Date: March, 2007
Location: A parallel universe, where every vote counts
He leans over the podium all folksy with one arm braced, bent at the elbow, his head tilted at the slightest angle. A Cheshire cat grin inhabits his features, though he's quite possibly the dumbest person in the room. A member of the press stands up and asks a question about a war of choice sold on lies that has spiraled downward into bloodshed and chaos. The man at the podium tries his damndest to remove the smirk from his face as he responds in incomplete sentences littered with canned catchphrases, mispronunciations, and zombie-like repetition of his favorite word, "terrorist," a word that settles all matters in his uncluttered mind.
The assembled media dutifully stenograph the response for millions of readers on strict spoonfed diets as another so-called reporter is called on with a cute nickname, a habit the leader of the free world picked up during his time in college sports, when he watched athletes from the sidelines as a cheerleader at Yale. The nickname is meant to establish an illusory familiarity that reflects the privileged president's common touch. The question is about Medicaid cuts in the president's budget.
The man behind the podium suddenly stands up, in umbrage that he, a good Christian, could be accused of not caring about the poor. He shakes his finger in the air and preaches in fragments of how tax cuts for the richest of the rich will grow the economy and trickle down to the neediest. Moreover, he continues, as foam flecks at the corners of his mouth, a nation under attack has no choice but to shift spending from social programs to national DE-fense. "I'll stop at nothing to protect the American people," he says with a crowning fist-slam to the podium.
I bolt upright in bed and turn the light on. I've had this nightmare for going on six years now. Calmly, to restore my sanity, I recall the facts: in December of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in keeping with past decisions, refused to encroach on states' rights and allowed a proper recount to be done in Florida. A later study of the ballots would show that Gore would've won by tens of thousands of votes had voter intent been directly reflected in the actual vote count, but due to the mass disenfranchisement of minorities and a faulty ballot design in Palm Beach that cost Gore 6,500 votes, Gore had squeaked into office by just 112 votes.
Not much more than a year into his presidency, Gore led the international coalition that rousted the medieval Taliban and its Al Qeada allies from Afghanistan, and kept them out with a long-term troop commitment. On the domestic front, Gore was stymied by a Republican House of Representatives, so he continued Bill Clinton's practice of enacting policy changes through administrative re-writes and executive orders. A competent, clean and open administration buoyed by the national unity received and massaged after 9/11 narrowly won Gore a second term in 2004, though the Republicans took the Senate back due to Democratic retirements in the South.
All this thinking gets me keyed up so I roll out of bed, grab a towel and walk out to the bathroom.
As my legs move freely and my bare feet feel the cold hardwood floor, the nightmare continues to recede into the bulky file of historical what-ifs.
In the bathroom the water comes on; I train the shower nozzle over my palm and turn the heat up. The warmth runs over my hand and through my body. As I disrobe and step under the flow, I touch the wall as one last check. It does not move.
By late morning I saunter out into a typically immaculate March San Francisco day: warm temperatures, a sky blue but for wispy white jet trails, a light breeze whispering in from the ocean. I buy a Sunday New York Times at a corner liquor store and head to my favorite cafe. The place spills over with twenty and thirty-something bohemians and poseurs hiding behind banks of Apples, and the line to the counter is ten people deep. Everyone's out today, doing something fun (there haven't been so many weekend mega-protests these past few years.) I see a table open up so I ditch the line, spread my newspaper over the table, and drape my jacket over the adjacent chair.
Five minutes later I sit down with a depth charge and begin to read all the news that's fit to print. I have major concerns about the future of the planet, but the United States, at least, seems to be moving in the right direction on many fronts. On the inside of the front page, in the news summaries, I scan the latest developments in Washington. On page A6, there's an article about President Gore's unwillingness to play ball with the Republicans on a "TORT reform" measure that will screw consumers and downsize corporate accountability, a "bankruptcy reform" bill that will further victimize poor people with burgeoning health bills, or staggeringly expensive tax cuts for the rich. Gore's fiscal discipline has helped produce a growing budget surplus that is shoring up Social Security for the tidal wave of Baby Boomers about to retire.
On page A11, there's a lengthy piece on the aggressive actions Gore's EPA has taken in court to sue polluters and protect wetlands, forests and the Endangered Species Act from parasitic business interests. On page A12 there's an analysis of Gore's latest budget proposal, which includes big increases for healthcare, childcare, education, public transit, stem cell research, and alternative energy sources, and on page A16, there's a story by Linda Greenhouse on Gore's two Supreme Court picks, who have narrowly saved Roe v. Wade, Affirmative Action, labor rights, and a whole host of fundamental freedoms from the right-wing chopping block.
Once I've plowed through the news section I read the editorials, but they don't have a lot of gravity. The country is at peace, the economy is recovering, and Gore's steady centrism, with some pitches to the left, doesn't create the kind of toxic political environment that inspires pungent commentary (other than among talk radio Neanderthals and their utopiated mirror image brethren on the chimerical left).
I start in on the Book Review section, get through about half of it, and bail.
At home I flop down in my papasan chair and turn on the tv. I rip through seventy or eighty or who knows how many channels past sports events and cooking programs and sitcoms and reality tv and talk shows and World War II docs until I come to C-Span.
Standing at a podium is Tony Blair, the popular Prime Minister of Great Britain who is likely to win a third landslide when he calls England's next election. Not ten feet away is Al Gore, standing razorback straight and stiff in a navy blue suit with his hands folded in front of him, laughing, nodding or clapping on cue, as if by computer command.
Gore and Blair are doing a world tour to promote the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse gases. Kyoto does not go nearly far enough, but it's a start, and I'm not in the habit of blaming politicians for their constituencies' sense of resource entitlement--Gore's proposals to raise CAFE standards and the gas tax were rejected without debate by Republicans (and red state Democrats) in Congress because the majority of Americans refuse to take the higher ground until they feel a pinch in their pocketbook. This deeply ingrained cult of selfishness and the political and media organs that sustain it box Gore out on his left: much as I wish otherwise, the center of gravity in America's political sphere is peopled by Protestant soccer moms from the Midwest and Catholic NASCAR dads from the Southwest, not secular San Francisco liberals.
The Kyoto initiative is but one of many international agreements Gore has signed or negotiated, along with treaties restricting germ warfare, torture and offshore tax havens and agreements promoting sustainable development and protecting women's health in the third world. Gore's humble, cooperative stances have solidified the vast international good will generated by 9/11 and reinforced the multifaith global drive to crush Al Qeada. Like Clinton, Gore tends to encounter throngs of well-wishers when he travels abroad, and soon I can see why, as he steps up to take questions from the press.
Though Gore has won two victories at the ballot box and led an administration free of major scandals, the "liberal media's" hostility toward him continues unabated, as evidenced by the adversarial tone of the opening question, about the most recent cat and mouse game being played by Saddam Hussein, who refuses to allow inspectors into Iraq to check for nuclear weapons.
Gore's attention to the question trails off as he smiles to himself at the latest macho posturing from the right, yet he continues to look the questioner straight in the face out of political protocol. Gore's answer is a miniature essay on the reasons an invasion of Iraq will not work, including religious differences going back over a thousand years, a lack of resources while our troops protect Afghanistan, the enormous costs such an invasion would entail, and the fact that Saddam Hussein in no way represents an imminent national security threat.
On one level I can't help but indulge the frame of reference of all too many ADD-addled voters: he's the same old wooden, dorky Professor Gore, speaking slowly with exaggerated elocution, cautious about every word, explaining every detail like he's talking to an idiot- what comedian Will Durst once referred to as "the human dialtone."
And yet, rising above simplistic and shallow surface reads to higher truths, I appreciate that the words come in long, complete, perfectly-formed sentences, one thought seamlessly flowing into the next, reflecting a lifetime of learning and observing and questioning and expanding and most importantly, a firm grasp of the way his decisions affect the public and the grave moral responsibility that resides in this power. Would that we were always so fortunate.