NASHVILLE, Feb. 8 — In a withering critique of the Bush administration, former Vice President Al Gore on Sunday accused the president of betraying the country by using the Sept. 11 attacks as a justification for the invasion of Iraq.
"He betrayed this country!" Mr. Gore shouted into the microphone at a rally of Tennessee Democrats here in a stuffy hotel ballroom. "He played on our fears. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place."
The speech had several hundred Democrats roaring their approval for Mr. Gore, the party's 2000 standard-bearer.
Mr. Gore was one of three Tennessee Democrats, along with former Gov. Ned McWherter and former Senator James Sasser, being honored by the state party two days before the state's Democratic primary on Tuesday.
The event served as a neutral platform for this season's candidates. Gen. Wesley K. Clark and Senator John Edwards addressed the crowd, but it was Mr. Gore who fired it up.
While the other honorees and party officials gave a nod to all of the candidates, Mr. Gore, who has endorsed Howard Dean, referred to his candidate in a nonpartisan manner.
He said he appreciated that Dr. Dean "spoke forthrightly" against the war in Iraq, brought new people into the party and inspired the grass roots over the Internet. But Mr. Gore told the crowd that at an earlier reception for Dr. Dean, who was in Maine, he had said that no matter who won Tennessee on Tuesday, "any one of these candidates is far better than George W. Bush."
But his appreciation of Dr. Dean was tucked in passing into a fiery meditation on his own political history, including a recollection of the tactics used by the Republicans against his father, a longtime populist senator from Tennessee, in his last, losing election in 1970.
He recalled that President Richard M. Nixon had used "the politics of fear" to make his father, Albert Gore Sr., out to be unpatriotic and an atheist. And when his father lost, Mr. Gore said, his father said: "The truth shall rise again."
He said he recalled that defeat because "the last three years we've seen the politics of fear rear its ugly head again." Like the Nixon administration, Mr. Gore said, the Bush administration is not committed to principle but is obsessed with its re-election.
"The American people recognize that there's a lot of politics going on," said Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, in reference to Mr. Gore's comments.
Mr. Gore said he was ready to break his silence about his disagreements with the Bush administration before the Sept. 11 attacks, but afterward he threw his speech in the trash.
But then the war in Iraq came, and he felt betrayed. "It is not a minor matter to take the loyalty and deep patriotic feelings of the American people and trifle with them," he declared, adding with a shout: "The truth shall rise again."
General Clark followed Mr. Gore with a notably tamer speech. But he honored Mr. Gore, saying, "The 2000 election was stolen from the Democratic Party," and that Mr. Gore "would have been and should have been a great president."
Mr. Edwards arrived long after Mr. Gore spoke and apparently had little idea of what had occurred inside the room. He invoked his Southern roots and was greeted with cheers.
Earlier, on the ABC program "This Week," he seemed to leave the door open just a crack to the possibility of being the vice-presidential nominee if he does not win the nomination.
While reiterating that he was not interested in being vice president and did not see a circumstance where he would change his mind, he was less unequivocal when asked why he would not accept the nomination "if your party needs you."
"You don't know what's going to happen a month, three months, six months from now," Mr. Edwards said. "As I sit here today, I intend to fight with everything I've got to be the nominee. I think I am the alternative in the Democratic Party to Senator Kerry."
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