The Assault on Reason

By Al Gore
Penguin Press, 320 pages
 

The Last Temptation of Al Gore

By Eric Pooley
Time, May 16, 2007

Edited by Andy Ross

The perfect stealth candidate for 2008 would be someone like Al Gore — the improbably charismatic, Academy Award–winning, Nobel Prize–nominated environmental prophet with an army of followers and huge reserves of political and cultural capital at his command.

It's the Last Temptation of Gore, and it's one reason he has been so careful not to rule out a presidential bid. Is it far-fetched to think that his grassroots climate campaign could yet turn into a presidential one? As the recovering politician himself says, "You always have to worry about a relapse."

Gore is working mightily to build a popular movement to confront what he calls "the most serious crisis we've ever faced." He has logged countless miles in the past four years, criss-crossing the planet to present his remarkably powerful slide show and the Oscar-winning documentary that's based on it, An Inconvenient Truth, to groups of every size and description.

I spent some time with Gore, 59, in his hotel room in Buffalo, N.Y., during a break between two slide-show events at the state university. "I feel like the country singer who spends 30 years on the road to become an overnight sensation," he said with a smile. "And I've seen public interest wax and wane before — but this time does feel different."

Since Gore is sometimes accused of profiting from the climate crisis, it's worth noting that he donates all his profits from the Inconvenient Truth movie and book to the alliance. He can afford to: he's a senior adviser at Google and sits on the board of directors at Apple. "I'm working harder than I ever have in my life," he says. "The other day a friend said, 'Why don't you just take a break, Al, and run for President?'"

"I'm trying to say to you, be a part of the change," he told the crowd. "No one else is going to do it. The politicians are paralyzed. The people have to do it for themselves!"

Right on cue, a bright-eyed Buffalo student named Jessica Usborne stood up and asked the Question. "Given the urgency of global warming, shouldn't you not only educate people but also help implement the changes that will be necessary — by running for President?" The place erupted, and Usborne dipped down onto one knee and bowed her head. "Please! I'll vote for you!" she cried above the crowd's roar, which sounded like a rocket launcher and lasted almost 30 seconds.

Gore's response: "I'm not planning to run."

Al and Tipper Gore's home in Nashville is laid out a bit like Gore himself. Al Gore props his black cowboy boots on a brightly painted folk-art coffee table, scratches his mutt Bojangles behind the ears and talks about The Assault on Reason.

"The real reason I wrote the book," he begins, "is that I've tried for years to tell the story of the climate crisis, and it has taken far too long to get through. When the best evidence is compiled and there's no longer room for dragging out a pointless argument, we're raised as Americans to believe our democracy is going to respond. But it hasn't responded. We're still not doing anything. So I started thinking, What's going on here?"

The Assault on Reason will be hailed and condemned as Gore's return to political combat. It is a patient, meticulous examination of how the participatory democracy envisioned by our founders has gone awry. "I think this started before 9/11, and I think it's continued long after the penumbra of 9/11 became less dominant," he says. "I think it is part of a larger shift driven by powerful forces"—print giving way to television as our dominant medium for examining ideas, television acting on our brains in ways that scientists are just beginning to unlock. It's not the sort of problem that legislation is going to fix. Gore hopes that the Internet will be the key to restoring American democracy.

Gore often compares the climate crisis to the gathering storm of fascism in the 1930s, and he quotes Winston Churchill's warning that "the era of procrastination" is giving way to "a period of consequences." To his followers, Gore is Churchill — the leader who sounds the alarm.

What would this Gore be like as a candidate? This Gore is just not all that tempted to find out.
 

Al Gore's Assault on Reason

American Thinker, May 19, 2007

Edited by Andy Ross

An Aptly Titled Tome
By Christopher J. Alleva

Audacious must be Al Gore's middle name. How else can you describe someone that would publish a book that calls for a complete reordering of the world and then follows it up with a book with the premise that if you don't buy it you're assaulting basic reason. The self-important catalog description of the book reveals Gore's inherent conceit. "A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason."

Al Gore's new book is downright turgid and the writing style is akin to congressional testimony. In other words, bring the No Doze. Unintended irony oozes from every paragraph. The writer vainly attempts to be profound but comes off looking trite instead. The media may think Al Gore is a god but I think history will judge him more harshly.

Flabbergasting in Chutzpah and Misdirection
By Michael Geer

Al Gore gives us 320 pages on his fears about the demise of American democracy. Relentlessly, Mr. Gore uses the word "democracy" to identify our polity. He goes to great lengths to pound the term democracy into as many sentences as he can as if we're unfamiliar with the word. He is right to be so agitated.

Jessica Nappi in Capitalism Magazine (Jan 2001): "Contrary to what so many said, ... America is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic, a system where the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law and citizens elect representatives to government. Democracy, by contrast, designates a system of government where the will of the majority rules, unrestricted by any law. The Founders of the United States of America went to great measures to ensure that our new nation was not a democracy.
 

An Inconvenient Truth

By Alan Ehrenhalt
Washington Post, May 24, 2007

Edited by Andy Ross

Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people.

In the seven years since his narrow failure to become president, Gore has been an active and admirable public servant. Even as a citizen activist, however, free from the burdens of office and campaigning, Gore nearly always manages to sound like Gore.

Something rather similar might be said of Gore's ambitious new book. Gore argues that there have been two major assaults on reason in recent years: a gradual, insidious one brought about by structural change in the public media and a deliberate one foisted on the electorate by an administration insensitive both to individual rights and to honest public discourse.

Gore blames television for what he sees as an alarming decline in the quality of political discourse in America. He blames George W. Bush for just about everything else. Gore's attack on the Bush administration is scathing.

Gore also laments that "paid disinformation — in support of candidates and ballot initiatives — is polluting America's democratic discourse." Anybody who has been around a congressional campaign lately will have little inclination to dispute that point.

The Assault on Reason is essentially truthful. It is also the apparent product of a man desperate to display his erudition at every possible moment, appropriate or not. The Bush administration, Gore says, has not only lied to the voters about its intentions, it has damaged the nation's capacity for judgment by stimulating the "affect heuristic" and generating fear responses in the portion of the brain called the amygdala. In a book by a Nobel laureate neurophysicist, some of these ideas might strike the reader as odd but provocative speculation. In this book, they simply come off as pedantry.

The Assault on Reason is a serious work by an intelligent man with an incurable habit of calling more attention to himself than to the ideas he wishes to communicate. Only Al Gore could possibly have written it.
 

Is It Wise to Be So Smart?

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post, May 29, 2007

Edited by Andy Ross

Even if Gore were speaking at Verizon Center, he would still be the smartest guy in the room. He reminded his listeners of this repeatedly last night. He waxed esoteric about the ancients. He waxed erudite about the Enlightenment. And he waxed informed about the Information Age.

Publication of Gore's jeremiad against Bush has fed fervent hopes among environmentalists and others on the left that he will run again for the presidency. Yet reading Gore's book, or listening to his speeches, may remind some of those same supporters what they liked least about him the first time he ran, in 2000. Gore is usually smart and sometimes prophetic, but all too frequently pedantic.

Gore's main points are powerful, if not obvious: The Bush administration has manipulated the facts on the Iraq war and a range of other policies, the public has been easily manipulated, and Americans watch too much television.

Citizen Gore

By Michael Tomasky
The New York Review of Books, 54(14), September 27, 2007

Al Gore has cast caution aside and told the truth on Iraq, on executive power, on the corrosive role of television in politics, and indeed on the need to give science priority over faith in public deliberations.

The Assault on Reason opens with a rumination on the sad state of our body politic: "More and more people are trying to figure out what has gone wrong in our democracy and how we can fix it."

He fixes the blame on the power of television. His lament is that a discourse dominated by television inherently corrupts the Founders' notion of the reasoned deliberation in the civic forum that they judged essential to a republic's survival. Gore asserts that a citizenry so reliant on such a medium is susceptible to any kind of manipulation and falsehood.

Gore places his hopes in the Internet as the source of a new civic forum with the potential to change the way we talk to one another: "Generally speaking, bloggers are concerned citizens who want to share their ideas and opinions with the rest of the public."

Gore equates the potential of a free and open Internet with the "democratization of knowledge" brought about through the print medium during the Enlightenment.
 

AR  (2007) Gore is amazing. During his early years as Vice-President, I wrote to him about my Globall Hyperatlas initiative and he took the trouble to reply personally. Since then I have been a fan. I am delighted by his global warming activism and I agree with his critique of the state of American democracy. I also like the way he brings brain science into a discussion of the television generation's attention span. As a candidate for President, he would have even more appeal for me than Hillary. But he harkens to a higher calling. Good for him.