Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Al Gore's Insolent Assault on Reason

Al Gore's Insolent Assault on Reason

Yahoo! News ^ | May 23, 2007 | Robert Tracinski

Early coverage of Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, has focused on the fact that the book is largely an assault on the Bush administration. But they have glossed over the most significant and alarming theme that Al Gore has taken up: his alleged defense of "reason" includes a justification for government controls over political speech.

Judging from the excerpts of Gore's book published in TIME, his not-so-subtle theme is that reason is being "assaulted" by a free and unfettered debate in the media--and particularly by the fact that Gore has to contend with opposition from the right-leaning media.

Developing a dangerous theme that the left has been toying with for years, Gore says that reason is being suffocated by "media Machiavellis"--that's a veiled reference to Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch and Bush political advisor Karl Rove, the twin hobgoblins of the left. According to Gore, these puppet-masters take advantage of "the clever use of electronic mass media" to "manipulate the outcome of elections."

Now here's the really ominous part. This "manipulation" is rendering our representative government "illegitimate" because it only has the public's "consent"--he repeatedly puts "consent" in scare quotes, just to emphasize the point that this consent is not, in Al Gore's superior judgment, genuine or legitimate. As he puts it, "the 'consent of the governed' [has become] a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder."

Presumably, this is Gore's fallback explanation for why he didn't really lose the 2000 presidential election, not "genuinely," not "legitimately." That election makes an appearance in Gore's whining complaint about his loss in a televised debate against George W. Bush: "[T]he controversy over my sighs in the first debate with George W. Bush created an impression on television that for many viewers outweighed whatever positive benefits I might have otherwise gained in the verbal combat of ideas and substance." I remember that debate, and I can tell you that Gore lost because his sighs gave him the impression of being the kind of condescending know-it-all who views a debate as "verbal combat" in which he shoves his preferred notions down the public's throat.

His new argument doesn't do anything to reverse that impression. His basic theme seems to be: if the left isn't winning in the marketplace of ideas, there can't possibly be anything wrong with their ideas. It must be the marketplace itself that is "broken," and the left needs to use the power of government to fix it--in both senses of the word "fix."

This is by no means a new theme on the left; Noam Chomsky has been peddling this stuff for years. We only think that we are free to write and to speak and to make our minds up for ourselves, the left tells us. But behind the scenes we're being manipulated by the big corporate media, so the votes we cast and the consent we give to those who govern us is artificially "manufactured." We need to be liberated--by having the left take control of the media and manage it in our best interests.

The specific form of control Gore favors is indicated when he complains about "the increasing concentration of ownership by an even smaller number of large corporations that now effectively control the majority of television programming in America." This leftist conspiracy theory--the view that "big corporations" control everything--has a specific target: not the left-leaning news shows offered by the big three broadcast networks, but Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel, the successful cable television home of the right-leaning media.

The upshot of this complaint is the threat that the government will use the antitrust laws or FCC regulations to block Murdoch's plans for expansion of his media business, or to break it up--both actions that have been threatened by Democrats in Congress--unless he chooses to use his media influence in a more "responsible" and "public-spirited" manner.

Lurking in the background are the other prongs of the left's veiled threat against freedom of speech. Campaign finance controls restrict political speech during elections--precisely when the maximum freedom of speech is needed--by targeting the funding of political speech. Meanwhile, attempts to revive the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine" seek to suppress conservative talk radio by forcing broadcasters to give an equal amount of air time to the left, whether or not it can win an audience. This is the measure known as the "Hush Rush Bill," because its first victim would be Rush Limbaugh, who would presumably be forced to share his audience of millions with failed leftist talk-radio hosts like Al Franken.

This is the American left's version of what strongmen like Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf call "managed democracy." The "marketplace of ideas" can be trusted to work--so long as everyone agrees with them. But if the public obstinately persists in disagreeing with the left, then the marketplace of ideas must have been "broken" by meddling troublemakers like Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch and Karl Rove--and we know how to "fix" those guys, don't we?

More broadly, this is what the left has traditionally meant by "reason." For decades, the left has dominated the intelligentsia: the media, the universities, and the other institutions that provide credentials for "experts"--another term Al Gore has been harping on. This leads the left to act as if the latest consensus among its favored experts--whether it be the superiority of socialized medicine or the imminent threat of global warming--must be what every "rational" and well-informed person thinks, because it is the consensus of the elite.

Thus "reason," as Al Gore uses the term, refers to the ability of the leftist elite to impose its conventional dogmas on the national debate, without the need to persuade or convince others.

In reality, a genuine respect for reason starts with an absolute respect for the mind and judgment of the individual. A respect for reason requires the subordination of coercion to persuasion through the strict limitation of government power. A respect for reason requires a commitment to liberty above all else.

Al Gore stands for the exact opposite. His environmentalist crusade is dedicated to the suppression of the material products of the human mind--our advanced industry and technology. And now, in his new book, he is promoting a ratonalization for the suppression of free political debate.

To do this while billing himself as a defender of reason is an act of supreme insolence.

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