THE BLOG
03/21/2006 02:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remembering Al Gore's Katrina Heroism

As The American Prospect covers Al Gore, I still think his heroism during the Katrina crisis is evidence that Gore is the most passionate national Democrat out there right now -- speaking his mind, but also ACTING on his convictions. Whether he runs for President again or not, he deserves more credit for saving those people in Louisiana.

Gore For It
The current Democratic leadership has a lot to learn from Al Gore.

"Don't talk about it; be about it" is what R & B star R. Kelly's disgruntled lover advised him to do if he wanted to remain in her good graces in his 1998 song "Don't Put Me Out." The infamous Kelly may be an unlikely tutor for American politicians, but some of our elected officials should heed the same advice when it comes to leadership.

President Bush fell down on the job of leading us so badly in the days after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans that even the reporters at conservative-leaning FOX News could not restrain themselves from criticizing the administration for allowing literally helpless Americans to die from starvation, dehydration, drowning, and heat stroke while waiting days for rescue. The American people, faced with the irrefutable televised evidence of babies screaming for milk and the elderly left to die seems to be losing faith in the president they elected because they believed he would "be about" protecting them. Thus, the twin tragedies of Katrina and Iraq have pushed Bush's poll numbers down to Watergate-era lows.

Bush's disastrous response was so horrific that -- to use another example from the music world -- hip-hop phenom Kanye West, after watching the spectacle at the Superdome, declared on national television that "George Bush doesn't care about black people"

One man who did care enough to "be about" leading people to safety was former Vice President Al Gore. Together with Greg Simon, head of the nonprofit FasterCures, Gore defied government bureaucracy, military regulations, and perhaps political interference to charter and accompany two airplane flights into New Orleans to rescue patients and bring them to safety at Tennessee hospitals. While other politicians appeared to be debating whether or not to leave their Labor Day vacations early or to be dithering with their consultants over the political ramifications of various actions and statements, Gore did what many of us watching television from our homes only wished we could do: He flew into New Orleans and rescued people.

Desperate for effective leadership, factions of the Democratic Party have been wrestling with one another about whether we should go left or right in order to win elections. Gore's actions have punctured a hole in this debate by simply going forward. The tragedy of Katrina was not political so much as humanitarian. American citizens were dying, homeless, and injured, and those who truly cared about them could not sit by and watch from the height of their private planes or the comfort of their ranches and beach houses. Gore not only cares about America; he proved he cares about Americans enough to land a plane in the midst of the misery and "be about" rescuing more than 200 desperate people.

Gore has been reluctant to discuss what he did on those two flights, most likely for fear of politicizing his actions. But maybe his actions should be politicized; Americans are hungry for any conviction in today's politics. That hunger was evident as people flocked to the promise of presidential candidates Howard Dean, John McCain, and Wesley Clark in past election years. Voters believed these men offered us something different, something genuine. They were convinced for a time that these guys wouldn't just "talk about" leading us, they would "be about" leading us.

It may be time for America to see more of Al Gore. When he was last on the national stage, he looked hesitant and unsure of himself. The nation found it hard to feel comfortable with a man who did not seem to feel comfortable with himself. That may have changed. Gore has been charging forward, voicing his consistent criticism about how and why we went to war in Iraq (uncompromised by having voted for the war resolution) and continuing to talk about the threats posed by climate change, which have only become more evident this hurricane season, and by acting rapidly and effectively to rescue sick and injured Americans on his own dime when they needed it most. Whether Al Gore wants to be President or not, his example should serve as a marker for anyone else who does: "Don't talk about" leading us anymore, just "be about it."

Jamal Simmons, the president of New Future Communications, managed regional press operations for Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign and was a spokesman for the former vice president during the Florida recount.

The American Prospect