Al Gore and assaults on reason


Richard Moore


I view anything Gore says with suspicion. While seeming to be 
courageous, he is merely saying what everyone already knows. While 
seeming to be making radical critiques, he blames Bush, and citizen 
apathy -- never the underlying system. While seeming to be 
non-partisan, he doesn't mention the role of Democrats in Congress in 
enabling Bush's policies. His net effect is to create an impression 
that a Democratic President will be our salvation. This is co-option 
of  outrage, as with his Inconvenient Truth, which was an advert for 
counter-productive measures (biofuels and carbon trading).  Gore is 
not a critic of the system, he is part of the system, playing an 
important system-sustaining role.


Original source URL:

May 22, 2007
Al Gore Speaks of a Nation in Danger
In "The Assault on Reason" Al Gore excoriates George W. Bush, 
asserting that the president is "out of touch with reality," that his 
administration is so incompetent that it "can't manage its own way 
out of a horse show," that it ignored "clear warnings" about the 
terrorist threat before 9/11 and that it has made Americans less safe 
by "stirring up a hornets' nest in Iraq," while using "the language 
and politics of fear" to try to "drive the public agenda without 
regard to the evidence, the facts or the public interest."
The administration's pursuit of unilateralism abroad, Mr. Gore says, 
has isolated the United States in an ever more dangerous world, even 
as its efforts to expand executive power at home and "relegate the 
Congress and the courts to the sidelines" have undermined the 
constitutional system of checks and balances.
The former vice president contends that the fiasco in Iraq stems from 
President Bush's use of "a counterfeit combination of misdirected 
vengeance and misguided dogma to dominate the national discussion, 
bypass reason, silence dissent and intimidate those who questioned 
his logic both inside and outside the administration."
He argues that the gruesome acts of torture committed at Abu Ghraib 
prison in Iraq "were a direct consequence of the culture of impunity 
- encouraged, authorized and instituted" by President Bush and former 
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. And he writes that the 
violations of civil liberties committed by the Bush-Cheney 
administration - including its secret authorization of the National 
Security Agency to eavesdrop without a court order on calls and 
e-mail messages between the United States and other countries, and 
its suspension of the rights of due process for "enemy combatants" - 
demonstrate "a disrespect for America's Constitution that has now 
brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric 
of democracy."
Similar charges have been made by a growing number of historians, 
political analysts and even former administration insiders, and 
President Bush's plummeting approval ratings have further emboldened 
his critics. But Mr. Gore writes not just as a former vice president 
and the man who won the popular vote in the 2000 election, but also 
as a possible future candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 
2008 race for the White House, and the vehemence of his language and 
his arguments make statements about the Bush administration by 
already announced candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham 
Clinton seem polite and mild-mannered in contrast.
And yet for all its sharply voiced opinions, "The Assault on Reason" 
turns out to be less a partisan, election-cycle harangue than a 
fiercely argued brief about the current Bush White House that is 
grounded in copiously footnoted citations from newspaper articles, 
Congressional testimony and commission reports - a brief that is as 
powerful in making its points about the implications of this 
administration's policies as the author's 2006 book, "An Inconvenient 
Truth," was in making its points about the fallout of global warming.
This volume moves beyond its criticisms of the Bush administration to 
diagnose the ailing condition of America as a participatory democracy 
- low voter turnout, rampant voter cynicism, an often ill-informed 
electorate, political campaigns dominated by 30-second television 
ads, and an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape - 
and it does so not with the calculated, sound-bite-conscious tone of 
many political-platform-type books, but with the sort of wonky ardor 
that made both the book and movie versions of "An Inconvenient Truth" 
so bluntly effective.
Mr. Gore's central argument is that "reason, logic and truth seem to 
play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important 
decisions" and that the country's public discourse has become "less 
focused and clear, less reasoned." This "assault on reason," he 
suggests, is personified by the way the Bush White House operates. 
Echoing many reporters and former administration insiders, Mr. Gore 
says that the administration tends to ignore expert advice (be it on 
troop levels, global warming or the deficit), to circumvent the usual 
policy-making machinery of analysis and debate, and frequently to 
suppress or disdain the best evidence available on a given subject so 
it can promote predetermined, ideologically driven policies.
Doubts about Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction 
were sidestepped in the walk-up to the war: Mr. Gore says that 
uranium experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee 
told him "there was zero possibility" that aluminum tubes acquired by 
Saddam Hussein were for the purpose of nuclear enrichment, but felt 
intimidated from "making any public statement that disagreed with the 
assertions being made to the people by President Bush."
And the Army chief of staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's pre-invasion 
recommendation that several hundred thousand troops would be needed 
for a successful occupation of Iraq was similarly dismissed. "Rather 
than engaging in a reasoned debate on the question," Mr. Gore writes, 
administration members "undercut Shinseki for disagreeing with their 
preconceived notion - even though he was an expert, and they were 
Moreover, Mr. Gore contends, the administration's penchant for 
secrecy (keeping everything from the details of its coercive 
interrogation policy to its National Security Agency surveillance 
program under wraps) has dismantled the principle of accountability, 
even as what he calls its "unprecedented and sustained campaign of 
mass deception" on matters like Iraq has made "true deliberation and 
meaningful debate by the people virtually impossible."
Mr. Gore points out that the White House repeatedly implied that 
there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, between 
the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Iraq, when in fact no such linkage 
existed. He observes that the administration "withheld facts" from 
Congress concerning the cost of the Medicare prescription drug 
benefit, which turned out to be "far higher than the numbers given to 
Congress by the president."
And he contends that "it has become common for President Bush to rely 
on special interests" - like those represented by the Iraqi exile 
Ahmad Chalabi before the war, and ExxonMobil on the climate crisis - 
for "basic information about the policies important to these 
When Mr. Gore turns to the larger cultural and social reasons behind 
the decline of reason in America's marketplace of ideas, his 
arguments become fuzzier and less convincing. His argument that radio 
was essential to the rise and reign of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini 
("without the introduction of radio, it is doubtful that these 
totalitarian regimes would have commanded the obedience of the people 
in the manner they did") is highly reductive, just as his argument 
that television has enabled politicians to manipulate mass opinion 
while preventing individuals from taking part in the national 
dialogue seems overly simplistic.
As for his conviction that the Internet can help re-establish "an 
open communications environment in which the conversation of 
democracy can flourish," it plays down the more troubling aspects of 
the Web, like its promotion of rumor and misinformation alongside 
real information, and its tendency to fuel polarizing, partisan 
Part civics lesson, part political jeremiad, part philosophical 
tract, "The Assault on Reason" reveals an angry, impassioned Al Gore 
- a far cry from the carefully scripted, earth-tone-wearing Al Gore 
of the 2000 presidential campaign and the programmed "creature of 
Washington" described in the reporter Bill Turque's 2000 biography of 
him, "Inventing Al Gore."
Much the way that the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" showed a more 
accessible Al Gore - at ease with himself and passionate about the 
dangers of global warming - this book shows a fiery, 
throw-caution-to-the winds Al Gore, who, whether or not he runs for 
the White House again, has decided to lay it all on the line with a 
blistering assessment of the Bush administration and the state of 
public discourse in America at this "fateful juncture" in history.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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