Former Vice President Al Gore widened his criticism of President Bush Wednesday to include the administration's handling of the crisis in the Middle East; he also linked the administration to the latest revelations indicating Enron may have manipulated power markets in California.
The White House, Gore says, was disengaged from the growing conflict in the Middle East for too long. "I feel the Bush administration lost invaluable time, almost a year and a half, and is now caught between a rock and a hard place," Gore said, at a fundraiser for the local Democratic Party here Wednesday. It was unclear from the speech whether the wordplay ("a rock" -- Iraq) was intentional. "On this issue, Democrats should be prepared to support the president where he is right as he threads his way forward, but there should also be certain red lines in regard to the security of Israel."
Gore's comments come less than a week after a story in the New York Times quoted an unnamed aide to Gore's former running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., criticizing Gore for not mentioning the Middle East in his comeback speech before Florida Democrats last month. Gore aides said his comments were not a reaction to the Times story, but rather were timely because of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent visit to the United States, and Tuesday's suicide bombing attack in Israel.
His comments also follow months of jockeying between the current and former administrations over culpability in the Middle East conflict. In February, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, strongly suggested that recent violence was the result of failed diplomacy by the Clinton White House. After being denounced by former Clinton advisors, Fleischer issued a retraction. But then in April, President Bush also gave what seemed a passing slap at Clinton. When a reporter asked him why he had chosen to dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell on a Middle East peace mission rather than organize a summit, Bush replied, "We've tried summits in the past, as you may remember," appearing to suggest that Israel-Palestinian talks moderated by Clinton in 2000 only led to more violence.
Gore also referred to new documents made public by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week that suggest that Enron manipulated energy markets in California to pad its profits. "Who is supposed to be protecting people from that kind of blatantly illegal activity?" Gore asked, providing his own answer: the FERC. "They allowed Enron executives to interview the applicants for the commission," Gore said. "Why in the world is Enron interviewing the people who are supposed to be protecting us from Enron?"
After President Bush was elected he replaced FERC chairman Curtis Hebert Jr. with Texas Republican Patrick Wood. Hebert said he thought he was ousted because he did not share the views of Enron and the administration on rapid deregulation for energy markets. Gore challenged nonbelievers in the audience to "go get on Google on the Internet and look it up."
Gore's remarks were part of an impassioned, 20-minute speech, in which he reiterated, as he did in Florida, and in a speech on Earth Day, that he will continue to publicly challenge and criticize the administration as the election season gets underway. He also accused the administration of manipulating post-Sept. 11 patriotism for political purposes.
"Patriotism does not mean being silent about the course our country should take for the future, and we're going to express our disagreements when we believe we have better ideas about how to help the people of this country," he said to thunderous applause. "The president of the United States should not take that kind of unity and patriotism and attempt to misuse it as a way of getting support on the cheap for some right-wing agenda item."