In the introduction to his scathing new takedown of the
The Assault on Reason by Al Gore
state of democracy in America under the rule of President George W. Bush, Al Gore writes: “A large and growing number of Americans are asking out loud: ‘What has happened to our country?’”
The Assault on Reason then proceeds—in a vehemently argued treatise that is equal parts damning indictment and wonky civics lesson—to answer this urgent question.
In the erudite but self-deprecating style he became known for in An Inconvenient Truth, Gore coaxes along his argument with experience, history, science and bad jokes. He culls ideas from Lincoln to Limbaugh, Paine to Powell, Machiavelli to McLuhan, John Stuart Mill to … well, Jon Stewart to make a case that we have witnessed, in our lifetimes, the withdrawal of reason from the public sphere and a “resulting vacuum that is filled by fear, superstition, ideology deception, intolerance.”
“It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse,” Gore states. The bluntness of observations like this remind that, since An Inconvenient Truth, someone more exceptional seems to have erupted from the trappings of the old, more conventional Al Gore—that guy who once chose Joe Lieberman as running mate. Now he’s Gore Two, a post-elected entity who talks smart, straight and with brazen candidness about everything from the war to climate change to illegal eavesdropping to torture to the still-palpable outrage over the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
But Gore the Sequel is after more than an assault on Bush. The former vice president also digs deep to explore just what has led America to the place where it can’t seem to make smart decisions or solve problems anymore. He wants to know why we have become, as Cindy Sheehan might say, a nation that seems to care more about American Idol than the American future.
Reason emphasizes one culprit above all others: television. Almost 45 years have passed since television overtook newsprint as America’s go-to medium for information. With its required passivity, ordained ability to manipulate “the consent of the governed” and aptitude for provoking superficial emotional response, television (Americans watch an average of four hours and 35 minutes daily) has created some kind of immune disorder in the country, writes Gore, that makes us “overreact to illusory threats and under-react to real threats.” And make no mistake, the television medium “still dominates the flow of information in modern America” and will for the next decade. The Internet’s current reliance on bandwidth that can’t reach viewers with full-motion video in real time ensures the ongoing reign of television, he writes.
Toward the end of this eviscerating book, just as we are peaked and longing for a pathway out of the madness, Gore lets us down a bit by promoting an optimism divorced from reality. Yes, he allows that the Internet is a great source of hope and does site blogs, wikis and social networking as promising tools that will help. That’s fine. But surely, if a road back to “reason” is possible, Gore above all should be able to map it out for us with a bit more definition.
“Our world is now confronting a five-alarm fire that calls for bold moral and political leaders,” storms Gore. After eight years of obfuscation and intellectual bankruptcy from Bush, Assault on Reason reminds again of how righteous it would be to elect a Professor-in-Chief, see Gore take up his denied place in the White House after these eight long years.
Too bad he won’t run for it. “Look,” he said recently, “[I’ve] no plans ever to do it again … I’m involved in a different kind of campaign.” Let’s hope he wins it, since it’s a movement to bring a sense of urgency to the fight against global warming, restore reason to the democratic process and do no less than reclaim the country.