Unlike a lot of people I know, I am not overly concerned about the outcome of the presidential election of 2008.
If the winner is someone named Guiliani, Clinton, Thompson, Romney or McCain or even Obama or Edwards – and from the current looks of things, it will be one of those people – the results will not be catastrophic. The differences will be more minor than we expect and overwhelmed by history.
I know this not just because the supposedly more pacifistic Democrats finally admitted in the last debate that they just might not be out of Iraq by 2013. Nor is it because they have all acknowledged a nuclear-armed Iran as a non-starter.
I know this because I believe in my heart that had Al Gore been elected president in 2000 (and as we all know he almost was – he won the popular vote), he would be just as knee deep in the War on Terror as George Bush is right now and fighting it in more or less the same manner. He would be in Iraq.
Yes, you read me correctly. Forget the Nobel Prize and the global warming Oscar, if Al Gore had been elected in ’00, he’d be burning excess Air Force One fuel, jetting behind the lines to Anbar Province, dealing with an ornery (possibly antiwar) opposition party and doing his best to ignore wretched poll numbers, a hostile media and whacko Code Pink demonstrators (not to mention his quondam allies on the Moveon-Kos end of his party who by now would be calling for his impeachment).
You may not believe me, but I don’t even think it’s much of a stretch, certainly no grand fictional scheme à la Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America in which Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in the election of 1940 and the U. S. opts out of World War II. The Clinton-Gore administration wasn’t the least bit afraid to use force. Erratic about it – maybe. Insecure about it – maybe. But pacifist? Ask Milosevic.
In fact, Bill and Al are the guys who started the whole democracy promotion thing. They could even be called … neocons. (They as much as anybody. Having been called one myself on occasion, I’m still confused about what it means. I find Leo Strauss impenetrable.)
So what do you think a President Gore would have done after 9/11? An invasion of Afghanistan would have been a slam dunk, but do you imagine he would have stopped there?
Gore himself wants us to believe that he would have. In an often-quoted address from September 2002 the former Vice President opposed giving Bush the power to wage war in Iraq and warned against the dangers of “nation building,” largely because there was, he said, no specific connection between Saddam and terrorists. Of course ten years earlier he said precisely the opposite when opposing Bush père. Then he attacked Bush I for ignoring Saddam’s links to terrorism.
This kind of flip-flop is of course normal for almost any politician when out of office – you oppose the incumbent – so it tells us very little about what that person would do when in office, if indeed the politician knows himself. As for whether Saddam would or did cooperate with the terrorists, I have absolutely no inside intelligence knowledge. But common sense – and a cursory reading of The Godfather – would dictate he would when he thought it was to his advantage and wouldn’t when he didn’t.
So back to the post-9/11 “President Gore” at the critical juncture of late 2002, when the US was taking aim at the brutal Iraqi dictator. What would Al have done? Most leaders of his own party – although they do their best to deny it now – were primed to take out Saddam. Would Al have been among them, leading the charge? Remember – he would have been a presidential winner, not an embittered loser who was denied the prize by a Supreme Court decision. Indeed, he would have been a winner backed up by the popular vote – an American hero flush from victory in Afghanistan against the despicable, misogynist Taliban.
You bet Al Gore would have been in Iraq.
So Gore is perhaps a lucky guy for losing. He gets to fly around – on a private jet or not – bathing in the adulation of the international masses with a Nobel Prize in the offing, while his opponent gets to endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” History plays its tricks.
But my intention here is not to bash Gore – I have done that before on aesthetic grounds. My intention is to illustrate what may be painfully obvious: we have very little idea how the political candidates are going to behave “under fire.”
In fact, we have little idea what anyone is going to do about anything. (It’s not just the Nixon-in-China thing. It is now generally accepted that the same supposedly conservative Milhouse was responsible for the most positive environmental legislation of the modern era.) I won’t be betting that way at the voting booth, but the most determinedly “left wing” of the major Democratic candidates, John Edwards, could end up being the one to take it most firmly to the Islamofascists, just the way he took it to the medical community. After all, Edwards was the most “right wing” of the leading Dems back in ‘O4. He’s made a miraculous switcheroo, most likely motivated by the positions of his opponents.
So it goes – and that’s my point. When listening to what today’s candidates are saying – whether about Iraq or anything else – ignore James Carville’s famous words “It’s the economy, stupid!” They’re so 1992. Remember these words. They’re good for 1002, 2002 and probably 10002….
It’s the power, stupid.
Roger L. Simon is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, novelist and blogger.
Art by Oleg Atbashian