In his second public address since leaving the Vice Presidency in January, Al Gore received a roaring welcome from the partisan crowd gathered at the Kennedy School, which packed the floor, two balconies and at least one overflow room. After being introduced by Harvard President Larry Summers, who worked with him as U.S. Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration, Gore jokingly introduced himself: “I am Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States.”
The speech and Q&A that followed were most notable for their lack of partisanship. Jokes aside, Gore stood clearly behind his opponent in the 2000 elections. “President Bush is my commander-in-chief,” he said.
During the hour-long session, he refused to answer a question about the election when an audience member asked. “I’m sorry, I really don’t feel like talking about politics right now-it just seems like there are more important things going on,” he replied.
Instead, he held forth on the current situation in world affairs, opining on the dangers of “emerging post-national entities” such as al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. When asked about whether he supports ending a ban on U.S.-sponsored political assassinations, he replied, “It’s an excellent question, and it’s a difficult question, but there’s nothing in that executive order that prohibits the United States from defending ourselves.”
He was also asked about the anti-war protests occurring on college campuses. “I don’t know what the point of the rallies are: `We have a bunch of people out there trying to kill us, and I don’t think there’s any reason for us to try to stop them from killing us?’ Hello?”
Gore was notably relaxed during the speech, sporting his new salt-and-pepper beard and pausing to remove his jacket, rejecting his host’s offer to help him hang it on his chair. Since the election, he has clearly gained weight.
The forum was sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), in honor of its former president Jerry Wurf. As a result, Gore focused on the same populist themes as his campaign. He praised the public service employees, many of whom were union members, killed in the attacks. They were “the only people who were going up the stairs” at the World Trade Center, he said. He suggested that the attacks will cause Americans to change their attitude toward public servants. “Honor them for the way they serve and the courage they show every day,” he said.
For a review of the speech, see page 2.