WASHINGTON - Who doesn't love a good redemption narrative? OK, not everybody is wired that way. But there was at least a little bit of Douglas MacArthur returning to the Philippines all over again today when Al Gore took Capitol Hill -- and pleaded for a second chance for our poor old planet.
"There is a sense of hope in this country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis" of global climate change, the former vice president told members of Congress. "This is the greatest country on the face of this earth, and the hopes for freedom and the viability and efficacy of self-government rests with the legislative branch of our government in this day and time."
"America is the natural leader of the world, and our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it's a challenge to the moral imagination to see and feel and understand that the entire relationship between humanity and our planet has been radically altered."
After quadrupling our world's population in less than a century, "our technologies are thousands of times more powerful than any our grandparents had at their disposal...and the side effects of what we're doing sometimes now outstrip the development of extra wisdom to make sure we handle these new powers in a way that doesn't do unintended harm."
A folksy as well as fluent presenter of scientific fact, he made the case for an immediate freeze on greenhouse gas emissions and tougher fuel economy standards.
At first, the vibes did not seem promising; before he had even taken his seat before two House committees at the first of today's two Congressional hearings on climate change, Texas Republican "Smoky" Joe Barton began registering a series of partisan complaints.
How could the opposition possibly be expected to know what to ask Gore about global warming, he wondered, when members of the panel had received his opening statement only hours before, in clear violation of some committee rule? "If y'all want to stay here for two hours and have an all-out cat fight" on this and other parliamentary issues, Barton warned, "we'll do it."
Another Texas Republican, Ralph Hall, then suggested that the true threat to the planet was -- well, Mr. Gore, and other such "Kyoto-ites."
"Today, we're witnessing an all-out assault on all forms of fossil fuels and all forms of nuclear energy," he said. "If we allow this attack on energy to go unanswered...it would result in the death of an energy industry, an industry that helped win world wars...It could also result in the loss of a generation of American men and women who would have to fight for energy when and if OPEC nations abandon the USA by canceling all sales."
"The American people will not guess today what Mother Nature will do 100 or 1,000 years from now, and will not be cajoled, frightened or bullied or sullied into nor led into a dangerous world that envisions us without a reliable energy supply," Hall thundered. Instead, he said, we could solve the problem with good-old American innovation. Which, of course, has been Gore's point for decades.
Other members in the minority party were far less antagonistic, though. Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett said his wife often reminded him of the important connection between conservatism and actual conserving: "I think it's probably possible to be a conservative without appearing to be an idiot."
Democrats, meanwhile, seemed truly grateful. Ed Markey, the Democrat from Massachusetts, who started out with Gore in the House 30 years ago, went so far as to call his old friend a prophet. And John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chaired the hearing, misspoke for many as he closed the proceedings. "Mr. President," he said, "we thank you."