NEW YORK – Emerging from the political shadows, former Vice President Al Gore (search) upbraided President Bush on Thursday for pursuing a divisive, ideologically narrow agenda and misleading the nation on issues from Iraq to the economy.
The 2000 presidential nominee delivered the major policy address amid calls from some Democratic quarters for Gore to change his mind and join the crowded field of nine White House candidates. He tried to end that kind of talk with a simple declaration: "I am not going to join them, but later in the political cycle I will endorse one of them."
The Democrat who won the popular vote but lost the electoral tally in a disputed election used the 35-minute speech to offer a biting critique of Bush's policies, and argue that the nation is headed in the wrong direction.
"Millions of Americans now share a feeling that something pretty basic has gone wrong in our country, and that some important American values are being placed at risk, and they want to set it right," Gore told an audience at New York University.
Gore credited Bush for deposing Afghanistan's Taliban (search) rulers and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but he said the administration's unilateral approach to the war against Iraq (search) has put American troops at excessive risk, alienated allies and is leaving the United States to foot the full reconstruction bill.
"Too many of our soldiers are paying the highest price for the strategic miscalculations, serious misjudgments and historic mistakes that have put them and our nation in harm's way," Gore said.
His comments came on the same day two U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, bringing to 55 the number killed in combat since Bush declared major fighting ended May 1.
Echoing the recent criticism from several of the Democratic presidential candidates, Gore said the administration launched the Iraq war under false pretenses, including claims that Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was poised to provide terrorists with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Bush also used secrecy, false impressions and "a systematic effort to manipulate facts" to promote his tax cuts and provide a rationale for withdrawing from arms control and environmental treaties, said Gore. He called the federal budget deficit, projected at $455 billion, "an emerging fiscal catastrophe."
Members of the Bush administration "feel as if they already know the truth and aren't very curious to learn about any facts that might contradict it ... The members of their ideological coalition are true believers in each other's agendas."
In Crawford, Texas, where Bush is vacationing, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan dismissed Gore's criticism, saying, "I think the American people know the president's commitment to the security of the United States and to winning the war on terrorism, our economic security."
Gore addressed some 600 members of the liberal activist group Moveon.org, which earlier this year held an online presidential primary in which Howard Dean, a staunch foe of the war, finished first. Gore drew the loudest applause and a standing ovation when he called for Bush to rein in Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
He complained that Ashcroft was responsible for "gross abuses of civil rights" under the Patriot Act enacted after the terrorist attacks, and faulted Rumsfeld for a Pentagon surveillance plan that he said was "right out of George Orwell's '1984."'
Gore, who has been teaching at UCLA and two universities in his home state of Tennessee, delivered his last policy speech nearly a year ago when he expressed his misgivings about the war against Iraq.
His New York speech came a day after former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo urged him to join the Democratic presidential primary, complaining that all that emerged from the current field was "babble."
At least two presidential contenders, former Vermont Gov. Dean and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., praised Gore's speech.
"I thank Vice President Al Gore for standing up to this administration and using his position as a respected leader in our party to speak about truth, integrity and real compassion -- three values that are sorely lacking in this White House and administration," Dean said in a statement.
Edwards said that "Gore today delivered an important message to all Americans about the shortcomings and myths perpetrated by the Bush administration."