Al’s Screwy Scrawlings Can’t Pass for Intelligence

Like many people, I’m just furious at Al Gore for the way he’s blowing this election. At this point, even if he bumbles through and wins it, he’s lost me. I mean, I’d vote for the guy over George W.–I do think there is a difference. But one thing has become clear: In running the most stupid and inept Presidential campaign in modern history, making what should be a runaway victory (given this economy) too close to call with less than a week left, the difference is not intelligence.

I think it’s time to abandon the universal conventional wisdom that it’s Bush the lightweight airhead versus Gore the heavyweight intellect. Yes, George Bush is a lightweight–but Al Gore is a heavyweight intellect in much the same way that Alec Baldwin is a heavyweight intellect (in fact, in exactly the same way). Al Gore is the D.C. equivalent of that oxymoronic phenomenon, the Hollywood intellectual: someone who reads a couple of books of lit-ra-chure in a town where everyone else in effect reads “coverage,” and who thereby elevates himself in his own mind to deep-thinker status.

If George W. Bush is a lightweight, Al Gore is a deep lightweight: deep on the surface, profoundly shallow down below.

He is just so irritating and, frankly, ridiculous in his clownish pretensions to being an intellect. His is the kind of intellect that parrots whatever cyber-sophistry is dressed up in the livery of au courant sophistication by phony futurists, M.I.T.-media-lab-type gurus, Tom Peters-type management theory shills and snake-oil Internet “visionaries.” Al Gore is the kind of intellect who studied hard and tested well, but never learned how to think for himself beyond mimicking the pretentious formulations of others.

Al Gore gives intelligence a bad name. Al Gore is the Emperor’s New Brain.

Deep down inside, he’s Dan Quayle. Mr. Quayle had a brainy adviser in Bill Kristol, who occasionally ventriloquized him into a simulacrum of seriousness. Al Gore had the estimable Martin Peretz, whose heroic efforts over virtually a lifetime have failed to ignite in his dummy any spark of intellectual independence or creative thought.

And sadly, the dummy’s strings seem to be pulled now not by Mr. Peretz but by a new “brain trust”: true intellectual charlatans of the aforementioned New Economy futurist variety.

I’m going to get into the new Gore cyberbabble brain trust in a moment, but I want to emphasize that I make these comments from more than a superficial observation of Vice President Gore’s hideous, condescending performance as a candidate, which, of course, is predicated on the delusion that the masses are too stupid to understand the great elevated thoughts that flicker through his cortex; that the “little people” must therefore be spoken to very slowly in words of one syllable–which is why the electorate despises him (even those who will vote for him), and why he’s turned a sure thing into a loser or, at best, a squeaker.

But as I say, my sense of his fathomless mediocrity comes from more than just what you see on TV; it’s from my own horrified but fascinated study of the mind of Al Gore, as it expressed itself in several salient extended print interviews in which he was particularly eager to impress us all with the wonder that is Al Gore’s brain.

There was the one with Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker , in which he disgorged half-digested, barely literate notions on metaphor that he’d absorbed from what Gore made sound like an insufferably pretentious D.C. seminar on metaphor and meaning. It sounded like a very Hollywood-intellectual kind of gathering, from which he’d extracted some incredibly vapid pronouncements (complete with childlike diagrams) in an attempt to impress his interviewer. The diagrams were necessary because it was all, like, just too heavy to express in words, man. It transcended the limitation of the merely verbal.

Many of you probably saw that foolish–and really rather scary–performance in The New Yorker . Scary because it demonstrated an utterly unfounded belief that he can run the country based on this deeply meretricious facsimile of intelligence.

But I suspect that many readers of The Observer did not get a chance–as, alas, I have–to study the mind of Al Gore in his interview with the awestruck editors of Red Herring , the e-commerce cyber bible. The one in which Mr. Gore disclosed how deeply he is in thrall to the cyberbabble of the dimwit futurists whose appalling stew of half-baked ideas he parrots with the uncritical reverence of slow-witted Lenny for his pal George in Of Mice and Men (“Tell me about the future, George, willya, willya?”).

Appalling because he seems utterly unaware of how dehumanizing, ahistorical and just plain foolish the notions he’s promoting about American democracy are.

Appalling in his shameless attempt to suck up, in a condescending way, to what he evidently believes is his historically illiterate cyber audience.

Consider this exchange from the Red Herring interview, which is entitled “E-Gore” (come to think of it, doesn’t that actually read as Igor , the dimwitted assistant to the mad scientist in schlocky Frankenstein flicks? Was this a subtle attempt by the editors of the Red Herring to express how truly clueless Mr. Gore is? Probably not, if you examine the mutual sycophancy in this exchange):

” Gore : The secret of America’s success is to be found in our revolutionary decision to place our bets on the abilities inherent in all of the individuals who make up our country. Our democracy, our constitutional framework, is really a kind of software for harnessing the creativity and political imagination for all of our people. The American democratic system was an early political version of Napster.

” J.P. and P.H. [Excitedly]: Napster! This is good, this is good, keep going.”

Let’s just pause here, because I think we can safely say that this is the signature moment of Al Gore’s intellectual charlatanism. Forget for a moment the transparent calculation behind his use of Napster, which had the interviewers from Red Herring practically creaming in their jeans. Oooh, Napster –he said Napster ! The actual Vice President and maybe President said Napster ! Sooo cooool, dude.

Actually, let’s not pass over the Napster reference. Consider the fact that Vice President Gore’s so eager to score points for his cyber coolness that he just glides over any ethical or artistic questions raised by Napster. For instance, the fact that, from the point of view of some artists, it’s a way for non-creative people to pick the pockets of creative artists by cyber shoplifting. But of course, Gore wouldn’t care about that in his eager-beaver rush to suck up to Red Herring ; it’s precisely because Al Gore lacks creativity, or even the concept of creativity, that he can so cavalierly toss Napster around (as if he were just, like, so totally with it, man) in a pathetic effort to ingratiate himself with the cyber crowd. If he thinks shoplifting is so cool when it’s done in cyberspace, perhaps he should come out against the prosecution of inner-city kids caught shoplifting a CD from a Virgin megastore. Why privilege the privileged shoplifter? The question answers itself. Because he’s been so insulated by privilege, and by people eager to see him as a big-deal futurist thinker, that nobody has the courage to say the Emperor’s New Brain is empty.

But setting aside the Napster reference, there is something far more deeply offensive about the way he extends the computer-processing metaphor: a habit of mindless abstraction that fails to illuminate a single thing, but instead dehumanizes and depopulates all of American history in order to jam it into the Procrustean bed of his cyber metaphor. Some further quotes and comments in this puerile vein:

“Distributed intelligence is the key to the advancement of human civilization….” (Too bad you were absent the day they distributed real intelligence, Al.)

“Just as you saw the progressive switch from central processing units to massively parallel supercomputing, our democratic system made it possible for the average citizen to participate in the decision-making of this nation by processing the decision-making directly relevant to him or her in an individual congressional district or state. Then, in the process of biennial or quadrennial elections, our process harvests the sum total of those decisions and uses it as a basis for guiding the nation.”

This is what I mean by dehumanizing. He exalts the abstract metaphor which turns voters–that is, human beings–into “processing units” because he prefers to think of them as manipulable cyphers in cyberspace. Beyond that, it’s a ludicrously Pollyanna-ish vision that exalts the processing process over actual human outcomes. All this lovely processing produced a century of votes for slavery in the South. But hey, what’s a few slaves to someone operating at the heights of our metaphor man?

Then he tells his rapt Red Herring audience: “Now let me take the metaphor to a slightly higher level.” (Fasten your seatbelts–Al Gore is gonna take you on a trip, man. A wild ride into the ever-more-stratospheric heights of his mind.) And what do we find on this “higher level”? Marshall McLuhan! I swear , Al Gore is still quoting, with uncritical reverence, the wisdom of Marshall McLuhan as if it were freshly-minted revelation:

“Look at how this transformation played out in history in relation to new iterations of commonly available technology. The print revolution–or as Marshall McLuhan called it, ‘the Gutenberg Galaxy’–distributed an enormous amount of civic information widely throughout national language groups and helped to focus the definition of the nation-state.… Now, computer networks multiply by manyfold the amount of information available to the average citizen, thereby empowering the average citizen to play a larger role” (empowering the average citizen to download more child porn and neo-Nazi propaganda, too).

By this point, even the Red Herring editors have had enough of this pap, and try to interrupt the torrential flow of bullshit dressed up as deep-think. But they can’t stanch the flow. Like recently spewed molten volcanic lava, it finds another path–it’s unstoppable, unquenchable. Not content to express his brilliance in mere words (so linear!), which do not do justice to the dimensionality of his brain, Al Gore breaks into diagram. And we meet– The Bagel .

Ah, yes, the bagel. Nowhere can the stunningly pathetic superficiality of Al Gore’s intellect be glimpsed more graphically than in his diagrams, and nowhere as disturbingly and foolishly as in his bagel diagram, the one he drew for the awestruck editors of Red Herring . Disturbing because Gore claims that the bagel diagram best expresses his vision of how his Presidency will operate. The bagel diagram was one of four that he drew for the Red Herring editors, one of which was an incredibly simple-minded and facile attempt to illustrate Ilya Prigogine’s complexity theory. Al Gore is evidently very proud of himself for citing Prigogine’s theorem, although his rendition of its relationship to political systems resembles nothing so much as the bogus-science sophistry ridiculed in the famous Alan Sokal Social Text hoax.

But Mr. Gore’s explication of the bagel diagram and its relation to Presidential leadership is matchless in its ratio of pretension to vapidity: “I think the role of president can best be defined in the year 2001 in precisely the way I defined the role of a modern CEO in a high-performing learning organization: the CEO imparts vision, goals, values. The CEO of an organization stands at the center of an organization, yet an organization encounters change at the edge [draws bagel diagram]. In a two-dimensional model, if you have an organization moving along a plane and encountering change, the point of contact with change is typically at the edge, and in that metaphor, the CEO would be equidistant from all types of change. Now if, on the other hand, this information processing sector has been pre-empowered with the organization’s vision, the shared set of goals, and shared values, and asked to make a decision in real time, the decision is likely to be the same decision as the CEO would make.”

Here then is the bagel diagram that encapsulates the “wisdom” in this blather:

Notice that the C.E.O.–or President in Gore’s vision–is represented as a hole! A void, an emptiness. An unintentional self-portrait, perhaps. I’m not saying Al Gore is utterly empty-headed. But he lacks a critical intellect, he lacks the tragic sense of life that an exposure to literature (as opposed to management-guru futurist tomes) might have given him. He is just utterly, uncritically reverent in spewing forth this second-rate, simple-minded organization-theory crap. He lacks the most basic discernment that would allow him to see the totalitarian mind-control implications of his bagel-diagram organization theory. Basically, what it’s really saying is that, in this model–in Al Gore’s model of the ideal Presidency–everyone lower down in the hierarchy (everyone on the periphery of the bagel) must be programmed to think and react just like the hole–excuse me, just like the C.E.O. at the center. Everyone will be a little clone, a Mini-Me of Al Gore. His bagel model, with all its cutting-edge rhetoric about parallel processing, doesn’t allow in the slightest for creative thought, for individuation at the periphery where change is encountered. It is, rather, a model of thought control.

But he’s so infatuated with this futurist management-theory crap (because it’s dressed up with super-cool cyber metaphors), and he so lacks the ability to think critically about it, that he can’t even see what he’s really saying. His brain is like an empty vessel–a hole–that can be filled up with any old crapola as long as it is clothed with the aura of deep-think.

Perhaps the best way to express the scary vapidity of this sort of mind is with a diagram of my own, my visual rendition of Al Gore’s brain. (At left.)

Why am I so angry with Al Gore? Why can’t I resist ridiculing him? Do I really think he’s stupid? No, not in the sense of low I.Q.; but yes in the sense of functional stupidity. He’s stupidly, inexcusably blowing an election that, with the best economy in American history, should have been a cakewalk. He’s blowing it because he’s too stupid to find a way to make the economy the issue (It’s still the economy, stupid!), too stupid to convince the voters that record prosperity and record low unemployment are at stake with his opponent’s reckless, feckless tax and Social Security plans.

Although he should be focusing the electorate’s attention on the fact that the record-breaking economy is in peril from George W.’s trillion-dollar tax cut and trillion-dollar Social Security privatization scam, Al Gore’s either too terrified or too vain, because to do so would entail associating himself with Bill Clinton. So instead, whenever he’s asked about the economy of the past seven years, he mouths something about how “we’re gonna do better” and–gag–”you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” In other words, what’s happened during the Clinton administration is inconsequential compared to what Al Gore will do. Yeah, right.

And so Mr. Gore and all his overpaid advisers, all his overrated brain trust, have flailed about with their pathetic alpha-male makeovers, with their hideously condescending slogans about “working families” and “our seniors,” with that calculated kiss and his laughable chest-puffing, turf-invading strategy in the third debate. And they have utterly, miserably, shamefully failed to dramatize the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore that could have made this election a walkover.

And so, just to demonstrate how Al Gore could have won this election with just one focused TV ad, here is my script for that ad, one that would have guaranteed a landslide for Vice President Gore if he had blanketed the airwaves with it:

Fade in : A helicopter shot of a powerful American-made automobile cruising smoothly through winding roads amidst beautiful rural scenery.

Voice-over : “The American economy is like a finely tuned precision engine: Every part needs to work in sync, every gear needs to mesh smoothly for peak performance. And for the past seven years, the engine of the American economy has been running at peak performance, thanks to the hard work of the American people and the policies of the Clinton-Gore administration. A record number of jobs, the lowest unemployment in memory, welfare rolls way down, low interest rates, record home ownership and retirement accounts, no more deficits and technological innovations that are changing the face of the world economy as well.”

Exterior : a gas station . The car pulls up to the pumps. A mechanic comes out, a slick-looking dude in overalls with the logo “G.W.B.” visible on them.

Man behind wheel of car : “Fill ‘er up and check the oil, please.”

Mechanic (opening the hood and gazing in): “I wanna try somethin’ here. Got me a plan .”

The Mechanic proceeds to start ripping out wires and yanking out parts, then wheels a barrel labeled “Snake Oil” out to the car, jams a huge funnel into the engine and starts pouring it in, slopping the oil over the sides and onto the innards.

Man behind wheel : “Hey, wait a minute. Do you know what you’re doing?”

Mechanic : “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Voice-over : “George W. Bush’s reckless tax scheme will wreck our finely tuned economy, put your job, your savings and our future in danger. Don’t risk what we’ve all worked so hard for.”

Election over. Landslide. I guarantee it. We probably don’t need the Holiday Inn Express line (I’m just a big fan of the ads). We could just have him say “This is the way my daddy fixed things.” But you get the point. Only Al Gore doesn’t get the point. He hasn’t come close to articulating, to focusing this argument. His brain is too full of New Age nonsense, bogus futurism and preening self-approbation to make the argument that would guarantee a victory and save the Supreme Court for a generation. And now it’s probably too late. You’re an idiot, Al Gore. Al’s Screwy Scrawlings Can’t Pass for Intelligence