[Note: Continually thinking about how disastrous the last seven years have been, I did some imagining and research on what the world would be like if Al Gore had become president in 2001. Such a process is really about how important it is to elect the right president. I asked friends and acquaintances for their ideas, I read books by and about Gore, and I watched again his September 2000 interview with Oprah Winfrey, where I learned about his favorite book and movie and his art teacher. Here are some of my findings.]
The Presidency of Al Gore, 2001-2009
On January 20, 2001, Al Gore, the candidate who won the most votes, becomes the 43rd president of the United States.
President Gore follows up on the many urgent warnings from the intelligence agencies that Osama Bin Laden is determined to strike in the United States. The 9/11 planners are caught, and their plots are aborted.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban warns that it will destroy the two giant 1,500-year-old statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. Much of the world sees these serene figures as symbols of wisdom beyond time, but they offend conservative Muslims. Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke talks with the Pakistani foreign minister, who reminds him that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and suggests that if aid to the poor there is increased, the Buddhas will be spared. Gore calls the American Buddhist actor Richard Gere, who immediately raises $50 million for the Afghani poor, and the Gore administration promises $5 billion in direct aid over the next five years. The Taliban agrees to preserve the statues.
Gore's favorite film, Local Hero, the Scots eco-comedy, becomes a best-selling DVD. The film is about how ancient values of subsistence, closeness to nature, and community defeat the rapacious forces of the oil industry. People like quoting the old Scot who puts the kibosh on the oilmen: "The business left, but the beach is still here."
Republicans are squawking that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a threat to the safety of the country, that he has weapons of mass destruction. Gore asks the United Nations to send its weapons inspectors back into Iraq, and after six months of searching, they find none. Saddam is in what Eliot Weinberger calls "the 'autumn of the patriarch' mode: holed up in his palaces writing his trashy novels, and oblivious to the details of government." Gore brokers a deal in which Saddam's novels are translated into English and published and he agrees to slowly loosen up some of the restrictions on the Kurds and Shias and bring them into the government.
In 1998, as vice president, Gore proposed a NASA satellite, Triana, to provide, from a distance of 930,000 miles, a continuous view of the sunlit side of the earth. Triana would measure global warming by measuring how much sunlight is reflected and emitted from the earth and would monitor weather systems. Triana is built and launched in February 2003. In late 2004, it sends back images of the beginnings of a great tsunami that might have killed hundreds of thousands if it had gone undetected in its early stages. But Triana's continual data feed allows people to be warned to flee to higher ground, and only a few dozen perish.
The president's favorite book, Stendahl's The Red and the Black, becomes a bestseller. People like quoting the book's young hero, Julien Sorel: "So there, this is what these rich people are like. First they humiliate you, then they think they can make it up to you by monkey business!"
Recognizing that nothing good can come from the continuing Israeli-Palestinian standoff, Gore sends Holbrooke and Vice President Joe Lieberman to broker a peace. In May the two sides sign a peace accord, in which Israel agrees to go back to the 1967 boundaries, the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist, and both sides renounce violence. The Republic of Palestine is founded in 2002.
President Gore has a nightmare: He becomes president on January 20, 2001, but the next day he is incapacitated, and Lieberman becomes president. In the spirit of the close election, Lieberman appoints George W. Bush as vice president on January 22. The next day Lieberman is incapacitated, and Bush becomes president and appoints Dick Cheney his vice president. The Bush-Cheney presidency starts January 23, not January 20. Immediately Bush begins abrogating treaties of long standing that kept the world at peace. Terrorists destroy the World Trade Center on September 14, 2001. Bush enacts draconian laws that make America a police state. People constantly refer to "9/14" as the day that changed everything. President Gore wakes up in his bed in the White House in a cold sweat, the dream disappearing from his conscious mind but the numbers 9 and 14 puzzling and haunting him at odd moments for the rest of his days.
As vice president, Gore signed the Kyoto Accord on Climate Change in 1998, but there were not enough votes to ratify it in the Congress, and there still are not. President Gore, however, is able to implement most elements of the treaty by executive order. He begins a process of education about global warming and publishes a book on the subject. He sponsors twenty-four hours of concerts with rock and pop stars, Live Earth, on every continent, and broadcast on television, radio, and the Web to raise awareness about climate change and global warming. A third of the planet's population watches and hears the concerts and has a pretty good time in the process. Soon every nation has ratified Kyoto, and the climate crisis begins to ebb. The temperatures of the oceans stop rising, and thus the severity of hurricanes stops increasing.
Early in 2001, acting on urgent warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, the president directs that the New Orleans levees be reinforced and where necessary rebuilt, and the nearby wetlands protected and expanded. When hurricane Katrina strikes in August 2005, the wetlands absorb much of the flooding, the reinforced levees hold, and New Orleans suffers only minor damage.
People start reading Gore's favorite philosophers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, and Reinhold Niebuhr. They quote passages like this from Merleau: "We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." And this from Niebuhr: "The sin of man arises from his effort to establish his own security; and the sin of the false prophet lies in the effort to include this false security within the ultimate security of faith. The false security to which all men are tempted is the security of power. The primary insecurity of human life arises from its weakness and finiteness."
The United States and the nations of the former Soviet Union agree to destroy the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons built up during the Cold War. The president halts and junks the Star Wars strategic defense initiative boondoggle. Every nation signs a treaty to begin eliminating their weapons of mass destruction. The military-industrial complex must now make a transition. Converting the country, and the world, to alternative energy sources other than fossil fuel and nuclear becomes a new growth industry.
The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom continues, as does the close relationship between the progressive governments of Tony Blair and Al Gore, begun under Bill Clinton. As planned, Blair carries through the New Labour vision of the New Jerusalem, with higher quality of life and better public services, similar to those in France. In 2008, he is re-elected for an unprecedented fourth term.
President Clinton had twice shaken hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and now President Gore sends Holbrooke to Caracas to draft a treaty of cooperation with Chávez. Gore arrives in the Venezuelan capital, where he and Chavez sign the treaty. Later, they talk about their mutual love of Victor Hugo's great novel of the dispossessed, Les Misérables. Chávez tells Gore that he was named for its author. They quote from memory lines from the great book. Gore remembers this, about Jean Valjean: "Then he asked himself if it was not a serious thing that he, a workman, could not have found work and that he, an industrious man, should have been without bread." Chávez responds with what Jean Valjean's savior, the Bishop of Digne, says: "Jean Valjean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you." Gore replies with this about the inspector who hunts Valjean: "Javert was always in character, without a wrinkle in his duty or his uniform, methodical with villains, rigid with his coat buttons." Chávez says this about Fantine: "What is this story of Fantine about? It is about society buying a slave. From whom? From misery. From hunger, from cold, fron loneliness, from desertion, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a piece of bread."
Gore and Howard Dean, his Health and Human Services Secretary, begin having regular discussions with Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, about that country's single-payer health care system. Gore plans to introduce universal health care in the United States step by step. His health care bill, narrowly passed in 2001, covers all those age eighteen and under by 2004, and everyone else by 2007.
The president invites to the White House the person who had the most influence on him, his high school art teacher. The Smithsonian exhibits some of Gore's paintings.
By a few votes in each house, Congress passes Gore's tax cuts for middle- and lower-income people. But also by a few votes in each house, the Congress passes tax cuts for the rich and super-rich, which Gore vetoes. The rich and super-rich continue paying their same rate. Soon, the gap between rich and poor, which has been increasing since the Reagan administration began in 1981, begins decreasing.
The undamming of rivers, begun seriously under Clinton/Gore, continues, and the ancient vibrant river life of salmon, shad, freshwater dolphin, and manatee returns.
U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan becomes a Chaplain's Assistant. In 2005, his tour of duty up, he returns to California to visit his mother, Cindy.
A bird alights on a Bamiyan Buddha.
The polar bears are swimming north and flourishing.