I hadn’t even been aware that Al Gore had written a book; we all know him, of course, as the human klaxon for global warming1, but he’s apparently been busy writing a book that’s not at all about climate change. The George W. Bush presidency has inspired not a few polemics, rivaled perhaps only by anti-Clinton screeds by hysterical conservatives during the 1990s, though with noticeably fewer conspiracy theories.
Initially, The Assault on Reason struck me as a sort of mourning for old-fashioned politics. Gore sounds a bit like an old fogey, declaring at one point that the precipitous decline of the print medium in favor of television has inevitably lead to a similar decline in the breadth and quality of the “informed citizenry.” His point here was that television is largely a one-way medium, but wouldn’t it be equally fair to say that print is as well? And doesn’t the internet to some degree change much of this? Gore touches on this point, but doesn’t go far enough with it, I think.
For a while, the book turns into a paean to the U.S. Government of social science textbooks, romanticizing (to a point approaching fellatio) the Founding Fathers and the democratic process, which Gore paints as if the entire bureaucracy was made of Jefferson Smiths prior to Nixon. So, some of it steers dangerously close (or into) starry-eyed flag-waving, which is all good and fine except that we all know it already. Or, at least, we should, though understandably Gore’s point is that many Americans seem to have forgotten the importance of the Bill of Rights (except the 2nd Amendment, which is vital for shooting at brown people).
From there, though, and for the greater part of the book, Gore turns his wrath at the Bush administration. Not to say that I don’t agree with many of his points, but it’s little more than a refresher course in George’s Constitution-shredding. And, of course, he’s preaching to the choir: conservatives won’t give Al the time of day when he talks about something as politically-neutral as climate change2; they’re certainly not going to stand still and pay attention when he talks about Bush manhandling the judiciary, quashing decent, making up laws (signing statements, which was genuinely new to me), virtually codifying torture, and giving a big fat middle finger to the rest of the international community. This is old news, anyway.
Imagine an Al Franken book (Lies… or The Truth… With Jokes in particular). Now imagine it not at all humorous, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what The Assault on Reason is like. I can’t really fault it on technical merits, but it’s short on style and tends to lose steam quickly, and you’re left with a scathing criticism that approaches jingoism and repetition.