When former Vice President Al Gore hosted "Saturday Night Live" in December 2002, he appeared in a skit comparing his vice presidential selection process from two years before to the reality TV dating show "The Bachelor."
In one scene, Gore appeared in a hot tub with a faux Joe Lieberman, both of them shirtless, drinking champagne, arms locked, romance in the air.
Anyone then looking for clues to see if Gore would run for president in 2004 probably had no trouble discerning that an exploratory committee was not in the cards.
Almost five years later, Gore still says he has no plans to run for president, but his latest book, "The Assault On Reason," is so nakedly political and sharply critical it's hard to discern what his plans may be.
On one hand, Gore has written an stark look back at the previous six years that lays out his case as to how the world might look today had the chads fallen another way -- a world where U.S. troops would not be fighting in Iraq, Abu Ghraib would be known as the prison where Saddam Hussein tortured Iraqis not where American soldiers did so, where the nation would have been better prepared for Hurricane Katrina, global warming, and, yes, perhaps even 9/11.
But on the other hand, "The Assault On Reason" is an assault on President George W. Bush -- 308 pages of professorially rendered, liberal red meat that shuns the cautious language employed by any politician standing to the right of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and the left of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.
"I'm not a candidate and this is not a political book, this is not a candidate book," Gore told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America Monday. "It's about that there are cracks in the foundation of American democracy that have to be fixed."
In the book, Gore is accusatory, passionate and angry.
He begins discussing the president by accusing him of sharing President Richard Nixon's unprincipled hunger for power -- and the book proceeds to get less complimentary from there.
While Gore stops short of flatly calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, he certainly gives the impression that, in his view, such a move would be well deserved.
He calls the president a law-breaker, a liar, a man with the blood of thousands of innocent lives on his hands.
Iraq War Takes Center Stage
Most of Gore's ire stems from, not surprisingly, the war in Iraq, a war that Gore opposed from the beginning.
"I cannot remember any administration adopting this kind of persistent, systematic abuse of the truth and the institutionalization of dishonesty as a routine part of the policy process," Gore writes of the president's case for and conduct of the war, saying that the president's policies "have left us less free and less secure."
"We are less safe because of his policy," Gore writes. "He has created more anger and righteous indignation against us than any leader of our country in all the years of our existence as a nation. He has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to a greater danger of attack because of his arrogance and willfulness," particularly but not entirely with the war in Iraq.
"He has also pursued policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, all of it done in our name," Gore concludes.
"History will surely judge America's decision to invade and occupy (Iraq) … as a decision that was not only tragic but absurd," Gore writes.
"The Assault On Reason" begins as an academic discourse about the one-sided, corporate-controlled television medium with "no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation."
Gore argues that television not only creates a dynamic that runs contrary to Thomas Jefferson's desire for a "well-informed citizenry" but puts viewers in a "quasi-hypnotic state" that "partially immobilizes" them and allows unreasoned communicators to sell false bills of goods, such as, say, that there was a connection between the 9/11 hijackers and Saddam Hussein.
As an example of the failed democratic conversation, Gore said Monday that prior to the war in Iraq, "if we had a full debate and a full airing of the pros and cons of the invasion that brought out the fact that Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with attacking us on 9/11 then we would have been much less likely to have these troops trapped over there now in the midst of a civil war."
But very quickly Gore sheds his inner Marshall McLuhan for his inner Michael Moore.
Gore writes, "[If] Bush and Cheney actually believed in the linkage that they asserted between al Qaeda and Iraq -- in spite of all the evidence to the contrary presented to them contemporaneously -- that would by itself in light of the available evidence, make them genuinely unfit to lead our nation."
The former vice president then adds, "On the other hand, if they knew the truth and lied, massively and repeatedly, isn't that worse? Are they too gullible or too dishonest?"
Driving Dems to the Left
It seems likely that even if Gore opts not to run for president in 2008, his book may serve to drive presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., even further to the left, both in rhetoric and substance.
The former Tennessee congressman and senator accuses his former colleagues on Capitol Hill of complicity with what he sees as nefarious deeds committed by the Bush administration.
The book opens with Gore wondering why Senate Democrats were so silent during the debate before going to war in Iraq and towards the end faults them for failing to criticize the administration's warrantless surveillance program.
"Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program," he writes.
He doesn't assail any Democrats by name (though some will no doubt see Sen. Clinton's face when Gore dismisses those who say they would have opposed the war in Iraq if they knew then what they know now). Bush, however, he names over and over.
The Bush Grudge
"President Bush has repeatedly violated the law for six years," Gore charges regarding the warrantless surveillance program.
Gore -- who lost the White House if not the popular vote to Bush in 2000 -- picks apart the president's policy choices time and time again, often in very personal ways.
The prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, Gore writes, were "the natural consequence of the Bush administration policy that dismantled the constraints of law and the Geneva Conventions, made war on America's system of checks and balances, and evaded accountability and responsibility for the actions in ordered."
The Bush Iraq policy was a "counterfeit combination of misdirected vengeance and misguided dogma."
The "radical Right" is a "political faction disguised as a religious sect, and the president of the United States is heading it."
Bush "takes an astonishingly selfish and greedy collection of economic and political proposals and then cloaks them with a phony moral authority."
The Bush White House "has engaged in an unprecedented and sustained campaign of mass deception -- especially where its policies in Iraq are concerned."
"[It] sometimes seems as if the Bush-Cheney administration is wholly owned by the coal, oil, utility and mining companies," Gore charges at one point.
And Gore argues that the president does not need enhanced domestic surveillance powers he has sought and received, often in secret, just competent use of the information already available.
He points out, for instance, the fact that 9/11 terrorists Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhar were already on a State Department/INS watch list.
He does not flatly state that 9/11 would not have occurred during a Gore administration. But, he writes, "whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes."
Then, using a study from the Markle Foundation, Gore shows how "better and more timely analysis" -- not the increased data sought by the Bush administration -- would have led to other hijackers Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and so on. Bush received that dire warning in August 2001, Gore notes at two different points in the book -- "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." -- which he refers to as "a headline more alarming and more pointed than any I saw in eight years of six-days-a-week CIA briefings."
Gore notes that he took pre-9/11 warnings seriously, even if Bush did not. After all, "unilateral action to protect the nation from a sudden an immediate threat" is "inherent power that is conferred by the Constitution to the president," Gore says, noting that as vice president he "made that very point to President Clinton when he had the opportunity to seize an al Qaeda operative who was planning an attack against us. And the president took my advice, though the individual we attempted to capture escaped."
But instead, Gore writes, incompetence rules the day and Bush has "taken us much further down the road toward an intrusive 'Big Brother'-style government -- towards the dangers prophesied by George Orwell in his book 1984 -- than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America."
Gore Redux: In or Out?
What might cause some to speculate that Gore isn't ruling out a third White House run (he also campaigned as a centrist "New Democrat" in 1988) is the cautious wording he uses about two claims against the administration, sensitive ones regarding Bush's religious views and whether or not the war in Iraq was a war for oil.
Gore raises those points, but even among his many incendiary charges doesn't claim them as his own.
"There are many people in both political parties who worry that there is something deeply troubling about President Bush's relationship to reason, his disdain for facts, and his lack of curiosity about any new information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to be wrestle with on behalf of the country," Gore writes.
In another instance, Gore says that "many feel that one of the hidden reasons for launching the war in Iraq in early 2003 was the oft-stated and long-held opinion of Vice President Dick Cheney and others that ensuring continued U.S. access to the easily recoverable oil reserves of the Persian Gulf is so important as to justify even the extraordinary cost and reckless risk to America's reputation of invading another country on false pretenses."
There seems little attempt to see the world through the president's eyes.
"It is love of power for its own sake that is the original sin of this presidency," Gore writes, not that Bush or Cheney have ever tried to do what they think the right course for the country.
At another point, Gore posits, "If we had behaved as a democracy, we would not have invaded Iraq," an argument that hangs there in complete contradiction with the overwhelming bipartisan votes in October 2002, authorizing the use of force against Iraq in the House (296-133) and the then-Democratic controlled Senate (77-23), not to mention public support for the action.
Gore is presumably arguing that the U.S. didn't behave as a democracy because the people were so misinformed about the war, but those people included former President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a number of others who weren't presumably part of George Orwell's vision in "1984."
As for, "What now?" Gore says the nation and the world are at a fork in the road.
Gore calls for the U.S. to rejoin the international community and lead the war on crises involving global warming, water, terrorism and pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.
He calls for a repeal of the Patriot Act and for the Bush administration to disclose all of its interrogation policies.
He wants more transparency in political TV commercials and an expediting of the shift from television towards the Internet as a method of communication.
After Random House published 200,000 copies of "Putting People First: How We Can All Change America" -- the soporific campaign tome purportedly written by then-Gov. Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Al Gore -- the ill-fated reelection campaign of then-President George H.W. Bush filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
Republicans alleged that the book deal constituted an illegal corporate contribution to the Democratic ticket, which didn't directly profit financially from the book -- though the publicity certainly didn't hurt.
How quaint that book must now seem to those Republicans.