It was an interesting gathering at NE's Wonder Ballroom this afternoon, as 240 luncheoning politerati enjoyed a catered meal at a hefty price while the media watched from the balcony eating salmon nachos and drinking Oregon Rain--but for free! I stuck to the grapes and cheese--lord knows how long the nachos had been sitting there, but they were soggy like they'd missed their invitation to the ark--but it still felt like immense privilege had been bestowed. Sometimes you don't even get a chair (Pelosi event); sometimes you get your own row of chairs at a crappy angle (City Club Goobernor Debate); sometimes you get great seats (15 feet from Storm Large!); and sometimes you get the good seats AND a little nosh.
Such was the scene for Al Gore to tiredly but passionately proclaim his admiration and support for Oregon's goobernor. Despite his own heavy schedule, however, Kulongoski seemed pumped up (maybe it was the cha-ching sound in his campaign bank). He worked the room before speeches started, commandeering empty chairs and doling out the hugs and backslaps. As last night's debate in Medford reminded, TV debates just aren't his thing. He's not a radically fast thinker, he gets a bit flustered, and he tries to effect passion which only makes him look a little more out of it. But damned if he doesn't connect well with people on a face-to-facel level, and behind the somewhat erratic presentation is a very solid and thorough set of facts.
By far the most jazzed of the three special guests was Senator Ron Wyden. The Cheerleader exhorted the suits and power skirts to their feet time and again, at the end even coaxing a rendition of "Ted! Ted! Ted" out of them. They should have gotten him a football bench and a Terrible Towel
, and he'd have really incited those people. Then the three politicians gave the Wonder Triplets pose, as the Vice President and the Senator nearly lifted the shorter Governor off his feet by grasping his wrists and thrusting them upward, to great delight from the crowd.
Wyden introduced himself by noting that he saves filibusters for the floor of the Senate and not banquets (yuk yuk), but also revealed that Gore was Wyden's mentor in the House, helping the freshman write his first bill amendment--and when Wyden ran in the special senatorial election in 1996, Gore came to stump in the mud for him. Then the talk turned to the naturally dominant sell point for all Democrats these days: We're gonna kick some ass, if you'll help! Triumphant bon mots included screeds against the "far, far, far far right," and a promise to "take back the wheels of democracy!", which left me wondering just how many wheels of democracy it took to run democracy, and whether we could take them all back at once or we had to share control until we got all the wheels. But in any event, Wyden said, we only had one job left before Election Day: don't fuck it up. I mean, close the sale.
Turning to the theme of the afternoon, Wyden echoed the promises of Democratic leadership to make a priority of an innovative energy policy, saying "getting a new energy policy is about the most red, white and blue thing we can do for our country." Talking up the hope that vast swaths of land could be converted to fuel crops, Wyden promised "you'll see stations up and down I-5 with fuel from Oregon crops." In Kulongoski's very brief speech after being introduced by Wyden, he admired the sense of perspective Gore advocates in his talks: "politics has a tendency to be short term in its thinking, but one person has been saying you have to look long term, and that's Al Gore."
Gore needed no crowd-whipping to receive a standing ovation, but he was clearly bouyed into feeling a little less burned out on the routine (something that apparently prevented him from receiving questions from local press, which I as an amateur took in stride, but which really ticked off the traditional guys. Their editors are going to say, "Where's your quote from Gore?" and they won't have one beyond what everybody else heard. Me, I got free grapes and cheese on my lunch hour and got to listen to Al Gore talk on his favorite subject.)
It turns out his favorite subject might be Oregon itself. His daughter attended Portland State for a time, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury was in the first group of people Gore trained to deliver his presentation to others, and it just happens to be true that much of the hopeful part of Gore's book and talk include Oregon's businesses and people. Oregon plays a featured role in his talk, he said, and spoke of a vast new set of industries in which the absolute locus, the ground zero of growth and development, would take place in Oregon: green (or clean) tech.
Gore suggests that the three primary areas of economic development for the future are information tech, bio tech, and green tech, and calls the state "the
emerging center of the green tech revolution in the entire world," with over 200 companies already operating in some fashion. According to Gore, green tech will be "the biggest economic boom and greatest source of new jobs in the history of the state of Oregon." Heady stuff that, but it's compelling advice to make the most of the "living research lab" sociopolitical ethic that many of us treasure about Oregon. Why can't
we be the vanguard of a booming global industry?
The governor tends to have a good reception and rating with the environmental community, and Gore played the role of Guru Endorser to a tee. He referred to Kulongoski as having given a "virtuoso performance" in strengthening the economy while taking firmer environmental stands. And in a quote I wish I had my digital recording gear to have gotten down verbatim, Gore effused with abandon, saying "there is no other governor anywhere, and certainly no world regional leader, who has demonstrated as much clarity of vision and political skill" on the environment as Kulongoski. "You oughta be awful proud," Gore said.
At times the fatigue shone through, and Gore rambled and lagged in a way I thought he had banished forever when seeing the engaged way in which he narrated his movie. He had a tendency to go off onto anecdotal interludes that were semi-relevant and usually kind of cute, but which were ultimately distracting to his message. And his points and analysis are razor sharp, so at times I wished he would just spit it out. But he eventually ramped up, ironically a bit like a diesel engine--slow and cold at first, but gradually warming up until BAM!--he was deftly punching out the current administration with deadpan lines like "y'know, I've actually begun to lose my objectivity about Bush and Cheney." But he was also deadly serious about the need to create large gains in Congress and do the right things: "This is the time to render a judgement and a verdict."
Whether this makes any substantive difference in the goob' election I'm not sure. If you believe the accuracy of Riley polls (and I don't), Ted is starting to pull away
from Saxton over the last couple weeks, as voters decide whether they really feel safe making a change. Regardless of whether it helped them feel better about Ted, you sure couldn't help feeling good about being an Oregonian after listening to Gore speak. Next time, just plate the salmon nachos a little closer to the start of the event, willya?