Freedom of Information Government National Politics

Reason Under Attack….Quick! To the Keyboards!


Al Gore’s new book,
The Assault on Reason,” will be released next Tuesday. But Time Magazine printed an excerpt earlier this week.

I can’t speak to the book as a whole, but the excerpt doesn’t frame the issue as an artifact of the right or left. It does, however, put into words something that many of us have been feeling with greater urgency—and sometimes despair, frankly—and that is the realization that logic, facts and rational thinking have drifted farther and farther away from the public discourse—even more so from the realms of public policy.

Yet, as I said, instead of shooting at one political party or another, Gore goes to a deeper level and talks about, among other things, the way we take in and process information. Marshall McLuhan Redux.

Here are a few excerpts:

Not long before our nation launched the invasion of Iraq, our longest-serving Senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor and said: “This chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate.”

Why was the Senate silent?

In describing the empty chamber the way he did, Byrd invited a specific version of the same general question millions of us have been asking: “Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?” The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.

A large and growing number of Americans are asking out loud: “What has happened to our country?” People are trying to figure out what has gone wrong in our democracy, and how we can fix it.

To take another example, for the first time in American history, the Executive Branch of our government has not only condoned but actively promoted the treatment of captives in wartime that clearly involves torture, thus overturning a prohibition established by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

It is too easy—and too partisan—to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America’s public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason—the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power—remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse….


As a young lawyer giving his first significant public speech at the age of 28, Abraham Lincoln warned that a persistent period of dysfunction and unresponsiveness by government could alienate the American people and that “the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectively be broken down and destroyed—I mean the attachment of the people.” Many Americans now feel that our government is unresponsive and that no one in power listens to or cares what they think. They feel disconnected from democracy. They feel that one vote makes no difference, and that they, as individuals, have no practical means of participating in America’s self-government. Unfortunately, they are not entirely wrong. Voters are often viewed mainly as targets for easy manipulation by those seeking their “consent” to exercise power.


…..So 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 re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way—a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

Fortunately, the Internet has the potential to revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework…..

I don’t know that the Web is going to save us. But the democratization of information
combined with a form that asks more of us than merely passive reception….can’t be a bad thing.

Anyway, read the whole excerpt.

Write on, Al!

P.S….I’ve been hoping that Gore would jump into the presidential race. But now I’m beginning to be persuaded that he’s right when he says he can have more of an effect from the so-called outside then by entering the moral and ethical mosh pit that is American politics.


  • Everytime I hear from Gore I mourn the Presidency that should have been and get angry all over again at the fools and knaves who made 2000 and Florida possible. Someday a lot of people, the Naderites, the media (yeah you Maureen Dowd! And you Joe Klein!) who were more interested in Gore’s wardrobe than his ideas. And who are still at it today with John Edwards’ “Haircut”), and all those enablers who sold a manifestly mediocre and, quite possibly, sociopathic, personality to the nation as a “good old boy.”
    Tony McPeak, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, told a symposium in ROLLING STONE, that the last six years have been a sort of experiment in which we sought to see if it really didn’t matter who sat in the Oval Office.

    Well it does.

  • Protesting for War
    Right before the war in Iraq started; I chided anti-war protesters, to face the reality that WAR would be inevitable unless Saddam backed down, because Bush wouldn’t.

    I told the protesters, that their protests were actually encouraging WAR, since the only chance of avoiding ware was for Saddam to give up the country. Bush had brought 200,000 men and machines half way round the earth, so stopping was not an option once the Senate had AUTHORIZED WAR.

    I agree with Gore and Byrd that the time for debate was BEFORE the Senate authorized war. And let’s not mince words, President Bush asked for authorization, and the senate gave the AUTHORIZATION for WAR to Bush. (77-23 and 296-123)

    For example, hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake. Yet, incredibly, all of the evidence and arguments necessary to have made the right decision were available at the time and in hindsight are glaringly obvious.

  • I couldn’t agree more with Richard. To think that Gore actually DID win the presidency in 2000 is almost too much toabre. In my wildest dreams I never imagined things could get this bad. I was a college student during Watergate and followed the matter closely in the limited amount of print media of the time, and the hearings in their entirety. I never thought I could look back on that time fondly, but at least there was public outrage, there were men of principal (probably would have been women too if that were feasible), the pressident WAS held accountable. The Congress insured that. The press insured that.
    As Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law scholar and professor of law at George Washington Law school said “If Congress doesn’t impeach this president, they lose all credibility, They have ample proof of law-breaking by the president of the United States, they are tasked with holding him accountable” (excuse if these are not the exact words, they are the gist of his remarks).
    Where is the outrage???????????????? How much more of this is the American public, Congress, the media willing to take. It’s way more than I thought it would be. I can’t bare to think that it could get worse, but I have to admit that it probably will.

  • Who Believed that Saddam did 9/11
    Pleaes find me one person who uses the internet that belived Saddam was behind 9/11 as Gore is suggesting in his misuse of polling numbers.

    Please don’t be shy if you belived that this to be true. Maybe I should re-think my assertion anyway, since my God Daugher thought Spain was a state, I suppose anything is possible.

    70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11…..

  • In fairness I know a number of “Party of Lincoln” type Republicans who voted for Nader, as well as the disaffected Democrats. I wasn’t one of them, but live and learn. The Republicans may have a similar experience in ’08 if enough of them decide Tom Tancredo has the best stance on immigration, and they decide immigration is the single most important issue of the race.

    Truth is logical, or analytic, thought has to be systematically taught. And, ‘magical’ thinking, or associative thinking is much, much easier and more natural. There are dozens upon dozens of studies that demonstrate that fact. As a society we need many more analytic thinkers than we have in the average American. [Insert a plea for a minimum of three years of high school math as a requirement for graduation. I’d accept formal logic as a substitute.]

    In my experience (please note that disclaimer and put it in emphatic caps), trying to reason analytically with someone who is uncomfortable, or un-practiced in that type of thought, with regard to a political issue on which they hold a firm opinion, quickly dissolves into my being called one kind of name or another; hippie, liberal (usually with a trail of spittle attached), and worse. Truth is, I’m a classical liberal, which used to be a conservative in this country. I find, anymore, that I’m a good deal more comfortable with modern liberals or even radicals. I’m neither uncomfortable, nor put off by nuance. But, lots and lots of people simply distrust it.

    I don’t rule out Al Gore having a place at the table if the next administration is Democratic. It may not be Pres., but likely something highly influential, and maybe even more to his liking.

  • I don’t know if this answers your question or not Pokey.

    Hussein Link to 9/11 Lingers in Many Minds; By Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane; Washington Post Staff Writers; Saturday, September 6, 2003; Page A01

    “…Sixty-nine percent of Americans said they thought it at least likely that Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to the latest Washington Post poll….”

    “…Although that belief came without prompting from Washington, Democrats and some independent experts say Bush exploited the apparent misconception by implying a link between Hussein and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the months before the war with Iraq….”

    Polls, not Bush Administration, helped shape Americans’ bias against Saddam;
    News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; 9/9/04; Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

    “… The authors say that the high levels of “public misperception” about Saddam’s culpability can be attributed to two things: the American public’s predisposition to believing Saddam was the culprit, and the wording and format of polling questions put to them, which overstated the degree of misperception that Saddam was the villain behind Sept. 11. …”

    I’m sure there are other aspects to the argument as well.


    Data showed that 70% did believe that Saddam was involved. And a University ofMaryland study asked people if the following were true or false:
    1. Saddam was behind 9/11
    2. WMDs were found in Iraq after the invasion
    3. We were greeted as liberators

    better than a third of FOX news watchers said “True” to all three.

    May I introduce you to mr. Barnum?

  • Woody, I have a terrible feeling I’m going to need to begin saving barf-bags for you now, to insure a sufficient supply to meet your needs come ’08.

  • I am still waiting for one of those 70% to show up here at this blog. There are many un-informed people.

    For Example, can anyone tell my how much Yellowcake or uranium Saddam had stockpiled to make nukes?
    A) 500 Tons
    B) 1.95 tons of enriched uranium
    C) none – Saddam didn’t have any

    Most people if polled would answer “C”, but the right answer is A and B.

  • Here’s a good example of how certain elements push manufactured or totally-meaningless “facts” – contra reason and evidence – to obfuscate issues in the service of unhinged ideology –

    I’ve read this fraudulent business about the horror of “outlawing” DDT in, among other places, blog posts by a fellow who comments regularly here (in the context of trying to “prove” Al Gore’s an idiot and he’s not – a Sysiphean task if there ever was one.)

    Pokey’s little pop quiz on Saddam’s massive uranium stockpiles is in the same order of “facts” that lead to totally bogus conclusions. Somehow I trust the Duelfer Report’s wrap-up on the dissolutioin of Saddam’s “nuclear program” post-1991 more than I trust “pokey’s” insinuations that he “gets it” and those of us who recognized that Saddam didn’t pose a nuclear threat – or any kind of threat to the U.S., for that matter – were clueless. Clueless doesn’t even begin to describe the pro-Iraq war faction’s myirad diversions and delusions.

  • “yellowcake” is just that. Its a powdery mix that is only the first step toward enrichment. In order to get it ready to be used in centerfuges you have to convert it to a gas. In this case Uranium Hexafloride (UF6) which is pretty nasty, poisonous and corrousive stuff. Then put it thru tens of thousands of centerfuges (or alternatively a gaseous diffusion process that takes up acres of land) and you get to weapon’s grade. “Enriched Uranium” is 4 -7$ U235 which is fine for a pressurized light water power reactor but useless for a bomb. For that the concentration has to be 90% or better.

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