Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Halfhearted assault on reason's assaulters
Imagine being able to turn back the clock to September 11, 2001. Now, picture the worst conceivable American response to the terror attacks of that day. Christian extremism dominates the public dialogue. America spies on her own people. The media completely fail at every opportunity to report a meaningful record of the nation's actions and conscience. Dissent is not allowed. The president, using faulty intelligence and outright lies, plans a military invasion of a country completely unrelated to the terrorists, overstepping the authority of the UN. Congress authorizes the invasion. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are killed. A country with absolutely no connection to the 9/11 attacks is left in ruins. The Supreme Court refuses to uphold habeas corpus. In a panic, and in a void of rational leadership, the US retreats into a coma of religious fanaticism, gun lust, and extreme nationalism. Enemies and perceived enemies are detained without trial. Torture becomes an acceptable tactic in the minds of average citizens. The nation cowers in post-traumatic stress.

If you didn't know all that happened, you wouldn't be able to believe it could.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine – short of nuclear attacks – a worse response to 9/11 than the one the Bush/Cheney Administration has made. And that's why Al Gore is a pussy for his tepid book, The Assault on Reason.

OK, he's not a pussy. In fact, Gore is clearly the closest thing to a moral compass we've got these days. And yet, if you're looking for a true ass-kicking of the highest caliber, it's not here. Maybe Gore didn't want to take himself out of the option of running for president. Or maybe he truly believes, even at this date, in the American experiment and the highest intentions of the constitution. Or maybe I'm tainted by the steady stream of polemic monologues coming out of our political discourse and am slightly disappointed when my side doesn't thoroughly kick ass. But reading this book, you will wish you were reading Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, H.L Mencken, Wendell Berry or – by god, Mark Twain.

As I've noted before, the very title of the book is misleading. It's a tragedy to steal that title from its appropriate spot – on the cover of a book about religion. (Actually, The Assault on Reason would be a great subtitle for The Holy Bible.) Although you'll politely nod your head all the way through like a precinct captain in a cashmere sweater at a political convention, the overall effect of The Assault on Reason is a little disappointing. Gore actually comes off a little naive, especially when he tries to relate the Bush Administration to our ridiculously idealized founding fathers. He makes half-hearted attempts to point out similar abuses of power throughout history, but he seems unaware of the crueler transgressions of Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and a long list of other lesser criminals who've held our nation's highest office. And, while he does give a few jabs to the media and corporations, he is far too lukewarm in his criticism. Corporations and Bible-thumpers have ruled America since the gilded age, and it's either wishful thinking or naive nationalism to not say so more forcefully. Even the chapter title "Democracy in the Balance" gives the false impression that America is ruled by a system of government that has something to balance. Democracy, if it ever existed at all, is so far gone from our corporatocracy that there has long been no counterweight strong enough to bring it back into alignment and Gore knows that - hell, he's a member of the club.

Still, you've got to give the man props for his post-election life. He won the 2000 election, had it stolen from him by the Supreme Court and Fox News, and could have drunk himself into a stupor or copped some vikes from his son and ended it all. Instead, he's often the single voice of reason in the national dialogue and he's truly our nation's closest thing to a leader right now, even without holding office. And this book has a rightful place in that comeback, even if you find yourself wishing it hadn't pulled so many punches.

Liberals can skip The Assault on Reason because they already see through the Bush/Cheney crimes and outright trampling of the constitution. But every non-wackadoo conservative and especially every centrist should read it. It includes a relatively dispassionate review of the Bush Administration's failures and the media's ubiquitous breakdowns, in a highly digestible format. (I think it's safe to assume no Limbaugh or O'Reilly fans are reading this, but if so, you should skip the book. Your minds are closed so save your money and spend it on some ammo for your semiautomatic rifle or some Exxon Mobile stock or a nice new Louisville Slugger to bludgeon some baby seals with. Oh, also, get the fuck away from my blog. Now. Thanks.) The "Democracy in the Balance" chapter has some pretty chilling accounts of the Bush Administration's abuses of power, especially relating to the judicial branch. The "Politics of Fear" chapter also does a decent job of describing the Bush administration's cynical manipulation of our predisposition toward small-minded retaliation (but, again, you'll find yourself yearning for a Mencken line like, "the stigmata of inferiority -- moral certainty, cruelty, suspicion of ideas, fear"). And, perhaps most useful of all, Gore provides a decent script for the movie version of the trial of Dick Cheney – or at least one that complements the Washington Post's series on this utterly despicable man.

While much of The Assault on Reason is a rather dry account of the worst atrocities of the Bush/Cheney administration and their corporate masters, the passion in Gore's writing picks up considerably in his chapters on the environment and the Internet, which make sense considering he's saving one and invented the other. (Of course, the joke about Gore's inventing the Internet is a good example of the media's complicity in the assault on reason.) It's obvious the man has a keen and sincere interest in these fields and the enthusiasm does wonders for his writing. And his optimism about the 'net restoring reason to American politics is tempting to go for. You are, after all, reading this review on a highly influential blog that strikes fear in the hearts of the robber barons, ha ha ha. And yet, it's hard to think of anything that assaults reason more profoundly than the Internet. OK, religion and AM radio, but the 'net's a close third.

The Assault on Reason's introduction is a pretty good summary of the book itself, so one good option would be to read that in the bookstore, then go score some Twain, Zinn, Chomsky, Berry or Mencken to remind yourself about what a pipe-dreamer Al Gore is when it comes to America. Here's the bottom line for those of you considering whether to read this book: This is the "I want to put social security in a lock box" Al Gore, not the "Inconvenient Truth" Al Gore. If you're a Big D choir member who digs being preached to or if you're a conservative and you're willing to open your mind even a smidgeon, read the book. If you believe the country has swung too far to the right and needs to take baby steps back to the center, read the book. But if, like me, you believe that the America you want to live in – the one where money, corporations, and religious fanatics are subservient to the will of the people – has never really existed, you're bound to be a little disappointed in The Assault on Reason's lukewarm assault on the unreasonable.

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