- Jul 11, 2004
Since losing to George Bush in 2000, Al Gore, the former Vice-President, has reinvented himself as America's voice of reasoned opposition,:rotflmao: particularly on global warming, the subject of his internationally acclaimed film An Inconvenient Truth. In this interview, he tells Henry Porter of a crisis of democracy in America.
Sunday November 5, 2006
HP: I wonder if you feel that a constitution like the American one makes people more aware of their rights.
AG: I think it does. Those who wrote the constitution were very steeped in the culture of the printed word and the essays that were written to define the theory of representative democracy. The debates and the Constitutional Convention were all re-capitulated in elaborate written accounts. The debates over each precise word actually did focus public attention then, and continue to influence public attention now, to individual rights.
HP: Is a constitution a way of putting certain rights beyond the reach of ambitious men?
AG: If I felt that was the principal effect of having a written constitution, I would say yes. If I were a citizen in your country, I would be in favour of it. But being a citizen of the US and seeing the shocking ease with which these principles have been violated in the US, I'm worried that the causes of this invasion of rights may be deeper.
HP: The public here and in America have been prepared to put these rights on hold to a degree.
AG: Well, they have, but [in America] these rights have been weakened since the Bush-Cheney administration chose to use the war against terror as a basis for both political argument in a partisan context and for an assault on the individual rights, including the right to be free of government eavesdropping. The conversation of democracy has been degraded, emotions and appeals to fear have been given a priority over reasoned debate.
HP: Has there been a pumping up of this climate of fear?
AG: Yes, sure.
HP: What was the purpose? To extend executive powers or to get people to back the war in Iraq?
AG: A combination of motives. The Bush-Cheney administration was declining in popularity rapidly prior to the 9/11 attacks. In the initial aftermath, Bush responded quite well in rallying public opinion and going after the perpetrators. But then, for whatever reason, he began to make a lot of mistakes in my view; by not pursuing Osama bin Laden until he was captured; by invading a country that hadn't attacked us; by launching this assault on the protections written into the constitution against invasions of liberties. They conflated the threat from al-Qaeda and the purported threat from Saddam which, of course, didn't exist.
HP: In the days after 9/11, did you imagine that we would see this kind of attack on civil liberties?
AG: No, and it should be seen as shocking, in America at least, that so many individual rights have been lost so quickly. I believe that there has been a diminishing of the role played by reasoned debate. And when logic and reason are withdrawn from the public sphere, it creates a vacuum into which ideology and religious extremism rush in.
HP: In the Middle East, America and Britain are trying to persuade countries to become more democratic, yet in our own societies rights are being reduced and power centralised. How does that play in the Middle East?
AG: America's power in the world has always been based primarily on moral authority, and if we undermine our moral authority then any exercise of raw military power produces its own resistance. We're seeing that in Iraq.
HP: Do you think things can be restored? Say you become President, could this happen?
AG: Well, first of all I'm not planning to be a candidate, but a new President committed to restoring these rights could do so. The greater vulnerability we have now involves a rather radical change. Democracy is ultimately a conversation. If people are routinely excluded from that conversation or absent of their own choice, then it will be dominated by those who are primarily interested in political and economic power. Individual rights will be honoured and protected when individuals are full and vigorous participants in the public conversation.
· This is an extract from a televised interview with Al Gore for the More4 channel. The full interview will be run on Suspect Nation on 20 November at 9pm.