In an attack on President Bush's environmental record, former vice president Al Gore accused his 2000 opponent last night of consistently appointing industry-friendly regulators to oversee the nation's air, land, and water, a practice he said amounted to abandonment of the nation's natural resources.
In a speech to a receptive audience of about 200 people at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, Gore charged the White House with being "truly radical and breathtakingly irresponsible in its . . . willingness to ignore the future consequences of their present actions."
Right from the start, Gore, who won the popular vote, poked fun at his own tumultuous loss in the 2000 presidential election, introducing himself by saying, "I am Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States. Actually, I'm a recovering politician. I'm on about step 9."
But he quickly moved from a lighthearted tone to serious policy. In an address that lasted about 45 minutes, he swung into a professorial mode, using a laser pointer to highlight slides of the earth in a darkened ballroom.
Without naming officials or giving specific examples, Gore said, "If you look carefully . . . their practice has been in almost every case to appoint people whose immediate prior careers have been aimed at the destruction of the laws they are now being asked to enforce."
"It really is institutionalized corruption," he said. "It is deeply unethical and its effect is to place the private, narrow interests of wealthy and powerful industrial groups above the interests of the American people, generally."
Repeated calls to the Bush-Cheney campaign seeking a response to Gore's speech were not returned.
Gore gave a hearty endorsement to his former Senate colleague, Democrat John F. Kerry, saying there was "no senator who had a better record in the environment and none who offered more visionary leadership on issues related to the global environment."
He quickly contrasted that with the president's leadership, saying to applause, "George W. Bush has by all odds been by far the worst president for the environment in the entire history of the United States of America -- bar none."
The event was organized by Environment 2004, a Washington-based group that is raising money to turn voters against what it calls the Bush administration's "destructive environmental agenda."
The group says it is targeting its efforts through media, rallies, advertising, and direct voter contact focused on the battleground states of Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. Guests at the event, who nibbled hors d'oeuvres and sipped wine, paid between $75 and $250 for tickets.
For Gore, it was only the latest in a string of appearances aimed at attacking the president's record and boosting the Democratic nominee.
Gore became one of the earliest and fiercest critics of the Iraq war and in February told a gathering of Tennessee Democrats that Bush had "betrayed this country" by using the Sept. 11 attacks to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Along with onetime Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, whom he endorsed in the primaries, Gore was credited with emboldening the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party.
Since Dean, the former Vermont governor, dropped out of the race in February, Gore has supported Kerry and continued to hammer away at the Bush administration.
©2004 Boston Globe