I attended the Politics and Prose sponsored lecture/book signing for Al Gore’s new book, “The Assault on Reason,” at George Washington University last night. The auditorium was packed. In fact, when we got there at 6:15, there was a line snaking around the block to pick up tickets at the Will Call. People even were trying to buy extra tickets. Several of us in line joked that it reminded us of the scalp-free zones at baseball games and rock concerts – but for Al Gore? We giggled at the thought of it.
Nevertheless, it was a sold out event and Gore was playing to a packed house of about 2,000 people. But if they expected a searing indictment of the Bush Administration all wrapped up in fiery rhetoric – red meat for the true believers – they probably would’ve been disappointed.
Gore delivered his argument - which is that the media and dissenters have been intimidated into silence on a variety of issues, including global warming, economic conditions and the war in Iraq, by a deliberate assault on open and reasonable debate - in measured and rational tones, in an often long winded lecture. He spoke conversationally with the same professorial cadence that the press and public found so annoying the last time he ran for office.
And this audience was rapt. They hung on his every word and gave him several standing ovations. Then they lined up eagerly to have their copies of his new book autographed.
The 1,000 or so people who stayed for the book signing were whisked past the table where Gore sat signing books with the speed of an efficiency expert setting up an assembly line in a Ford factory. It had been previously announced that books would not be personalized and Gore would not answer individual questions (there had been a question and answer session after his lecture). And he mostly stuck to it. Each book was signed and then shoved to the side while the adoring owner picked it up and quickly made way for the next person in line. It was a smooth operation and, considering the huge crowd, went briskly. The lecture started at 7:30, the book signing by 8:30; and we were home in Northern Virginia by 10 o’clock.
The huge auditorium reminded me of the large lecture halls in a university, with students jammed in to hear a very popular professor. Gore looked relaxed, happy, and engaged. He was doing what he loved best, lecturing to a smart audience of his peers. He looked like a professor delighted with his honors class, not a candidate running for office.