What Would Gore Have Done?
Given the Bush administrations spectacular record of across-the-board bungling in nearly everything it does, its 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 wouldnt have dominated his bosss 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 sons. Gore shared the imperial premise of every administration since World
For better or worse, Gore is a more moderate personality than Bush, less inclined to swagger and defiance. Hes a Beltway guy, not a bring-it-on Yosemite Sam. But its 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. Its 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 Yorks 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 Suskinds 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 hasnt 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.
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 havent learned the lesson. They dont 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 Bushs maladroit Machiavels.
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