Friday, June 1, 2007

Book Review – "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore

In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore writes a scathing rebuke to the policies of the Bush Administration. He unabashedly accuses Bush, Cheney, and their “cronies” of lying, deception, power-mongering, abuse of the public trust, “manufacturing consensus”, and outright law breaking. And not just any laws – Gore accuses Bush of having broken Constitutional laws. To say that the book is impassioned in its criticism of the administration would be an understatement. Yet, as with his passionate advocacy in “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore offers an intelligent and reasoned look at how the administration's actions reflect what he sees as, well, an assault on reason.

Despite the time spent on laying the groundwork, the main points of the book can be discerned from two chapters. In “Democracy in the Balance” Gore examines how what he sees as the over-reaching power grab of the executive branch, coupled with the lack of legislative oversight and the stacking of the judiciary, has damaged the very existence of our democracy. The manipulation and/or lack of courage of the media contributes to this problem. In “A Well-Connected Citizenry,” Gore takes what he sees as the lack of public participation and awareness to be an area in major need of correction. Television remains the primary medium for most people to receive information about the world, yet television is a one-way communicator and susceptible to the manipulation by those with money and access. Perhaps Gore’s views are best summarized by the following (p.254):

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the reestablishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way – conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

By public participation and connectivity (e.g., by becoming aware and exchanging ideas), we can recapture the basic checks and balances of our democracy, ensure government governs wisely for all its constituents (not just the narrow special interests), and reestablish American credibility and leadership in the world.

While the book clearly could have used some stronger editing, it is an important book that should be on any informed person’s (or anyone wishing to be informed) reading list. Check out the link in the right column of my blog if you want to order.