Commentary

Gore for President?

On New Year’s eve, Vice President Al Gore quietly filed papers with the Federal Elections Commission to begin his run for the Presidency. His first task: to convince the captains of American industry and finance that a Gore presidency would be safe for business, a priority which likely explains Gore’s recent high-profile visits to Detroit, Wall Street, and the boardrooms of America’s top companies. Those visits dovetail nicely with the expected theme of Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign; the continuance of economic prosperity and, in the words of the Washington Post, “a traditional front-runner’s pitch for the status quo.”

That, however, would be a neat trick for a politician who once wrote a book (Earth in the Balance) calling for “a bold effort to change the very foundation of our civilization.” Apparently, you won’t see the aforementioned quote on campaign bumper-stickers anytime soon.

You see, according to Earth in the Balance, modern American society — the status quo — is built upon a foundation of mental illness. Really. In a remarkable chapter titled “Dysfunctional Civilization,” Gore argues that the modern world is built upon exaltation of reason above all things, which has fostered an unhealthy belief that man is a “disembodied intellect” separate and distinct from the world of nature. The psychological pain and loneliness caused by this warped cultural belief, according to Gore, leads us to consume the world whole in a desperate attempt to “distract us from the pain of what we have lost: a direct experience of our connection to the vividness, vibrancy, and aliveness of the rest of the natural world.”

Accordingly, Gore calls the our consumption habits an “addiction.” Civilization is termed clinically “dysfunctional.” His opponents are in psychological “denial.” The politically ambivalent electorate has grown psychologically numb in order to “anesthetize their conscience.” Social leaders such as businessmen, marketers, and politicians are called “enablers.” In sum, society is sick, and only a therapist-in-chief can cure it. Stuart Smalley, meet the Unibomber.


If Al Gore wants to be president, it’s high time we found out who he is.


Only by rooting-out the mental illnesses inflicted by the Enlightenment and making environmental protection “the central organizing principle of civilization” can mankind be saved. Now, think about this for a moment. The “central organizing principle” of American government is, for the time being, the protection of the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That will have to change, according to Gore, given the need for “embarking on an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every plan and course of action — to use, in short, every means to halt the destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological system.”

Read that again. And in case you missed the full implications of that battle-cry, Gore immediately goes on to argue that “Minor shifts in policy, marginal adjustments in ongoing programs, moderate improvements in laws and regulation, rhetoric offered in lieu of genuine change — these are all forms of appeasement, designed to satisfy the public’s desire to believe that sacrifice will not be necessary.” If you can square that passage with “a pitch for the status quo,” then you have a future in political consulting.

When Jerry Brown campaigned on a watered-down version of this sort of platform 25 years ago, he was derided as “Governor Moonbeam” and hooted out of national politics. Al Gore has gotten away with it, however, for three reasons. First, he seldom discusses this stuff anymore outside of environmentalist meeting halls. Second, his absorption in internet and telecommunications policy shields him from the charges of ludditism that haunted Brown. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to reconcile his radical rhetoric with his wooden, earnest, low-key, boy-scout demeanor. In other words, Al Gore — like many a book — is being judged by his cover, not his contents.

There are only three possibilities: either Al Gore is a shameless demagogue (defined by H.L. Menken as “one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots”), a dangerous fanatic (“The struggle to save the global environment is in one way much more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler, for this time the war is with ourselves. We are the enemy”), or a man who no longer believes the radical nonsense he once embraced so fervently seven years ago. If Al Gore wants to be president, it’s high time we found out who he is.

Jerry Taylor is director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute.