Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hypocrite in Chief: Al Gore Assaults Reason

I had an epiphany standing on the White House lawn as an intern for the Clinton Administration in the summer of 1999. Politicians lie. He was giving a speech about how tax cuts stimulate the economy (A Keynesian idea that has made it into the public consciousness) but then uses some sophistry to draw the diametrically opposite conclusion to what is taught in any intro macroeconomics class. I concluded that all politicians play with the truth all the time. That in some sense this is inevitable, given the limited attention span of the public who don't have time to listen to fully articulated argumentation, and the fact that at the end of the day, truth and reason are likely subjective (I am sympathetic with Foucault and post-modernism on this point).

So I should be sympathetic to Al Gore's new book, the Assault on Reason, which seems to make much the same point, except for one major difference, Al Gore holds himself above it all, he claims he is the exception, and while he professes the problem is universal, focuses his attack on the Bush administration.

The frustrating irony is in order to make his point that politicians today use half-truths, false facts and innuendo, Gore himself uses half-truths, false facts and innuendo.

So I haven't read the book yet, but I have read an extended excerpt in Time magazine, as well as long fawning interviews in the NY Times, Time, Charlie Rose, etc., none of whom question his facts, even when they are wrong.

In his excerpt, one of the only facts Gore uses is a statistic about how much television Americans watch, and blames television for the decline in national discourse, but ignores the fact that TV watching is in fact declining in America. And he goes with a wildly incorrect calculation that Americans devote 3/4 of their free time watching television.

He also cites as an example of Bush's perfidy, that 50% of Americans still think Sadaam Hussein helped perpetrate 9/11. He does not cite the survey that finds nearly as many Democrats who believe that George Bush perpetrated 9/11 (one of many such surveys is here). Yes, people are egregiously uninformed, but it is not just Bush who is responsible.

Gore cites the Bush administration's lies about climate change, and yet as someone who had to approve nearly everything the administration said about climate change in the past year, I would disagree. And the inconvenient truth is that even the New York Times reports that Gore's much lauded film includes many factual errors and false innuendo, but that story has been largely ignored.

Gore somehow thinks democratic discourse was better 200 years ago, when non-whites, women, non-property owners, those under 21, who were too poor to pay the poll tax, or pass certain exams, or were deemed unworthy by voting officials, (that is the vast majority of the population) were all denied the right to vote.

He paints some golden ideal of American democracy in years past, but doesn't seem to offer much evidence for this in interviews anyway, and is never challenged on this point, though many historians have pointed out that civil liberties are commonly withdrawn during war time (think Lincoln and habeas corpus, FDR and Japanese interment) and that sex scandals have driven politics since Alexander Hamilton was slandered, and wars have been started over false pretense (Remember the Maine! or the Lusitania) since the beginning. Heck, even the Revolutionary War was started in part because of the Stamp Act, even though they actually were taxed less than most British citizens, and the tea that was dumped during the Boston Tea Party would have been cheaper (even with the tax) than what they were already paying.

Anyway, on the whole, Gore probably isn't any worse in this regard than most other politicians, it just irks me when he clothes himself in self-righteousness, writes a book to that effect, and manages to slip it by completely unchallenged.
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