Assault’ leaves little impact

In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore argues that the United States’ claim to self-government lies in jeopardy, that "reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions." Gone are the days of the public sphere where citizens could debate and discuss ideas openly. The level of national discourse has declined as more and more citizens are less informed and are increasingly apathetic.

In the introduction to the book, Gore says, "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." And yet Gore continues to heavily criticize the actions of the political administration. Through countless examples, Gore shows how important political figures use misleading dialogue to sway public opinion. Gore explains how the current leadership has depended upon the "politics of fear" over "the politics of reason" to control American thought.

Gore even goes so far as to compare our government’s control of intellectual property to the feudalism of the Middle Ages. What’s scary is that this comparison is not so far-fetched. Gore asks, "even if you disagree with my conclusions about the choices the administration made, wouldn’t we be better off if we had had a full and open debate about them?" His primary intention with Assault, despite all the pages devoted to Bush-bashing, is to encourage open debate.

Gore lays a heavy amount of blame on the television generation. It’s true that print media are in decline, and this has led to a fundamental shift in how the public accesses information. Now, citizens are passively glued to the television screen, absorbing another person’s opinion or agenda. It is a one-sided debate, as you can’t talk back to a television. Gore worries that this has led to vast public disinterest. And those who are interested are left with hate-mongering talk show hosts who do more to divide the public with partisan dogma than to inform them.

Our final hope is with the Internet, Gore contends. The Internet and Internet communities could be our technological answer to the antiquated town square, bringing back open dialogue and bipartisan opinion. But Gore believes even the sanctity of the Internet is endangered by the constant threats being made to net neutrality. Big businesses and certain political agendas wish to limit the amount of access individuals can have to the Internet. Gore wants to maintain free speech and online democracy.

Gore’s arguments are clear and direct, but they are far from groundbreaking. His rhetorical style is predictable, usually packing a one-two-punch by elaborating on a quote made by a founding father, adding an interesting scientific fact or political study and then blasting the administration. But really, it’s as if Gore has only compiled a list of the most convincing arguments made against the current administration. The Assault on Reason reads like a directed summary of the last six years of political water cooler banter.

He used this same technique with An Inconvenient Truth, or, as I like to call it, CliffsNotes to Environmental Science 101. However, in a way, Al Gore has done exactly what a good politician should do: he analyzes the situation, assesses what is most critical and recounts his study back to the public in a clear manner in which they can relate.

In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore plays the part of the ultimate middleman – and perhaps that is what our divided nation desperately needs.

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