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Al Gore: 'The Assault on Reason' in America

May 25, 2007 (All Things Considered)

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You would be forgiven if you confused Al Gore's book signings for campaign events — with overflow crowds and a stream of will-he-or-won't-he questions.

One thing is for sure: The former vice president turned Oscar-winning crusader against global warming wants to get a few things off his chest.

His new book, called The Assault on Reason, reads much like a legal brief — an indictment, really — on current policymaking.

Gore takes a harsh look at the media's fascination with flash over substance and a lack of courage among politicians of both parties.

Most of all, The Assault on Reason is an assault on President Bush's use of power and his handling of the war. The White House has taken strong issue with Gore's book, both its substance and analysis.

Below, a transcript of Michele Norris' interview with Gore:

AL GORE: The point of this book is that our nation is so shockingly vulnerable to such crass manipulation. And it's happening over and over again - the censorship of scientific warnings about the climate crisis; the warrantless mass eavesdropping on American citizens; the overturning of a prohibition against torture that was laid down by General George Washington; and the fact that there is so little protest or outcry points to the much deeper problem not of just the culpability of those in the White House at the present moment, but at the fact that we are so vulnerable to these mistakes and that we allow them to occur with hardly any impressive outcry of resistance or protest.

You use the phrase crass manipulation. In the book, you actually use much stronger language to describe the Bush presidency and the Iraq war. You say the administration can't manage its own way out of a horse show. You say President Bush is, quote, "out of touch with reality," that his march to war characterized an abuse of the truth, that his view of Iraq was tragically at odds with reality. In essence, you're calling the sitting president a liar.

Well, that's your wording not mine; the ones you quoted are mine. But I have not used the harsher word. I think that ...

But it seems like you've stepped right up to the edge. You've almost gone there, just short of calling him a liar.

Well, let me defend the words that I do use in the book. The president seems to feel confident that he can ignore the best evidence of what should be done, and therefore follow his preconceived notions with impunity. And as we wrestle with the problem of how to ... get our troops home as quickly as possible without making a terrible situation even worse, we should pause to ask, how did this happen? Well, the warnings were ignored. Many days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the warnings that the levies might fail and trap people in the city ... those warnings were ignored. When the CIA delivered a clear and forceful warning more than a month before 9/11 that - in their words, and I quote - "Osama bin Laden is determined to attack inside the United States," end quote, no questions were asked.

The point is this, whether it's New Orleans or Iraq or the climate crisis, when evidence that any reasonable person can see and understand is completely ignored in favor of ideology and power politics, then our country suffers.

Now I am in Washington, D.C., and you are in New York, so I can't see you, Mr. Gore. But I have the impression of someone standing and wagging their finger at all this.

(Laughter) Well, I'm actually sitting back in a chair and I'm quite relaxed. And I ... think that the problem is, I'm not pointing a finger at Bush and Cheney. I am pointing to the cracks in the foundation of American democracy.

So what is your role then in trying to right the ship? You've spelled out what's wrong with the country. You argue forcefully in your book that the country needs to evolve to a place that is more hospitable to reason to move past the politics of fear, and what you call blind faith. So it seems like you are only minimally effective if you are sort of the thunder from the margins on political life, if you are just speaking from the sidelines.

Look, I am trying to play a constructive role in rallying people to solve the climate crisis. And in pursuing this task, I have come to feel ever more strongly that in order to solve the climate crisis, we're going to have to address these deep problems in the way we make decisions. You know, what led to the emergence of our country more than two centuries ago was a way of communicating freely that enabled individuals for the first time in history to use knowledge as a source of influence to mediate between wealth and privilege by presenting facts and asking others to look at the facts and - if they agreed - to join in endorsing the ideas that flow naturally out of a reasoned judgment on those facts.

I don't think it's naive or quixotic to believe that the truth still matters. I have heard millions of people around this country in one way or another ask the same question that I ask myself. What is it that's gone basically wrong in the way America is operating? This book is my effort to ... say exactly what it is and how we can fix it.

Now, I am going to take you at your word that this is not a pre-campaign book. You've said many times that you have no plans to run for president again. Is that no plans in 2008 or no plans ever again?

No plans ever again to do it. And the fact that I don't give the so-called Sherman statement is not an indication that I'm trying to ... be coy about it. I'm just being candid.

Just curious, how does the presence of Hillary Clinton as a candidate factor into your thinking about the presidential race?

Not at all.

Not at all?

Not at all. Nor the other candidates.

If I could turn this to the other side, who among the candidates in the GOP field would be most difficult for a Democrat to beat at this point? I'm going to ask for a bit of political analysis from you.

Yeah, I'm not very good at that, I'm afraid.

I don't believe you.

Well ... I'm involved in a different kind of campaign myself - to make sure that the climate crisis is the number one issue on the agenda of candidates in both parties. And I know that sounds like an unrealistic goal right now, but I will wager that by the time the elections of November 2008 come around, it will be the number one issue in both parties.

And you think that you'll have something to do with that, making sure that that happens?

Yeah, yeah, God willing.

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