Al Gore at Iowa Democrats’ 2008 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

Former Vice President Al Gore is tonight’s keynote speaker/main draw for the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2008 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.  Organizers say about a thousand people are expected. This is the fifth time Gore has appeared at the event. 

Befiore Gore got to the stage tonight, Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge stole the show a bit with some comments about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.  Scroll below to read her remarks; there’s an audio file there, too, if you want to listen.

Gore referenced Judge’s remarks at the beginning of his speech.  "Patty, I would pay money — I’d pay a lot of money to watch you and listen to you debate Sarah Palin," Gore said with a laugh.  The crowd cheered and whistled.  "If there’s just some way that we could arrange that.  Why don’t you call up Larry King?"  As you may recall, Gore — as the 1992 Democratic vice presidential candidate — faced down Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot in a highly-publicized joint appearance on The Larry King Show on CNN.

Gore was among the slew of 1988 presidential candidates who spoke at the 1987 JJ Dinner.  The most memorable part of the night, however, was the press conferences beforehand in which all the candidates were asked if they’d smoked pot as Douglas Ginsberg, President Reagan’s snominee for the Supreme Court, withdraw after admitted he’d smoked marijuana several times. (Gore said yes, he had smoked pot with Tipper, after you know what.)  The real Gore-related news that night was his announcement he’d quit campaigning in Iowa in advance of the Caucuses because the state was too dominated by liberals.

Gore spoke at the 1997 JJ Dinner, trotting out a slew of self-depricating jokes.  The 1999 JJ Dinner was a turning point for Gore’s campaign, as rival Bill Bradley donned his half glasses to read his speech, while a fiery Gore roamed the stage and exorted the crowd to repeat the line "Stand and Fight."  Gore returned to the JJ Dinner n 2001 and referred to Bush as "my president."

On this fifth occasion, Gore enters the hall as a Nobel Prize/Oscar winner.  The event is staged in Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines, in the room Barack Obama rallied with his supporters in the late afternoon, before the 2007 JJ Dinner that proved a turning point in Obama’s campaign.

At 7:25 p.m. the pledge was said and the national anthem was sung, so we are about 25 minutes behind schedule already.  An invocation is being delivered by an Episcopal priest.  Scott Brennan, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, is at the microphone by 7:35 p.m., telling his fellow Democrats that John McCain "just doesn’t get it" when it comes to the economy, ethanol and the like.

Next up, Democratic leaders at the statehouse. 

At 7:51 p.m., Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo representing Iowa’s first district, is the first federal candidate to the microphone.  He’s reminding the crowd of the day after the 2004 election.  "We have to work every waking moment between now and Nov. 4 to make sure that Barack Obama is our next president," Braley said to open.

By 7:55 p.m., Braley was introducing the candidate in Iowa’s fourth congressional district.  "Becky Greenwald is going to be the first congressswoman from the state of Iowa," Braley said, as Greenwald came to the stage. Greenwald essentially is starting with the same biographical speech I heard her deliver at the Iowa State Fair this past August. 

Greenwald talked about the current financial crisis. accusing her Republican rival, Tom Latham,s taking "hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street."

"It’s time to hold him accountable," she said, to applause. "I just have to ask each of you:  aren’t we glad he didn’t get his way when he supported George Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security?…(Latham) has been the wing man for George Bush….It’s time to send the George Bush wing man back to Ames for good…Are you ready?  Are you ready to make history?  Let’s go!" Greenwald concluded.

At 8:00 p.m., Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat from Mount Vernon representing the second district, was introduced and he began by reminiscing about the 2006 election.  Then, Loebsack turned to the 2008 election.  "We’ve got to reorder our priorities.  We’ve got to change the direction of this country…We need a president who’s going to agree with us," Loebsack said, referencing Barack Obama.

aT 8:05 p.m., Loebsack passed the torch to Rob Hubler of Council Bluffs, the Democrat running in Iowa’s fifth district against Republican Congressman Steve King.  "We are going to send Steve King back to Kiron where he belongs," Hubler said, to applause. Hubler recounted his biography, then talked about how "angry" voters are about the financial crisis, which he blamed on "Bush/McCain/King" policies of "unfettered free enterprise with no oversight and no regulation."

Hubler predicted an "earthquake, even in the fifth district" on election night, suggesting everyone in Iowa will be "dancing in the streets" — a reference to Congressman King’s comments about overseas reaction to an Obama victory. (Here’s the King quote, made back in early March: "The radical Islamists, the al-Qaida … would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they would declare victory in this war on terror.").

In conclusion, Hubler repeated a line he’s been using on the campaign trail:  "The fifth district wants a servant, not a King."

At 8:10 p.m. Congressman Leonard Boswell, a Democrat from Des Moines representing the third district, took the mic with a "Whew!" followed by a "I Love Ioway!"  After a few moments referencing this 2008 election, Boswell backtracks to inauguation day 2001, then returns to the ’08 election. 

A brief interlude ensued, as a few items were auctioned off, raising a few thousand dollars for the Iowa Democratic Party.  At 8:29 p.m., Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge was introduced to the crowd.  "Wow, you look great," Judge began.  "I love a party and when I have a party full of Democrats, it’s even better."

"…I debated on whether I should even bring Sarah up tonight because I think the bloom’s off the rose….If you go to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, you do expect to hear ‘Freebird" and so I want to talk about this on-going situation between Sarah and me…Of all the women in the United States of America, why did John McCain pick Sarah Palin? And if she is qualified to be the vice president of the United States….why didn’t Barack Obama call me?" Judge joked with the crowd.  There was laughter and applause.

The lieutenant governor continued on that theme:  "We both wear glasses.  We’ve both got kids and we like ’em a lot.  My resume is substantially longer than hers, but we shoudn’t hold that against me.  We both have special skills…Hers being field dressing a moose, mine being castrating a calf… but you know, I had trouble understanding why this woman annoys me so darn much….like the fact that she doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose and she doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work…I can probably get past the ‘aw shucks…The winking is super annoying." 

The crowd applauded and cheered.

Judge kept going:  "I’ll tell you why she annoys me so much…because we have from the time of suffrage, women have worked so hard to take our place at the political table and we have done that by being smart…and being committed to what we are doing…with all our hearts and when John McCain picked this woman to be his runningmate, it was a reckless, arrogant act."

I see women in the crowd, sitting in front of the press area, getting to their feet.  The crowd is applauding.  A woman in the crowd shouts "You go girl!" and Judge says "Thank you."

Judge concludes: "I’m not going to worry anymore about Sarah.  We’ve got bigger fish to fry."  Judge ends by introducing Governor Chet Culver to the crowd. Listen to Patty Judge’s remarks (mp3 runs 9 minutes)

"That’s a tough act to follow right there," Culver said, laughing.  Someone was passing out square brown stickers with the following in white lettering:  "Chet Culver:  Standing Strong For Working Families In Tough Times."

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is next up after Culver, spending a great deal of time talking about the Wall Street bailout.

"Yes, we may have had to do that right now…but I can tell you a lot of Democratic senators in the United States senate are just waiting for the opportunity when we come back in January with a Democratic president in Barack Obama and then we can start to straighten this mess out," Harkin said.  The crowd applauded.

About 15 minutes into his speech, Harkin mentioned Gore.  "All of this is really the fault of really our guest speaker tonight.  It’s true.  The Republicans in 2000, they said if we elected Al Gore as pressident, the deficits would skyrocket, the economy would tank, we would be in a recession.  Well, sure enough, Al Gore did get elected president and all of that stuff came true," Harkin joked.  The crowd got to its feet to applaud. 

About 21 minutes into his remarks, Harkin has this to say:  "Al Gore’s had a much better last eight years than George Bush has."  The crowd applauded.

At 9;22 p.m. Harkin yields the microphone to Gore.  Gore begins by talking about working with Harkin.  Next up, a Gore shout out to Culver for his work on renewable fuels, then a Gore shout out to Patty Judge.

"Patty, I’d pay a lot of money to watch you debate Sarah Palin," a laughing Gore said, to applause.  "if there’s just some way we can arrange that.  Why don’t you call up Larry King?’

Gore goes through the names of all the congressional candidates.  Gore is roving around the stage, every once in a while walking back to the music stand that sits on the northwest corner of the stage to reference his notes.

"To Iowa, thank you for supporting me in the year 2000…I am so grateful.  God bless you.  I will never forget it.  Never, ever, ever," Gore said.  The crowd got to its feet to applaud.

"This is not my first Iowa JJ dinner. I remember coming to this dinner over the years and I know that you have heard in the past that some people will come here and flatter you for the special role you play in the political process….as someone who has run in four national campaigns….as someone who has come here to all 99….my father at the age of 80 went to all 99 counties….It is inspiring to see and feel the committment and devotion that you have to American democracy.  I know you hear this, but it shouldn’t go unsaid…You have a chance…to complete that special role….to elect Barack Obama president of the United States of America….and bring change to this country."

"I was reminded of how many times I’ve come here.  In 1999, when this JJ dinner in Iowa played a critical and key role for me in my effort to win the Democratic nomination….coming back two years after that, not long after the terrible attackss of September 11th when all Democrats…put aside all partisanship and said we were united as one nation to respond to those attacks…I don’t think our national leaders fully appreciated what they had….I remember when I came to this dinner in 1997…..that was the year of the big blizzard….I’m going to tell you what was going on in the back of my mind…My two oldest daughters…challenged me a few months before that to run with them in the Marine Corps Marathon….I’ finally said, ‘I’ll do it.’

Gore said he didn’t get into bed in DC ’til 3 a.m., then got up a couple of hours later and ran in the marathon.  "That put some age on me," Gore joked.

One more joke, then Gore is on to the topic of 2000.  "Eight years later, I don’t hear anybody saying that elections don’t matter….we can’t stand four more years of this," Gore said.  "If that election had ended differently….we would have pursued bin Laden until we captured bin Laden….We wouldn’t be facing a self-inflicted financial crisis."

"Elections matter….we need change more than I believe we have ever needed change.  Again, a cliche you have heard, but think about it for a moment…This is an opportunity to make our democracy work.  If you believe the last 8 years have been good for America….then you may want to reward the party in power by supporting the McCain/Palin ticket….but before you do that — and I doubt seriously that any of you are in that posture, but I hope my words will be heard beyond this room by those who are still undecided," Gore told the crowd.

Gore reminisced about driving around Iowa in a rental car just after the 9/11 attacks, and the Afghan war which "war the right thing to do" according to Gore, who then talked about the hunt for bin Laden.  "To this day I do not know why that attack was called off," Gore said of an attack on Tora Bora, where bin Laden may have been hiding.

Gore said Iraq had "absolutely nothing!" to do with 9/11.  "I know you’ve heard this…but it’s 31 days between now and this election when we hold people accountable… I want to talk about it for a moment….Is it possible that someone believed in the White House that an all-out assault….going into those treacherous caves….fighting the enemy….be associated with an Imo Jima level of casualties?  Is it possible that they feared thousands of combat casualties would affect their ability to pursuade the nation…to go into Iraq….on the day when our nation made the decision to invade Iraq, 70 percent of the American people had been decided into believed that we were invading a nation that had attacked us."

Gore is roving around the stage, waving his arms, turning to address each side of the four-sided stage.

"We need to stand up for what is right in this country," Gore said. "…There’s been so much I can’t deal with it.  When a new outrage occurs, I’ve got to download some existing outrage to make room for the new outrage…31 days is the time to deal with it."

I began writing my Radio Iowa story at this moment in Gore’s speech, so I link to it here.  You can listen to all of Gore’s speech as there’s an mp3 at the bottom of that page.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.