Al Gore’s Whine: What Really Happened on the Mall

Now it's official. Global warming alarmism has indeed “jumped the shark“, as revealed by the dismal failure of the Live Earth concerts to galvanize the general public. In particular, the puny turnout in Washington, DC, where Gore himself personally showed up, has proved an acute embarrassment.

But although Al Gore's Live Earth concerts have failed in the ratings, he appears to have partially succeeded at doing what does best: shifting blame for his woes to his political opponents and getting the media to go along. Since last weekend, the Net has been abuzz with stories of how Gore overcame Republicans who allegedly did everything they could to stop the concert from being performed on Washington's National Mall.

“Al Gore foils opponents,” proclaimed Associated Press, after Gore had just announced a “surprise” Live Earth concert in Washington, D.C., the next day.  “Global warming naysayers in the political world have not been able to have their way, because this will – despite their best efforts – be held on the Mall,” Gore was quoted in the story as saying.

The next day, Gore again took a shot at the opponents who he said denied him the use of Washington's famous Mall – the area surrounding the Smithsonian Institution museums between the Capitol and the Washington Monument – and the press again largely parroted his claim. In his speech at National Museum of the American Indian last Saturday, which the Paris-based wire service AFP called “a thinly veiled hit on members of President George W. Bush's Republican party,” Gore declared, “Some who don't understand what is now at stake tried to stop this event on the Mall.”

And “some” media outlets, who don't understand or don't care that Gore is spinning them, allowed him to peddle the biggest set of urban myths to appear on the Internet since Gore “took the initiative in creating” it. 

To start with, the Washington “show” consisted of country stars Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood added to preexisting events with Indian artists. As Carter Wood observed at the National Association of Manufacturers' blog

“The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian had already scheduled a day of events — including the Indian Summer Showcase 2007, which appeared to be absorbed into ‘Mother Earth – In the Spirit of the Live Earth Concerts.' There were already going to be performances, drum circles and spiritual/environmental speeches by tribal leaders. Al Gore and the Smithsonian's organizers just figured a way to add Gore's overtly political address and the Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood performance to an existing event.”

But Gore's most blatant falsehood – as phony as a three-dollar carbon credit – is his claim that Republican lawmakers or global warming “deniers” prevented him from holding the concert on the Mall. This spread through the left-wing blogosphere like the proverbial wild fire, with entries on ThinkProgress claiming that Republicans “had tried to block the event from happening in DC” and on Daily Kos declaring that “[d]espite Republican efforts …to deny this, Friday Al Gore announced LiveEarthDC.”

In truth, the only thing some GOP lawmakers objected to was an unusual last-minute effort to hold the concert on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, after its organizers discovered that Mall had already been booked for other events. Use of the Mall had been denied to Gore and his colleagues for one reason: they failed to apply for the proper permits before other parties had. And one of the groups “blocking” Live Earth's use of the Mall happened to be the Smithsonian Institution itself.

The truth is that Gore's desires for a huge concert on the Mall were actually thwarted not by Republicans, but by a very talented group of Irish Riverdance cloggers, Vietnamese folk artists, and African-American gospel singers. They were performing as scheduled at the acclaimed annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival and at a gospel show sponsored by the predominantly black Christian organization Together One Unity. It seems the “nefarious right-wingers” who organized these folk and gospel fests had the temerity to schedule their events with the National Park Service, which runs the Mall, weeks and months before Live Earth's organizers ever contacted the agency, and then not call them off when Gore let out a sneeze.

I attended these events on the Mall that weekend and found them to be a wonderful antidote to the green hype of Live Earth and, in truth, a better example of true conservation and simple living then the giant rock concerts were. They were a sort of anti-rock festival, with informal singing and craftsmanship taking precedence. And for bizarre reasons, the Folklife Festival itself has itself actually come under attack from the greens. I will share my impressions and get into the controversy later. In the meantime, back to Gore's lies.

If Gore had really wanted a big event on the Mall, all he would have had to do was pick another weekend. The big bad Bush Administration and the mean old Republican-controlled Congress placed no obstacles in the way of antiwar rallies and Earth Day events held on the Mall in the past few years that bashed the President and the party. The Park Service issues permits in a professional manner without regard to an event's ideological content. But it will not let an event jump in front of the line, even if the organizer is a former vice president and Academy Award winner. As the Washington political newspaper The Hill explained, “Getting access to the Mall comes on a strict first-come, first-serve basis.”

Gore's friends in Congress, namely Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, then tried to bail out Gore's lack of planning with a thoroughly impractical alternative: putting the concert on the Capitol building's West Lawn. With rare exceptions, the only large public gatherings there are the National Symphony Orchestra concerts on the 4th of July and Memorial Day.  Much attention was paid to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK, who regularly challenges Gore's views on humans role in global warming and the effects of climate change, calling the concert a “partisan political event” that shouldn't be held on Capitol grounds. Gore shot back, with his oft-repeated claim that climate change is a “moral issue.”

But even Democrats reportedly chafed at some of the practical impediments to holding Gore's extravaganza on the West Lawn. An all-day concert drawing huge crowds on the grounds of the Capitol, as opposed to a three-hour symphony performance there at night, could have posed formidable security challenges for those guarding the Capitol building.  Plus, in the holiday concerts, the Mall is utilized to pick up the overflow in the crowds from the West Lawn. But, in this case, of course, the Mall would be hosting its own events and would be unable to absorb as much of the overflow.

These concerns may be part of the reason Democrats on the Hill backed off as soon as practical questions about the event were being raised. Unlike Inhofe, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, merely refused to let Reid's bill on Gore's concerts clear the Senate with “unanimous consent.” According to The Hill, McConell wasn't necessarily opposed to hosting the concert at the Capitol, but “wanted more time for his side to look at the resolution.” Reid soon backed off, and Gore announced that the concert would be in New Jersey. The fact that Reid and Gore didn't push harder suggests that they may never have wanted an actual concert on the Capitol grounds, but merely an issue to beat-up Republicans with.

In the meantime, out of the media spotlight, thousands of people gathered on the Mall for the festivals that had been properly booked. As Ludacris and Madonna crooned (if you can call it that) in the bask of media attention, the Folklife Festival was abuzz with the sounds of  Southeast Asian flute music, folk songs and dances from Northern Ireland, and the bluegrass tunes of rural Virginia.

In contrast to the Live Earth entertainment extravaganza, the Folklife Festival was a venue that really celebrated our rural roots and the so-called simple life. And the attendees practiced conservation in action, as I saw barely a scrap of trash on the grounds of the Mall. (There were also lots of recycling bins, but whether recycling is always beneficial is another story.) One would think this would be an event a good Green would love.

Alas, not so for some of the major environmental groups. This is because due to its hosting a folk “life” festival, the Smithsonian presents all aspects of rural living, including (gasp!) cars and (horrors!) machinery used for resource extraction. The technology that has improved rural life greatly doesn't fit today's enviros' definition of an idyllic rural culture. Last year, green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council actually protested the Folklife Festival because of one exhibit that focused on oil exploration in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

So Gore and company present an interesting new environmental ethic. It's okay, as long as you're “environmentally correct,” to burn up tons of fuel jetting off to concerts around the world. But it's a sin to even present the exploration for this oil in a positive light. Talk about an “offset” in priorities.