war, a war that prepares the way for more war, endless slaughter of soldiers and innocents.  To top it off, we are treated condescendingly by presidents, politicians, pundits, plunderers… Al, go back to the drawing board.  Next time give us the whole truth, the big picture, that huge elephant in the room.

Elephant?  What elephant?

Exploitation by government/corporate/political collusion, blatantly exemplified  by these united states whose leaders openly anoint themselves as imperial deciders and managers of the world.  That’s the elephant.

In An Inconvenient Truth, we are told, Al Gore can only give advice about global warming that is “well inside standard bounds that encircle advice to consumers.”  There is the problem of a system which is screwing us, about which Gore ostensibly does not give advice.  We may need even more leaders to organize the public around Murie’s side of the story.

If Al Gore were to “get political,” however, he would have to “be a politician,” to acquire public office, and, ultimately, to manage the state.  And the state management role might, for Gore as for any politician, conflict with the message about global warming that An Inconvenient Truth broadcasts.  Perhaps at this point Gore just wants to be a leader rather than a politician.

Thus, as Murie suggests, it is up to the people and their leaders, not the politicians and corporate bureaucrats, to deal with global warming:

If the struggle to temper global warming is dependent on corporate profitability, we might as well give up before we start.  The pursuit of perpetual expansion, of greater and greater profit margins, and of worldwide empire building for the sake of profit has to be pulled down from its pedestal.  We and Earth can’t have the money-laden tail wagging the lean dog much longer.  We the people will have the pleasure and hard work of figuring out how to do that.  Politicians dependent on corporate welfare will not do it; they are simply not up to the job.  It’s up to us.

So maybe it says something good about Al Gore, that he’s not running for President.  Maybe that says that he knows something about the difference between being a politician and being a leader.

Now, I’m sure that some of you have some sort of idea of how Gore could “get political,” run for President, win, and save the world.  I’d still like to read your proposals.


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