Gore, Lincoln, and Reason


I have only read Time.com's excerpt of Al Gore's new book, "The Assault On Reason." But there was enough in it that echoes and resonates with my own political evolution on this blog over the past few years that I just ordered it from Amazon. In many ways, I think Gore's career in public life has really taken off since he abandoned the electoral path in politics. He is a thinker and a loner - and the task of electoral politics, something I think he felt obliged to follow because of his father's legacy, never truly suited him. Now, freed to participate in political life as an unelected crusader, he has found his role at last. I hope he doesn't abandon it. He has done more to raise awareness of a critical issue - climate change - as a private citizen than he ever managed as vice-president. I can't help but feel that the death of his father liberated him as well. He seems much happier because he has stopped trying to be someone he isn't.

On the plane ride back from L.A., I also found myself reading Adam Gopnik's diverting essay on Lincoln in the new New Yorker. Am I the only one to see some resonances in their convictions? No, I'm not comparing Gore to Lincoln as statesmen. Please. But I do see their mutual understanding of the critical importance of reason in wartime to be a very important message for our time. Perhaps the most critical message we now need to hear. Check out the echoes between the two. Gore first:

For the first time in American history, the Executive Branch of our government has not only condoned but actively promoted the treatment of captives in wartime that clearly involves torture, thus overturning a prohibition established by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

It is too easy and too partisan to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned?

Faith in the power of reason the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw powerremains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

Now read this passage from Adam Gopnik's piece about Honest Abe:

Lincoln believed in legalism. One of his first public speeches, the Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum, in Springfield in 1837, declared a radical insistence on "reason" to be the only acceptable form of public discourse; the cure for the prevalence and epidemic of violence in American life would be "hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason": "Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reasoncold, calculating, unimpassioned reasonmust furnish all the materials for our future support and defence."

We must revive this vision - this quintessentially American vision. Before it is too late.