By David Postman
The Seattle Times
Former Vice President Al Gore told a Seattle audience Monday night there is a crisis in America’s “information ecosystem” that has the news media more interested in celebrity wrongdoing than phony justification for war.
Gore told about a thousand people at Town Hall that the breakdown in communication — what the book he’s promoting calls “The Assault on Reason” — has led to the climate crisis and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which he called the “worst strategic mistake in the history of our nation.”
Gore didn’t speak of a possible 2008 presidential campaign. His talk was more lecture than speech. Gore recounted the history of the verbal, written and printed language. He paced the stage and talked about the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Gandhi and Einstein — all delivered to a crowd that sat surprisingly quiet.
He said the climate crisis and the invasion of Iraq are similar in that the “abundant best evidence” at the time should have been more than enough to persuade people to do just the opposite of what happened.
“When reason is assigned a lower priority, when reason is taken out of the center of the democratic conversation, it leaves a vacuum,” Gore said. “And what fills that vacuum is ideology of one off-brand or another: extreme partisanship, fundamentalism, extreme nationalism; in the worst cases, racism and ethnic ferocity.”
Gore said America suffers from “shared illusions.”
In a near whisper, he said, “Candidates gather on a stage, and express their support for torture and the audience applauds and then another candidate is even more enthusiastic in favor of torture and the audience applauds even more enthusiastically.”
Gore heaped much blame on the news media. He said entertainment news and fluff on TV are “now crowding out the space that we need to govern ourselves.”
The effort to repeal the federal estate tax — a campaign for which Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen has been a leading national voice — was a prime example for Gore of what he said are the country’s wrong-headed priorities.
Gore suggested people balance that against health care for all Americans.
“Which of these is more significant to the fate of our republic?” Gore asked. “Which has received the most air time and the most political attention and the most political speech and fervor and the passion of its advocates on the floor of the Congress? The estate tax.” He said advocates refer to the tax as the death tax because “a brand is essential.”
Gore sees hope in the Internet. But he said freedom of the Web is threatened and people should worry about protecting Internet freedom just as the country’s founders worried about freedom of the press.
Monday night’s event sold out in minutes, reflecting the surge in Gore’s popularity after his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Academy Award and cemented his place as a leading environmental champion.
Outside Town Hall, several people circulated petitions to draft Gore into the race. He made no mention of the presidential campaign.
Gore’s reluctance to say he won’t run — as opposed to his stock answer that he’s not running — has created a phenomenon among Democratic voters of settling now on a starter candidate who would be left behind if Gore, the trophy candidate, enters the race.
“I, personally, have one foot in the Obama camp,” said Dean Falvy, a Seattle attorney who was working the line outside Town Hall with “draft Gore” petitions.
Congressman Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, an early and ardent backer of Sen. Barack Obama, said he thinks it’s a myth that there are a lot of Democrats waiting to see if Gore will run.
“Democrats are satisfied with the field,” Smith said, citing polls that show 85 percent of Democrats say they are happy with the current crop.
Smith isn’t worried about the Gore effect. “First of all, Al Gore is not going to run for president,” he says.
But there are some well-connected Democrats who want to make sure. Smith said Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, a close friend of Gore’s, won’t commit to a candidate until Gore says something definitive.
Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, wants Gore to run and thinks he may still get in the race. McDermott believes that, in part, because “it’s the nature of politicians.”