Gore’s New Book Criticizes Bush Administration, Election Process
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GWEN IFILL: Mr. Vice President, welcome.
AL GORE, former vice president of the United States: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: The book reads as a screed. It’s an attack on media, on politics, and mostly against George W. Bush. Is that what you intended?
AL GORE: Well, the examples that are taken from the Bush-Cheney administration are alongside examples taken from other parts of American history, also. It’s heavy on examples from the last six years, because I think they make the case very well.
But the book is really not about Bush and Cheney; it’s about what has happened to our democracy. I’m deeply concerned that the role of reason, and facts, and logic in the way we make our decisions in America has been diminished significantly, to the point where we could make a decision to invade a country that didn’t attack us, at a time when 70 percent of the American people genuinely had the impression and belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks of 9/11.
In the same way that the truth about 9/11 was ignored in the rush to war, the truth about the climate crisis has been ignored in the shaping of policies that basically do nothing to stop the most serious crisis our civilization has ever faced. And there is a long list of serious policy mistakes that our country has been making in the last several years that are added to the war and the climate crisis and these others.
GWEN IFILL: So when you say that this is about cracks in fundamental democracy and not just about Bush and Cheney, does that mean that, if you had been president, these same problems would have existed?
AL GORE: I think many of them — well, I would have made different mistakes if I had served as president, and I like to think that I would have avoided some of the large ones that our country is suffering through now, having 150,000 of our soldiers trapped in the middle of a civil war, for example, and being an outlier and almost an outcast in the global community, when the rest of the world is trying to confront the climate crisis.
But some of the same problems with the way Americans — the way we Americans communicate among ourselves, they have no tether to which party is in control or which person is president of the United States. How we deal with them, I think, can be affected by leadership, but the problems outlined in this book and the solutions recommended really go much broader than who’s president or which party controls Congress. This is a much deeper set of challenges that we have to address together as Americans.
Outsourcing the truth
GWEN IFILL: You write of a "determined disinterest" in learning the truth, on the part of the Bush administration on pre-war intelligence. You accuse the White House of an "unprecedented and sustained campaign of mass deception," very strong words. And you say that President Bush "outsourced the truth." Are you suggesting that President Bush deliberately misled the American people when it comes to the Iraq war?
AL GORE: Well, there was certainly a coordinated effort in the White House and in the Department of Defense simultaneously to convey the image of a mushroom cloud exploding over an American city and to link it to a specific scenario, the very strong and explicit implication that Saddam Hussein was going to develop nuclear weapons and give them to Osama bin Laden, and that would result in nuclear explosions in American cities.
This was the principal hot-button justification for convincing the majority of people to support the invasion of Iraq, and they selected weapons of mass destruction and the themes related to that, not because they had the evidence to justify it, but because it was the most effective way to manipulate opinion.
GWEN IFILL: Manipulating opinion, outsourcing the truth, why don't you just go ahead and call it a lie?
AL GORE: Well, I think it's more subtle than that. I think that, when someone conveys false impressions, and when it is done so in such an artful way, the phenomena itself is part of what should be changed.
For example, in both political parties, 80 percent of the budgets in contested races last November were devoted to 30-second television commercials, and the impressionistic approach is also part of the problem, in my view, because now the conversation is not really a two-way or a multi-way conversation. The vast majority of the information flow is over television -- that's still the dominant medium -- and it's a one-way flow.
Impeaching the president?
GWEN IFILL: But I want to bring you back just for another moment to your indictment of the Bush administration.
AL GORE: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: You say they are either too gullible or dishonest. Which do you think it was?
AL GORE: Well, I don't know, but they should speak for themselves, and I hope they'll answer that question. If they genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, then that's a degree of gullibility that's quite serious. And although President Bush has since tried to specifically distance himself from that argument, Vice President Cheney still has not, so maybe there's a split within the administration.
GWEN IFILL: You've been a leader. You served in Bill Clinton's administration as vice president. You watched as the Republican Congress impeached him. Do you think that the Democratic-led Congress right now should be making efforts to impeach George W. Bush?
AL GORE: I haven't made that case. You know, I think that, with...
GWEN IFILL: Why not?
AL GORE: Well, with a year and a half to go in his term and with no consensus in the nation as a whole to support such a proposition, any realistic analysis of that as a policy option would lead one to question the allocation of time and resources.
GWEN IFILL: You don't think it's a good use of time?
AL GORE: Well, I don't think it is. I don't think it would be likely to be successful.
'Politics is completely broken'
GWEN IFILL: Continuing to look forward a little bit, we're in the middle of already a big, vibrant race for 2008. If you were approached -- and I imagine you have been by different people running for president -- about the issues you raise in your book, what advice would you give them or do you give them about finding a way to make the issues you raise front and center?
AL GORE: Well, I haven't thought about how to apply these as a candidate. I'm not a candidate, have no plans to be a candidate.
GWEN IFILL: So you say.
AL GORE: So I say.
I've avoided being repetitious so far. But I do think that the new forms of political dialogue and organization, the new forms of multi-way conversation that are emerging on the Internet represent a real source of hope.
GWEN IFILL: Is that realistic? You've lived this. Do you really think it's possible to get past this notion of what conventional politics is to some broader, more uplifting idea, based on reason, rather than politics, pure politics?
AL GORE: Well, first of all, all of us, as the book says, are a mixture of our reasoning capacity and our deep feelings and emotions and instincts, obviously. But the relative role of reason in American political discourse has declined dramatically.
I think that it can be restored to a more prominent place, and I'm hopeful and optimistic that it will be. Is it right now realistic to think that a candidate might be able to do that? I think it's possible; I think it's possible. We may not quite be there yet, but I do think it can be restored. I really do.
Conventional politics is completely broken, Gwen. Everybody knows it, in both parties. And, you know, those who are candidates obviously are not going to acknowledge that, and they're in it to win, and God bless them, and may the best person win. But winning in a game that rewards as much superficiality and impressionistic manipulation as this current state of politics requires, you know, that is damaging to our country. It really is.
GWEN IFILL: You sound like a reformed politician.
AL GORE: A recovering politician.
GWEN IFILL: A recovering politician, as you say. But here's the question: How late can someone still get into the 2008 race and be a viable candidate, do you think?
AL GORE: I don't know.
GWEN IFILL: You don't know? You haven't thought about that at all?
AL GORE: No, I haven't.
GWEN IFILL: OK, I'll take your word on that.
AL GORE: OK.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you one more question.
AL GORE: I think that some period before November of '08, but I haven't looked at the calendars and the dates and so forth.
Supreme court ruling in 2000
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you one final question, which is, as you were putting this book together and assembling your thoughts about what you see as a broad-based collapse in a lot of the way we think and reason in our society, did you ever think to yourself, based specifically on the indictment that you make against the Bush administration, that perhaps you conceded too soon in 2000?
AL GORE: Well, there was -- I took it all the way to a final Supreme Court decision. And in our system, there is no intermediate step between a final Supreme Court decision and violent revolution.
So, at that point, having taken it as far as one could, then the question becomes, are we going to be a nation of laws and not people? Do I support the rule of law, even though I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision? I did disagree with it, and I think that those of us who disagreed with it will have the better of the argument in history.
GWEN IFILL: The name of the book is "The Assault on Reason." Thank you, Vice President Al Gore, very much for telling us about it.
AL GORE: Thank you.