May 11th, 2006

Election 2008: Back From the Future, Again

by Philip Baruth

In my last novel, The X President, I wanted to create a three-part portrait of Bill Clinton: a 109-year-old BC, the 16-year-old who shook JFK’s hand in the Rose Garden, and then — after putting those two contexts in place — the President Clinton we all thought we knew so well.

And so it became a politics/time-travel novel. It wasn’t what I set out to do, believe me, but there it is.

At one point in the narrative, Sal Hayden — Clinton’s only authorized biographer — gets to thinking about time travel itself, and she realizes that it’s a useful category for thinking about other sorts of ways that people mentally reconcile past and future.

Here’s Sal on the 2000 election, Gore v. Bush, for instance:

“The 2000 election wasn’t about qualifications or issues or character, or any of the other things normally thought to decide an election. It was about sending BC a message of displeasure, but a message of an amazing sort. It was about returning to a forked moment in history, and choosing the fork untraveled.

“Here was George W. Bush, so much like a younger and more politically agile version of his father that he might have been genetically engineered, running against Al Gore, which is to say against the entire BC era. In the minds and the emotions of the voters it was Bush vs. BC, the 1992 election, all over again. And they chose Bush that time around, not by a landslide, not even by a clear plurality, but they chose him. It was like putting the whole BC era under a strange kind of erasure.

“That was what galled BC, what ailed him decades later, that the voters had gone back in time and revoted the election that swept BC into the White House as the candidate of change. The 2000 election was about time travel, I realize.”

I thought about this quote yesterday, as I was reading the results of the latest NY Times polling. The numbers are enough to set GOP consultants hair afire, of course, but what jumped out at me was a quote from a follow-up interview with one Bernice Davis, a Republican from Lamar, Missouri.

bushBernice had this to say of The Decider:

“We should have stayed out of Iraq until we knew more about it. The economy is going to pot. Gas prices are escalating. I just voted for Bush because he was a Republican, even though I disapproved of the war. If I could go back, I would not vote for him.”

If I could go back, I would not vote for him.

That’s when it hit me: the 2008 election will be a double-reverse in emotional political time-travel, assuming that Al Gore throws his hat in the ring — and if you think Gore intends to let an election with no Republican incumbent slip by, you don’t know the man very well.

Think about it: Bush was brought in mostly out of displeasure with Bill Clinton, and the feeling that maybe 1992 hadn’t produced the best outcome (impeachment, Starr reports, etc.). And magically, there was another Bush on the ballot, like ‘92 all over again.

Now, after two terms of Bush — two terms marked by rampant cronyism, two major American cities devastated, two wars, the last of which grinds on and on, as well as the disappearance of trillions in surplus, these replaced by hundreds of billions in deficits — how many of the American people share Bernice Davis’s yearning for something that feels, emotionally speaking, like time travel? How many want to re-reverse their decision one more time?

In discussing a Gore candidacy, I’ve heard many people wonder what the US would be like today if all the votes had been counted in 2000.

It’s an imaginative premise that would make the foundation of a dynamite speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention. A speech delivered by Obama, in his soft, trademark tone, and introducing the party’s nominee: Al Gore, who takes the stage and bows his head.

And then all of those millions and millions of people who derided Gore in 2000 — as a fabricator, as stiff, as too desperate for election, as too aggressive, too timid — all of those people will be touched by more emotion than they would have thought possible, and no one will really be able to say why.

Late Update, 11:20 am:

Apparently Ann Coulter shares VDB’s vision of the future. She called Gore the Democrats’ “perfect candidate in 2008″ — which she meant by way of insult, of course. But really, if Ann Coulter is already trying to ridicule him, Gore must be on radar screens somewhere in the vast Right Wing.

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  1. on May 25th, 2006 at 3:00 am

    […] And you feel for him, to put it mildly. As VDB has argued recently, that feeling may make all the difference. […]