December 13, 2007

Al Gore in Bali

Can a vice president, even un ancien vice-president, say something like this to an international conference on climate change? And get away with it, I mean?

"Je vais donc vous dire une vérité qui dérange : mon propre pays, les Etats-Unis, est le principal responsable de l'obstruction à tout progrès ici à Bali", a-t-il ajouté sous les applaudissements, lors de la conférence des Nations unies sur le climat.

Note that "sous les applaudissements" bit. The delegates were all applauding while Al said that strange truth about the United States, his own country, being the principal obstacle to progress on a new climate treaty to replace the one the United States never signed in the first place. Naturellement, the first question that comes to my mind is: did Al say all of this in French? That could be the deal-breaker here at home. Here in the "homeland." I'm concerned that Al could wind up on some kind of watch list. He must know as well as anyone that his mea culpa on behalf of his propre pays will not go down well in the West Wing of the White House. President Bush is not given to spasms of self-reflection. If he thinks that American intransigence on international efforts to deal with environmental catastrophe is sound federal policy, that's the way it is. Cooperating would be "bad for the economy."

Now I'm going to dire une vérité qui dérange - Al is suffering from a common side effect of travel abroad. He went directly from the accolades of Oslo to les applaudissements of Bali. While in Europe he was exposed to those deranging features of European life that tend to linger in the memory when an American returns to the blessed homeland: humans with social skills; public amenities, like bathrooms, which are clean and pleasant; trains that actually run on schedule (or, for that matter, trains); roads which are smooth and maintained; good food, good beer; a literate and educated populace; heads of state fluent in their native tongues. By the time he got to Bali, he was entering that Philip Nolan state of mind which haunts the American Europhile after an extended spell abroad.

So I'm inclined to cut Al some slack. As for what he said, it's pretty uncontroversial. Of course the United States is the principal obstacle to international cooperation. But Americans aren't supposed to say that kind of thing while they're traveling abroad. Ask Jane Fonda or Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. We don't pander to foreign opinion, even when we're wrong. Especially when we're wrong.

Al will settle down. He'll come home to a Nashville or Bay Area traffic jam and his limo will bounce along our potholed roadways in the usual bone-jarring style as it rolls past an unending crapscape of Wal-Marts and Targets and strip malls, and the Decider will still be in charge, and Al will order up a bucket of KFC and head down to the multiplex to see the latest teen-boy pop epic, and Oslo and Bali will fade, and then Al will reconsider his conditional promise to the conference delegates that the next election will guarantee a major change in U.S. policy, because he looks at the field of Republican candidates and realizes that almost none of them believes in evolution, let alone something as arcane as anthropogenic climate-forcing, and comes to the realization that, indeed, he might have said, je ne peut pas prometer rien.

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