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 What Would Gore Have Done? 

June 20, 2006 
paragraph indentGiven 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, Today's column is "060620" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.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.

paragraph indentFor 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.

paragraph indentIn 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.

paragraph indentIronically, 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.

paragraph indentFor 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.

paragraph indentUnder 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.

[Breaker quote for What Would Gore Have Done?: If only ...]paragraph indentStill, 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.

paragraph indentThe 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 superfluous.

paragraph indentIt 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.

paragraph indentEven 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.

paragraph indentThe 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.”

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

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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