The Reactionary Utopian
                      June 20, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     Given the Bush administration's spectacular record 
of across-the-board bungling in nearly everything it 
does, it's tempting to think we might have been better 
off if Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000. Try as I 
may, I can hardly imagine Gore being worse than the 
dubious victor, if only because he would probably have 
been more cautious, or at least more constrained.

     For one thing, President Gore would have been 
checked by the Republican Congress that has loyally 
backed Bush in his worst excesses. We can assume that 
Gore would have felt forced to react strongly to the 9/11 
attacks, and Vice President Joe Lieberman might have been 
as hawkish as Dick Cheney; but Lieberman wouldn't have 
dominated his boss's thinking as Cheney has.

     In his new book, THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE, Ron 
Suskind notes that Cheney was nicknamed "Edgar" within 
the CIA, in allusion to the old radio-era ventriloquist 
Edgar Bergen, implying that Bush was the dummy. So in 
thrall to his neocon advisors was Bush that important 
information and documents were often withheld from him; 
he did as he was told, or "advised," keeping his own 
"plausible deniability" as his War on Terror quickly 
became the misconceived war on Iraq.

     Ironically, a Gore presidency might have been more 
like the first Bush administration than the son's. Gore 
shared the imperial premise of every administration since 
World War II, that the United States must keep hegemony 
in the Middle East (have to control that oil, you know), 
but he'd probably have stopped short of trying to topple 
regimes and spread democracy all over the place. Gore 
would have bungled too, no doubt, but differently, and 
less disastrously.

     For better or worse, Gore is a more moderate 
personality than Bush, less inclined to swagger and 
defiance. He's a Beltway guy, not a bring-it-on Yosemite 
Sam. But it's more than a difference of temperament; 
again, the slight Republican majority would have hedged 
him in, as it did Bill Clinton after 1994.

     Under Bush, the Republicans have gone liberal, 
breaking all records for Federal spending and deficits. 
It's safe to say they would have insisted on some 
restraint with Gore in the White House.

     Still, we can only guess at what might have been. 
The natural tendency of government is to grow, and when 
one party dominates it during wartime, with the wonderful 
excuse of national security, there are few limits. 
Suskind reports that in early 2003 al-Qaeda planned, but 
canceled, a poison-gas attack in New York's subways; even 
if this had failed, the reaction would have made the 
panic after 9/11 seem like a drowsy yawn.

     The real story of the Bush years, as Suskind's 
account tends to confirm in its way, has been the 
continued expansion of executive power, trenchantly 
described from another angle by Elizabeth Drew in THE NEW 
YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. Not that you can call Bush a 
mastermind of this expansion, which he hardly 
comprehends; he hasn't vetoed a spending bill yet, but he 
claims the right to decide which laws he will enforce, 
which pretty much makes the other branches of government 

     It has taken this "conservative" president to give 
liberals second thoughts about their long adulation of 
executive power; and if they want to call the 
Constitution a "living document," whose meaning depends 
on the whims of those interpreting it at the moment, 
well, he has shown them that two can play that game too. 
But this is a pretty costly way to give liberals 
elementary civics lessons.

     Even now, they haven't learned the lesson. They 
don't really want to control executive power or prevent 
its abuse; they just want to win it back. If only Gore 
had won in 2000! Or Kerry in 2004! Can we have Hillary in 
2008? For them, the only problem of power is a personnel 
problem: somehow the wrong people have gotten hold of it.

     The Republicans hold a mirror image of the same 
view, feeling that power is in the hands of the right 
people. "As long as Congress stays firmly in Republican 
hands," Andrew Bacevich writes, "executive responsibility 
will remain a theoretical proposition." One result of 
this monopoly of power, he concludes, is a war "that may 
yet beggar the debacle of Vietnam."

     Whatever harm President Gore might have done, he 
could hardly have surpassed the mess made by Bush's 
maladroit Machiavels.


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