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by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

His back against the wall, facing the closest and most momentous election of his entire charmed life, Vice President Al Gore looked out across the assembled thousands, their faces upturned to see him, many of them taking time off from their jobs — millions of which were created in the unprecedented eight years of prosperity of the Clinton/Gore era — and began to speak.

And as he spoke, his rich cadences caressing the air and mingling with all the iconic sounds of small town America — the breezes rustling through the leaves, a passing train, a bird calling in the distance — one thing became
clear. The old caricature of the wooden Al Gore — one which he graciously and self deprecatingly joked about earlier in the campaign — is now a thing of the past.

In all fairness, the caricature was just that: a caricature, one created by a snarling pack of envious small-time hack reporters who can’t get a life. Well, as the cold chill of New Hampshire gave way to the promise of spring, as the bruising political primary battleground gave way to the swooning rapture of The Kiss, and the hard fought general election campaign against a two bit governor who murders syntax more brutally than felons, those reporters grew up. Truth in Reporting Here: I am one of those reporters.

Al Gore looked out at the assembled masses and He spoke. He spoke of jobs created. He spoke of hope. He spoke of good, clean American air and water. The crowd listened, enraptured as his syllables rolled out in long,
Whitmanesque lines across the land.

And then it happened. “I wanna talk to you just a moment about Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader is a great American, and I admire him very much. You admire him, too, I’m sure. He’s done a lot of good for this country, and I’m sure he’d love his wife as much as I love Tipper…if he had one. But where does he get off trying to wreck the American two-party system that has served this country so well?” Murmurs and rumbles of discontent swelled through the
crowd. A funnel cloud formed in the background.

That, indeed, is for this reporter the single most memorable moment in this long and arduous campaign. In latte bars and cyber cafes, in small town diners and mega shopping malls, in the wierd non-corporeal nether space of electronic “chat” rooms, that has become The Question. How and why has Nader, a true American hero, stubbornly and angrily morphed into the prince of darkness?

A coalition of distinguished American citizens has come together to fight the growing Nader menace. Former Senator Bill Bradley, no slouch in the American Icon category himself, addressed an audience of reporters, political junkies and aging basketball fans at the National Press Club earlier in the week: “Now, in the heat of the campaign just a few months ago, I might have chosen
some inappropriate words when discussing my good friend Al Gore. But I never actually called him a sleazy lying son-of-a-bitch who’ll say anything to get elected.”

Speaking of icons, a broad array of gracefully aging rock musicians, many of whom played at Woodstock — and here I’m talking about The Original Woodstock festival — are lending their rainbow hued voices to the chorus. These are people who definitely inhaled, who fought their inner demons and survived. People who see this great nation imperiled, who are jumping, once more, into the fray.

Don Henley probably spoke for all of them when he said he was particularly incensed upon learning that “Grunge” rocker Eddie Vedder was supporting the Nader candidacy. “When I heard he was singing “The Times They Are A
Changing,” well, that just did it for me. It’s time to speak out. Tipper’s the Grateful Dead’s Number One Fan. She’s even a rocking drummer herself.”

Another rocker, from some band this reporter is, frankly, too young to remember, said “It just steams me when I see him strumming a guitar. That’s the instrument we used to end the war in Vietnam, to end segregation, to save the environment, and now he’s using it to wreck the Democratic Party.”

Vedder, who became something of a cult figure as a member of the band Pearl Jam, a band noted for its dark and depressing lyrics and loud, dissonant guitars, was unavailable for comment.

But there was plenty of comment on the street after a modest Nader rally attracting an estimated 10,000 people. Young twenty-somethings with every hair color this reporter has ever seen were all too eager to share their
beliefs. Eyes glazed, as if in religious, cult-like rapture, they mouthed a bunch of vaguely leftist, new agey mumbo jumbo. There were some older men and women too, and children, all with that creepy glazed eye look.

This reporter was astonished to learn that people actually paid to attend the event, which included appearances by leftist actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, rich Hollywood stars who years earlier did not join the broad
coalition of Americans who supported the very popular war against Saddam Hussein.

But speaking of funny hair colors: This reporter has never seen so many pierced body parts and tattoos in his life. In a related development, Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, valiantly maintained his composure as he addressed the issue of tattoos. Tattoos are taboo in Lieberman’s Orthodox Jewish faith, an affront to the beliefs that have shaped his moral life and guided him through his decades of public service.

“As you know,” Lieberman said, “just a few years ago my good Republican friend Bill Bennett and I began giving “Sewer” awards to draw public attention to some really disgusting things. It was a bi-partisan partnership. Now let me tell you, in a Gore/Lieberman administration, we
will respect the First Amendment. We will not use censorship to stop tattooing and body piercing. But we will be sure to nudge the tattooers and body piercers, to encourage them to change their ways. That’s the American way.”

“Now if you’ll let me paraphrase a great American Supreme Court Justice,” Lieberman continued, “I can’t give you an exact definition of “Bad Things,” but I know them when I see them. You know them when you see them. We all
know a No-No when we see it. In a Gore/Lieberman administration, we will work to get rid of Bad Things. In a Gore/Lieberman administration, we will make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Can I hear you say Yeah?”

I finally spoke to the Prince of Darkness himself. He was tired, after having just addressed another modest crowd of 15,000 people who paid their hard earned cash to hear a numbing onslaught of vaguely leftist new agey rhetoric. Nader’s brow was furrowed with the weight of carrying so many really boring facts in his brain, facts that don’t lend themselves to the great poetic cadences of Al Gore’s speeches.

Then he snarled at me. “You’ve been ignoring me all these months, and now all you can ask is if I’m going to end the campaign,” he snapped, his Arab-American features darkening. “Al Gore said he wasn’t going to lose any sleep over my candidacy, and I said ‘Sleep on, Al. Sleep on.'”

In a late-breaking development, as we head into the last days of this campaign, one which offers a very very clear choice between Al Gore and George Bush, a coalition of journalists, many of whom have won Pulitzer Prizes, has taken out full page ads in major newspapers across this great land, imploring Ralph Nader to protect his distinguished legacy, to stop the madness, and to do the right thing: step out of this race and give his support to the Gore/Lieberman ticket.

The End?

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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