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Gore on Shutdown Showdown: 'Political Terrorism'

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Former Vice President Al Gore didn’t mince words Friday morning when he told a Brookings Institution audience in Washington that the threatened shutdown of the government is “a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States.”

Denouncing what he called “political terrorism,” Gore switched to the voice of a ransom demander: “Nice global economy you’ve got there. It would be a shame if we had to destroy it. Here’s our demands. If you don’t meet our deadline. We’ll blow up the economy.”

Gore -- who now combines his advocacy to confront global climate change with private-equity investing -- came to Brookings for an event to launch its new Center for Effective Public Management, which is run by former Gore White House aide Elaine Kamarck.

He seemed at peace with the disappointment of narrowly losing out on the presidency 13 years ago, saying, “You win some, you lose some, and then there’s that little-known third category.”

Another ill-effect of the current budget brinksmanship, Gore told the audience of scholars, good-government groups and former Gore staffers, is that it fuels “hostility to government,” which in turn is fed by “too many instances of poor management, problems that linger, incompetence and processes that don’t work out well.” 

But most federal workers are “good people trapped in a bad system” -- as are many political leaders, he hastened to add. But “the system has been degraded -- American democracy has been hacked,” he said. Saying he was “dismayed by the level of partisanship and vitriol,” he attributed the problems to politicians’ dependency on “crass” fundraising from “special interests” and an intellectual climate in which “facts don’t seem to matter” and “preconceived notions are repeated over and over as if saying it louder would make it true.”

The former Tennessee Democratic lawmaker cited the three lasting legacies of the Clinton-Gore administration’s Reinventing Government initiative as the performance revolution, the customer revolution and ongoing innovation.

Kamarck, now a Brookings senior fellow, said the budget stalemate is another reason that the new Brookings center will “deal with both politics and government.” She added that a million federal workers on Thursday were told that they are “nonessential” in the event of a shutdown, a label she called “quite a blow to one’s ego.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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