“The donkey in the room”

As Al Gore promotes his new book in California, audience members are asked not to ask that inconvenient question.

Topics: 2008 Elections, George W. Bush, Global Warming, Al Gore, Iraq, Middle East,

"The donkey in the room"

Last night, there was hybrid-car gridlock in the parking lot of the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium. Hundreds of Toyota Priuses were haphazardly parked in red zones and on a nearby lawn. The most ecologically responsible drivers in the Bay Area had converged on this suburb north of San Francisco to hear vice president turned environmental crusader Al Gore talk about his new book.

The affluent, largely middle-aged liberals who had sold out the 2,000-seat venue, men in silk tropical shirts and khakis, women in strappy sandals, were there to celebrate an environmental hero, Nobel nominee and Academy Award winner and get a signed copy of “Assault on Reason.” But “Assault on Reason,” officially released on Tuesday, is also an assault on the current state of American politics, and the subtext of the evening was whether the erstwhile Democratic presidential nominee might be weighing another run for the White House.

Just outside the building, 29-year-old Chris Vallone, organizer of San Francisco for Al Gore in 2008, certainly hoped so. He had set up a table to sell Gore in ’08 buttons for a dollar. “I think it’s more likely that he’ll run each passing day … He can afford to enter late and getting in the race early isn’t ever beneficial.”

Inside the auditorium, other Gore supporters wore T-shirts and buttons and passed out fliers. And as soon as the former vice president’s name was announced, before he even set foot onstage, the audience jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering. They kept applauding for close to a minute after Gore appeared, dressed all in black, pressed his hands together and bowed.

Gore did not begin his lecture with the Bush bashing the crowd clearly craved, though “Assault on Reason” contains a vigorous indictment of the current administration. Instead he led with a professorial history of mass communications, occasionally stumbling over his words as though he had too many ideas coming at him too fast.

The book, he explained, was meant to answer a simple question: “Why was our beloved country so shockingly vulnerable to such crass manipulation?” His answer, in part, seems to be our “new information ecosystem,” in which television is the major medium of communication. In his book, he scolds the average American for spending a whopping four hours and 35 minutes watching TV each day and takes shots at our obsession with the celeb-sagas of O.J. Simpson and Anna Nicole Smith. Aside from the occasional applause line about the 24-hour-news networks, his condemnatory sermon about the current American cultural landscape met with approval but not hosannas.

But then he finally began serving the crowd what they’d been waiting for. He started talking about the current administration, but playfully, without using any proper names at first. “Millions of Americans in recent years, and I’m among them, have had the uneasy and growing feeling that something has gone basically wrong in the United States,” he said. The audience erupted. “And it’s been hard, hasn’t it, to put your finger on … exactly what it is,” he continued. There was riotous, satisfied laughter from the crowd. Like a practiced performer, Gore brought the laughter to a halt, throwing up his hands and saying, “I mean that in all seriousness!” He continued, “Let me give you an example: George Bush and Dick Cheney” — the audience hissed wildly — “consistently conveyed the false impression that the person responsible for attacking us on 9/11 was Saddam Hussein. That was horribly wrong.”

You Might Also Like

He seemed wary of fanning the flames of anger — in that sense, he’s utterly loyal to the credo of his new book. More than anything, he believes that having been blinded by fear and emotion, we need to return to a basic respect for reason. But his book is still fiery in its own right. He argues that the Bush administration had clear warnings about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and could have prevented them; he details widespread, institutionalized corruption in the administration; and he describes a fundamental disrespect for science, logic and the rule of reason.

And for all his oratory caution, he does seem to have been revivified. As Chris Vallone would have it, he has become “Al Gore: Unplugged.” No longer hemmed in by political handlers or a focus-grouped message, he is looser and more natural in his role as unalloyed advocate and public intellectual. He roamed the stage, deadpanning one-liners, comfortable in his own un-Shrummed skin.

But what everyone wants to know is just how comfortable he is with the idea of reentering the brutal arena of electoral politics. Though he has said outright, more than once, that he isn’t thinking about the White House at the moment, all his actions get interpreted as evidence for or against a possible presidential run. Even his recent weight loss is seen as proof he’s running, rather than the desire of a 59-year-old man to stay healthy. But Gore himself has contributed to the rampant speculation. Tuesday night on “Larry King Live,” he implied that he might join the fray at some later date. “I’m one of those who doesn’t like to see the Christmas goods put in the stores right after Halloween. I don’t think Americans are well served by having an endless campaign.”

His book tour only feeds the presidential buzz. After he finished Wednesday night’s speech, he said, smirking, “I was supposed to just speak for 15 minutes.” He had spoken for 50. Then he took questions from the audience, but only certain questions. The queries had been submitted on index cards, and then screened. “We’re gonna disregard the donkey in the room,” teased the moderator of the Q-and-A, “and we’re not gonna ask that question.” More laughter, and another coy smile from Gore. Immediately, a bright yellow sign shot up in the audience, reading, “Run Al Run!”

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>