A Review of “The Assault on Reason”

Books by candidates for office are typically watered down, and limit discussion to what could be said on the campaign stump. Al Gore shows in The Assault on Reason that he could make a far better President than most candidates for the office as he gets at the core problems of the Bush years in a manner which we rarely hear from politicians seeking office. I wish there was a way to require all those who seek the Presidency to write a book of this nature. We would both see the underlying principles held by the candidate, as well as whether they are up to the task of intelligently discussing these ideas. If their underlying principles were honestly laid out as Gore does, the vast majority of Americans would be appalled by the views of the Republican candidates, and there are candidates from both parties who would not be up to the task of discussing them as intelligently as Gore does.

Gore frequently bases his political philosophy on the works of the founding fathers, as well as taking from other great philosophers of history. Gore writes at length on the dishonesty behind recent Republican arguments, and how they have relied on exploiting fear. They have been successful in exploiting fear, and avoiding arguments which would disprove their claims, due to a breakdown in the bodies which have acted in the past to place a check on such power.

Gore repeats many of the facts showing that the Bush administration lied to get us into the Iraq war, but also chastises Congress for not holding real debates. The Republicans created an atmosphere where Congress was made subservient to the Executive Branch, and there was no deliberation over public policy and no oversight hearings as were common in the past.

The media also receives part of the blame, as Gore criticizes the movement from people obtaining their news from newspapers to television. Television news has become dominated by trivial stories while the real news gets ignored. Gore sees the internet as a way to move beyond these problems.

The country has also turned from reason under a President who lacks intellectual curiosity:

There are people in both political parties who worry that there is something deeply troubling about President Bush’s relationship to reason, his disdain of facts, and his lack of curiosity about any information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.

Yet Bush’s incuriosity and seeming immunity to doubt is sometimes interpreted by people who see and hear him on television as evidence of the strength of his conviction, even though it is this very inflexibility–this willful refusal even to entertain alternative opinions or conflicting evidence–that poses the most serious danger to our country.

This naturally leads the manner in which the religious right violates the principles of our founding fathers as reason and fact-based arguments are replaced by religious fundamentalism. Gore rejects the idea that the problem is simply a lack of intelligence in George Bush:

I know President Bush is plenty smart, and I have no doubt that his religious belief is both genuine and an important motivation for many things that he does in life, as my faith is for me and as it is for most people. I’m convinced, however, that most of the president’s frequent departures from fact-based analysis have much more to do with his right-wing political and economic ideology than with the Bible. I’ve alluded to James Madison’s warning, over two centuries old, that “a religious sect may degenerate into a political faction.” Now, with the radical Right, we have a political faction disguised as a religious sect, and the president of the United States is heading it. The obvious irony is that Bush uses a religious blind faith to hide what is actually an extremist political philosophy with a disdain for social justice that is anything but pious by the standards of any respected faith tradition I know.

Gore writes more on the dangers of religious influence on government, and then looks at the economic influences. Conservative propagandists typically claim that those who disagree with them are socialists, but Gore makes his support for a free market economy clear:

The last two centuries have demonstrated the superiority of free market economies over centralized economies and the superiority of democracy over forms of government that concentrates power in the hands of a few.

Gore discusses property rights as defended by the founding fathers, as well as how principles of capitalism have been corrupted under Bush:

In Bush’s ideology, there is an interweaving of the agendas of large corporations that support him, and his own ostensibly public agenda for the government he leads. Their preferences become his policies, and his politics become their business. The White House is evidently so beholden to the coalition of interests that has supported it financially that it feels it has to give them whatever they want and do whatever they say. While President Bush likes to project an image of strength and courage, the truth is that in the presence of his large financial contributors and powerful political supporters, he is morally timid–so much so that he seldom if ever says “no” to them on anything–no matter what the pubic interest might mandate.

Gore provides many examples, including the one I have frequently discussed, but which has received far too little attention from both the media and the watchdogs in the liberal blogosphere. Bush’s Medicare proposals, disguised as a prescription drug program, were in actuality a scheme to both undermine the Medicare program and provide tremendous financial rewards to Bush’s contributors in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. This case also highlights the dishonesty seen in Bush’s actions:

The Bush appointee in charge of Medicare was secretly ordered, we learned after the fact, to withhold from the Congress the truth about the president’s proposal and its real cost until the Congress had finished voting on it.

As Gore points out, the Republicans got this bill passed by holding the usual fifteen minute vote open for more than two hours and in order to “bribe and intimidate” members of Congress who initially did not support the program.

In discussing Bush’s foreign policy, Gore shows the foolishness of the conservative meme that Republicans are stronger on national security than Democrats by showing all the failings of the Republicans. On Iraq, Gore discusses how Bush obsessed with invading Iraq from the first days of his term of office. After 9/11, Bush ignored advice from terrorism experts in his administration that there was no connection to Saddam and used this as justification for the war he wanted all along. Rather than working on a plan to achieve victory, Bush concentrated solely on a propaganda campaign to mislead the country and the Congress. Once the war began, it became a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda, while weakening the United States.

As news has come out of the numerous warnings of the 9/11 attack, there has been considerable speculation that the attack would not have succeeded if Gore had been President. Gore contrasts how the Clinton administration prevented the millennium terrorist threats by paying attention to such warnings to how Bush ignored a waring from a CIA briefing headlined with “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.”

Gore never makes any claims that he could have stopped the attack, but after reading Gore’s discussion I am more convinced than ever that the attacks probably would not have succeeded if we had a competent President in office. Gore discusses in length the measures which should have been taken in response to the warnings, and how these actions would have identified the terrorists, many of whom were already on a State Department/INS watch list. Once the terrorists on the watch list were identified, others could have been easily identified as they were using the same address or frequent flier numbers as those on the list.

Gore addresses many more topics, including domestic surveillance, Bush’s signing statements, and the right wing influence on the courts. On one level, this must have been a very easy book to write as Bush gave him so much material to discuss. What is important is that Gore is willing to put this all in print and stand by these arguments. That is a welcome contrast to Jimmy Carter, who backed down on his correct assessment of Bush under criticism, or the Democratic Congress who backed down on Iraq despite overwhelming public support to force an end to the disastrous war in Iraq.

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  1. 1
    janet says:

    Ron, Thank you for the review. I need to read it because Al Gore is someone I have admired for a long long time.

  2. 2
    Bob N. says:

    Al Gore’s book is well written and researched. Gore rightly believes that a democracy must be based on policies that are based on reason. He points out how religion has corrupted nations and argues for a separation of State and Religion.

    However, Gore points out that he believes in Jesus Christ. Doesn’t the believe in Jesus Christ rest not on reason but on faith? How does Gore reconcile that fact?

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