SAN FRANCISCO -- Al Gore is far from happy with the way Washington works these days.
Speaking before a packed house at Stanford University Tuesday evening, the former vice president wasn't afraid to call the American political system fundamentally broken.
"Our democracy has been hacked," he roared. "It has been made to function in ways that do not serve the interests of the American people. Our democracy has been degraded; it has gotten worse."
Gore used climate change, the issue he has spent most of his time and energy on since holding office, to illustrate lawmakers' inability to act on important matters.
"There is no other country in the world capable of providing the necessary leadership on climate change," he said. "But our democracy is in such disrepair that no meaningful legislation can pass through Congress that challenges the bottom line of a single powerful industry. It's pathetic!"
The Current TV co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize recipient pinned the blame on legislators' increasing dependence on large cash donations, primarily from powerful corporate interests.
He bemoaned the changes on Capitol Hill since he first was elected to Congress in 1976, taking over a Tennessee House seat formerly occupied his father. Gore insisted that 30 years ago, he was able to focus on the needs of his constituents, whereas today, most politicians are primarily influenced by the five hours per day they spend raising money from large donors.
"It's a lot of good people trapped in a very bad system," he said. "If you spend five hours a day begging rich people for money, when you vote, you're naturally going to be thinking about the effect your vote is going to have on your fundraising calls the next day."
Gore was on hand to give the inaugural speech in a lecture series honoring renowned Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider, his close friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient who died in 2010.
Gore, who recently released his fifth book, "The Future," earlier this year, also slammed the news media for failing to give an accurate representation of what he called "the overwhelming scientific consensus" on climate change.
"We are a great nation that repeatedly makes decisions based on false information," he said, noting that during last year's president election--a cycle that saw more debate than any other in history--nary a question was asked about global warming.
"The same news media that misinformed everyone about the Iraq War keeps people in the dark about climate change," he added.