872 of 990 people found the following review helpful
Here's a radical idea: Americans can govern themselves best by having clear-headed, reasoned public discussions on the important topics of the day. A thought from Thomas Paine? Your high school civics teacher? No, Al Gore. That's the theme of this clear-headed, reasoned, and yes, even passionate argument on what's wrong with our country and how we can fix it.
Yes, it bashes Bush, but how can it not? It's impossible to argue against the chatterbox shrillness of today's public debate without mentioning the subjects being debated. And if you're going to seriously examine Iraq, Katrina and the other issues of the last six years, how can our current President come out looking good?
Gore doesn't mince his words. He calls Bush a liar and an irresponsible leader. But he backs up these assertions with a 90-minute Powerpoint presentation worth of clear-headed, reasoned and well-documented argument -- complete with hundreds of footnotes.
Divided into three parts, the book's simple structure makes it easy to follow. The opening identifies what Gore contends are the five enemies of reason -- fear, superstition, ideology, deception and intolerance. Middle chapters examine the damage those things have caused, and the last 30 pages offer a few solutions.
And just what is that damage? Gore breaks it down into five areas:
* The squandering of international goodwill over Iraq has caused a threat to our national security, as the world now fears us instead of respects us.
* Ignoring the rational arguments of scientists has weakened our environmental security, as shown by the failure to be ready for the known problems Katrina and global warming would cause.
* Our excessive dependence on imported oil continues to weaken our energy security.
* Our liberty is threatened when our government uses fear and raw power -- instead of reasoned argument -- to get what it wants domestically.
* And finally, Gore says our general welfare is threatened when our government stops serving all its people, and instead skews its policies toward the wealthy and privileged.
As for solutions, the book offers only one: Gore in '08!
OK, not really. Just wanted to see if you were still with me.
Actually, the book closes by arguing that, now more than ever, our citizens must be well informed and must feel like they are part of the political process. It holds out hope that the internet is the key, and that television could play a part by doing things like scheduling Congressional debates in prime time. Gore also claims that we need additional campaign reform, including making contributions more transparent.
My favorite part of the book is early on, when Gore argues that the main cause of the decline of reasoned political thought is television. He contends that when more Americans started getting their news from TV instead of newspapers, the emphasis changed from reading, an activity that by its nature activates the parts of the brain involved with reasoning, to watching, which elicits emotion but not thought. Recalling the words of Thomas Jefferson, Gore writes: "The 'well-informed citizenry' is in danger of becoming the 'well-amused audience.'"
In my work I spend many evenings at Walt Disney World, which concludes each day with a gigantic fireworks show. Called Wishes, it closes with children singing "If you keep on believing, a wish that you make will come true." I know it sounds trite, but perhaps those prerecorded kids have a point. Reading this book, I felt like I was back in my 1970s high school civics class, a time when the present had its problems, but the future seemed so bright. Maybe it can still be. If not for me, at least for my daughter.
234 of 289 people found the following review helpful
The American political scene has shifted greatly since 2000 in ways that most Republicans like and most Democrats do not. Although Al Gore's title suggests a broader topic, The Assault on Reason focuses on the Bush methods of running the government and the Republican Party. As you might imagine, Al Gore doesn't like anything about what has happened.
If you were to boil this book down into one single idea, it would be this: Absolute power corrupts absolutely and is a danger to us all. Gore takes the point of view that the Bush administration has been and is mostly about gaining and holding power in order to reward Republicans and those who pay for Republicans to be elected.
As examples, Gore cites the following evidence:
1. The administration always knew that there never was any connection between terrorist attacks and Iraq (nor any threat of weapons of mass destruction being produced in Iraq), but made invading Iraq a high priority for pursuing its oil-focused strategy of controlling the Middle East where major oil companies and contributing contractors have been rewarded.
2. The Bush administration seeks to maximize fear of terrorism to gain ever more power for itself, usually by ignoring the limits on government power in the Constitution.
3. Fund-raising for Congressional Republicans is now controlled by the White House so the administration hasn't had any oversight from either party in Congress, a sharp departure from past practices.
4. When the president signs a new piece of legislation, he almost always indicates that he won't follow the law that was enacted (this has occurred over 1000 times). As a result, President Bush operates as though he is free from any legal restraint, including treaties that the United States has signed and honored for decades.
5. The Justice Department has been used to punish political enemies rather than seeking to enforce the law in a fair way.
6. Judges (who are supposed to be independent) are threatened with violent rhetoric and having their courts discontinued while they are wooed by special interests at high-priced seminars that serve as vacations.
7. Special interests that support Republicans make all the Bush policy decisions in secret, often contrary to the best evidence of what's in the public interest.
Against this backdrop of raw political hardball, Gore points out that the electorate isn't in the ball game. Most people don't know that Congress and the courts are supposed to be a restraint on presidential power. About half the electorate still thinks Saddam Hussein was the guiding force behind the terrorist attacks on 9/11. People prefer to see news reports about celebrities than news reports about public issues. When the president sponsors legislation that says it's a "Clean Air Act" hardly anyone knows that the bill will actually make air dirtier.
What's the diagnosis?
1. Restore balance between the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government.
2. Start debating major decisions with emphasis on looking carefully at the best evidence.
3. Re-establish the rule of law.
Those ideas will be appealing to those who are deeply steeped in the history of how the U.S. government evolved. But in the last 40 years, schools have done little to teach about how government is supposed to operate. Polls show that many people favor having the government run like a CEO leads a private company, with no role for the legislators, judges, and citizens.
I think the remedy has to be a lot more fundamental, starting with recreating a consensus on what it means to be a citizen of the United States, what proper government behavior is, and what the United States wants to stand for in the world.
The book has three weaknesses that you should keep in mind when you read it:
1. There's no discussion of the inherent problems of having political parties in the government system that our founding fathers created. The original idea they had was to avoid parties. The solution lasted about as long as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were able to stay friends. Much of what Gore decries is an outgrowth of greater partisan battling. What's to stop a continuing escalation of that trend?
2. In the area of public debate, Gore relies a lot on the idea that experts usually know the answers. But that's not always true. In addition, what the experts know if often incomprehensible to everyone else. How effectively can you debate such technical issues when most government leaders were primarily trained to be lawyers and the general electorate has little technical knowledge?
3. The essence of getting elected is to create a temporary coalition of voters. Voters mostly look for "someone like me." That's a pretty big disconnect between proposing an approach to having philosopher-kings (of the sort that Plato liked to write about) who even-handedly make careful decisions that benefit everyone.
You may also find yourself wanting to snooze a bit as Gore describes brain physiology to explain why television is the guilty party for many of our anti-thinking woes.
But, all in all, this is a book that should spark a lot of public discussion. That would be good.
If you don't know much about the political theory behind our methods of governing over the last 200 years and the history of the U.S. government, this book will be even more enlightening. Gore is at his best in citing sources that capture the essence of those perspectives.
53 of 63 people found the following review helpful
On the eve of war with Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia addresses a virtual empty house on the floor of the Senate and asks why his colleagues are so silent. Why is no one questioning the administration's actions? "Assault on Reason" is an account of how the American public has become apathetic to the world around them, and powerless in feeling that they can shape or influence the decisions our leaders make.
Al Gore postulates that the apathy is derived from a communication process that is passive and one-way, mainly television, where there is no exchange of ideas between the receivers and senders as was common before its advent. A compliant and kowed media reports without question the ideas and beliefs of special interests repeatedly until the average American, takes the message as fact.
In the hands of leadership that is unchecked or untethered by a vigilant press or legislature, they have been able to use the politics of fear to keep America supportive and unquestioning of their questionable decisions and actions.
The press no longer operates as was envisioned by founder Thomas Jefferson who considered an informed public as the most vital to the survival of the democratic process. According to Al Gore, there was nary a peep from press or public when the 9/11 Commission reported that there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
With the control of the media in the hands of conglomerates the message is highly regulated. This plays to the politics of wealth and stymies the exchange of information for the common good. When [...] attempted to buy air time on CBS, they were told that "issue advocacy" was not permissible, but at the same time began running ads by the White House in favor of a controversial proposal.
If it is about making Americans scared or the carbon crisis, Al Gore makes a case in clear language that there is an assault on reason that will affect and possibly destroy the republic or democracy as we know it, the democracy or republic that has defined the United States of America.
Although there were dozens of defining passages in this emphatic, compelling, convincing, and heart-felt narrative, the following jarred me to the core. More than half of college students surveyed could not identify the following as being from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."
This book illustrates the many avenues in which reason has been challenged, what our moral consequences are when reason is lost, and what we, as Americans, have to do to get it back.
We hold these truths to be self-evident.
Also recommended (strongly):
"Watchdogs of Democracy?" Helen Thomas
"Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush" Eric Boehlert
"The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track" Thomas F. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
"Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Ddin't Tell You." Paul Waldman
"Losing America: Confronting A Reckless and Arrogant Presidency" Senator Robert C. Byrd
410 of 510 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2007
A Republican friend who teaches and practices Buddhism in Colorado once asked me if the Democrats or the Republicans had more "Lungta"? It was a trick, you see; there was only one answer and it was the answer that, before he asked the question, he knew he would like hearing.
Lungta is a kind of charisma or power that belongs to special leaders, heros, warriors and kings. It makes men want to follow them into battle, even if they think they are doomed. It makes people want to listen to what they say. It is the energy, according to ancient Buddhist teachings, that comes from being totally genuine and completely unafraid of who you are. It has been a while since you could apply that term to a Democrat with a chance of being President someday.
There are two Al Gores. There is one who puts his finger to the wind. He changes his image and persona to fit the opinions and desires articulated from mountains of data by his pollsters, He runs away from who he is at the most basic level. This is the guy that sold NAFTA to the American people for Bill Clinton when Clinton was up and strong. This is the guy who pretended he had nothing to do with Bill Clinton (and picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate) when Bill Clinton was down and bleeding. This is the man who wears Earth tones.
There is another Al Gore: There is the one who had hearings on toxins and ozone levels in the 1970s; There is the one who ran for President on a all-global-warming/all-the-time platform in 1988 before you could win an Oscar (and maybe a Nobel) doing that. There is the one who wrote "Earth in the Balance" and barn stormed American with Bill Clinton in the summer of 1992. He chronicals with passion and specificity details on the Bush administration on:
- Well intended failure or deliberate deception on the lead up to war in Iraq
- How we squandered the post-9/11 goodwill and opportunities for strong actions against Osama and more constructive engagements in the middle east
- The environment, crony capitalism, and climate change
- Most of all it is not simply a partisian attack on Bush but moreover a analysis of why opur other checks and balances, the media, the congress, and the courts failed to correct these excesses and what is says about our culture.
In the "Assault on Reason" the firey and passionate Al Gore -- the last Democrat left with Lungta -- rises from the ashes of his defeat in 2000 and lets the chips fall where they may. By comparison his attacks on Bush make Obama and Hillary like timid and cowardly. He holds nothing back. He reworks himself to please the public not at all. He offers America his most genuine self.
72 of 87 people found the following review helpful
While there have been many books about the problems caused by the Bush administration, there has been less said about the weakness in the democratic process it has exploited. Mr. Gore links the printing press and 2 way public communication with the historic end of feudalism and the rebirth of democracy in the US. He describes another product of technological change - television - as a one way communication source which has changed how citizens consume information. As television ownership is increasingly concentrated in the hands of wealthy owners, however, wealth and information are reunited again as in feudal times, suggests Gore.
He uses the Bush administration to demonstrate how these preconditions can be used by extremists who have no concept of the "public interest" to degrade public discussion. Politics hides behind religious symbols. Fear imagery is used to reduce rational discussion over alternatives. Conservative Talk Radio becomes a fifth column in which hatred of liberals serves as entertainment. The result, says Gore, is that voters can be ignored because their opinion can be shaped by mass marketing techniques unchecked by open public discourse.
This is a thoughtful and insightful analysis of a development more pernicious than many of the policies espoused by the current administration. While conservatives may not agree with Gore's examples, hopefully they may be concerned over the disdain being shown for reason itself and the danger to democracy from selfish interests operating in a changed communications paradigm.
Unfortunately, with a problem this large and this long in developing, solutions may be difficult to come by. Gore puts immense faith in the 2 way communication of the internet, the explosion of wikis and the magic of net neutrality combined with true public financing of elections. As Gore recounts, however, Americans have moved from the printed word to 4 hours of television consumption a day. He does not tell us why they will move in lockstep to a more active life on the Web. I also have concerns about the level of truth found in the unmediated and unedited paths of the internet. The creation of public knowledge in a new marketplace of ideas will not be as easy a task as Gore describes especially if economic forces that have controlled events for past years fight to retain their gains.
In any case, this is a strong analysis of a subject that has not been discussed enough. Gore, more as a thinker than a politician, has provided an important service in writing this.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2007
I rarely read politically-oriented books, but an excerpt of this book published by Time magazine prompted me to seek it out, as the waning influence of reason in US politics has been of great personal concern to me.
While I did gain some insight from reading this book, I felt that the topic received only minimal attention, with much of the book detailing the litany of trangressions of the Bush administration. While I appreciate the need to point out the failings of the worst US president ever, and that couching a discussion in current events may attract readers, it was pursued to the near exclusion of the book's central thesis. As a result, numerous issues were left unraised.
As a comparative biologist, my immediate reflex after reading the first chapter was to wonder how the TV-saturated US compared to democracies similar to ours but with different viewing habits and methods of political campaigning (the UK springs instantly to mind). Comparisons would have provided a powerful test of whether the proposed changes were the true source of the decay of reason. Not only was this obvious test of his hypothesis not made, but there was not a single substantial reference to other modern democracies, and only minimal references to the Greek democracies and Roman Republic.
While Gore made numerous mentions of how both parties have contributed to the decline, his overbearing focus on the crimes of the current administration further weakens the book's overall scope by allowing partisans to simply dismiss it as polemical. Had he picked examples evenly from both paties and more evenly across the past 50 years (his chief period of focus), it would have been harder to dismiss and therefore may have had more impact.
Finally, Gore used global-warming denial as a prime example of the refusal to consider scientific evidence, which, while accurate, lacks the rhetorical punch of Creationism/ID, a movement which can stand alone as the symbol of the rejection of reason and whose broad acceptance tells a more depressing story of the role of logic in public opinion than anything else. While I appreciate that anthropogenic climate forcing is his pet cause, I cannot help but think it blinded him to a more effective example of his point.
In summary, I did not substantially disagree with anything the former VP said in this book, and did find it interesting, but I think it could have been written much better, both in terms of maximizing impact and supporting the central thesis.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2007
Finally finished reading Gore's book. Basically, Gore's recent book is a simple analysis of the Bush Administration and how he is abusing the checks and balances established by the Founders. The Founders insisted that the American people are to be an informed citizenry. The freedom of the press allowed for this informed citizenry to be a reality for many decades - but with the advent of radio and then television, the information dissemination suddenly became "one way" with no two-way communication. The American public became victims of propaganda being disseminated by a select few of wealthy network owners. As a result, careful critical analysis of information became non-existent and the public were essentially brainwashed. Gore argues that a generally unregulated Internet will allow for a form of free press again, and the possibility of the citizenry becoming informed again. Now is the time for this to happen! With the corrupt government and pending environmental crisis, the public needs to know what is going on without the bias spin they have been received over the past 60 years. I hope it happens.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2007
All Americans MUST read this book. You must read it because you simply will not believe how the current administration has used lies and deceitful schemes to take control of our country. According to Al Gore, they have used the Iraq War as a platform to obtain excess presidential power and are controlling every aspect of the government right before the eyes of all of us. Now I must say that Al Gore tends to overuse his enormous vocabulary which can make reading this book a bit of a struggle. He also repeats himself considerably but I can understand his need to communicate his concerns fully. You don't like Al Gore? Please don't let that stop you from reading this book. You like George W. Bush? You REALLY need to read this book.
36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The man who lost the 2000 presidential election 5-4, takes on, without restraint, the policies and decisions of the man who took office, in a categorical denunciation of the politics of secrecy, cronyism and incompetence.
Nearly-President Gore attempts to understand how we've allowed our political system of checks and balances to deteriorate so badly, and puts the blame squarely on politicians who consciously choose to keep us afraid, exploiting evolutionarily selected-for traits that block out reason and search for safety.
Gore explores the thesis that for most of the life of this nation, we were a predominantly a literate society in which it was relatively easy to participate in the free exchange of ideas, held nearly sacred in the first amendment to the Constitution. This original American democracy was one in which a well-informed electorate acted as the final check on tyranny.
His thesis is that in the last generation we've become a society that gets its news (such as it is) from the more passive and emotionally manipulative medium of television, where the price of entry to being heard at all is nearly prohibitive and only the elite (and large corporations) have a voice.
Thus, he argues, politicians and policies are being sold through the technology and the manipulative advertising techniques specifically designed for television, and the price is a demonstrable reduction in the value we place on reason itself.
He strings all this together to explain how President Bush has been able to do more harm to American values and freedom than any president in history.
30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
Not that they will. Reading the reviews and comments, one can safely divide the 'reviewers' into two groups: one side which has actually read the book and in their review either agree and disagree with his findings while the other side loathes Al Gore, hates everything he stands for, and slams the book without bothering to read it as 'liberal drivel'.
Zealots so fanatically wedded to their view that 'America' and the Bush Administration are one and the same that any opposing viewpoint, however supported by facts and figures, is rank heresy against both their God and Country. They smear and despise those messengers that see 'that which is' as opposed to fantasies of the 'magic cuckoo land' in which they and 'the decider' seem to reside. Facts, truths simply don't matter, they have their beliefs. So they are blind, deaf, and dumb to the reality of the world simply because they choose to be and they want to keep the rest of us the same way.
And what is ironic is that is exactly what Al Gore declaims in this book. For that side generates an unreasoning and obscene babble that attempts to drown out through sheer volume and malice any possibility of a rational and informed discourse about where America is and how it got there. Misinformation, disinformation and plain propaganda 24/7 a deafening drumbeat that makes America deaf and dumb to its own peril. Because America's greatest threat is the monster that has been created within itself.
Simply read the book.
Al Gore sees an America that has gone very wrong and tries to identify who, what and why the country has got into its present sorry state. He cites historical trends, writings - I see him as a man trying desperately to be heard above the static while still calmly laying out the facts and figures for those who will still listen, shining a light on the truth that has been lost, hidden or simply ignored.
In my opinion he should be shouting 'wake up and look around you, for gods sake!'
Simply read the book. Then decide what to do about it.