Sunday, May 6, 2012

What if George W. Bush had been elected president?

Another of my blog's top of the pops, from October 13, 2004:

With the election only a few weeks away, I've decided to take a break from wondering whether Gore's bigger threat is McCain or Nader and instead indulge in a little speculation, inspired by Patrick Nielsen Hayden imagining the horrors of a hypothetical Bush presidency.

Now, this game is a little hard to play, considering that Gore won by half a million votes. But let's grant Patrick's premise:
  1. The U.S. still has the blatantly undemocratic Electoral College.
  2. Republican officials in Florida use every legal and quasi-legal trick to suppress or discredit votes for Gore.
  3. Gore makes the mistake of asking for a recount in a only a few counties instead of the whole state.
  4. The Supreme Court compromises its integrity by halting the exercise of democracy and gives the presidency to George W. Bush.

Though it's hard to imagine Bush in the White House instead of facing hard time for the Enron/Halliburton fiascos, alternative history doesn't have to be easy. So, where would we be under a Bush presidency?

Let's start with the Republican strength, the economy. Gore struggled with the economic downturn early in his term and barely has us back on track. You can depend on Republicans to be fiscally conservative. Bush would have built on Clinton's success in turning around the deficit. Now, he might not have done as well as Gore because he would have insisted on tax cuts for the rich and for corporations. But consider this possibility: To make those tax cuts palatable to the American people, he would've had to give something in return. My guess? Universal health care. Remember, it's not a partisan issue. Nixon tried to come up with universal health care. Bush, with a Republican Congress, could have succeeded. And, if he had, I wouldn't mind if the debt wasn't shrinking as fast as it has under Gore. Heck, I wouldn't even mind if Bush was running a small deficit.

International relations wouldn't be that different either. With sanctions and inspections working in Iraq, Bush also would have kept the pressure on Israel to create a viable Palestine. Frankly, peace in the Middle East was inevitable.

And I think Patrick, in his bit of alternate history, knows that. In the most rigorous exercises in science fiction, you change one detail and see what happens. Instead, Patrick piles assumption upon assumption to create an impossibly inept Bush administration:

1. Even though the Clinton administration warned its successor that Al Quaida was the biggest threat facing the U.S., Patrick assumes that Bush would spend much of the year on vacation and his incompetence would fail to stop the hijack attempt in September of 2001. Sure, Bush would hardly have met Gore's record for the fewest vacation days of any presidency, but to think that Bush would sleepwalk through his first year isn't science fiction; it's pure fantasy.

2. But suppose Bush did fail to stop the hijackers for whatever reason. With that wake-up call, he would've turned all his attention to capturing Bin Laden and breaking up Al Quaida. I'll grant Patrick's scenario of invading Afghanistan. But suggesting that Bush would have failed there, too, and then attacked Iraq without real international support is moving us from fantasy to farce.

3. I think the hardest part of Patrick's scenario for me is this: He imagines a Bush who reverses Clinton's record and creates the greatest deficit in history, whose wars in Afghanistan and Iraq result in two unstable countries, who adds a million people to the unemployment rolls and millions more to the number without health care, and with all this, the election between Bush and his Democratic opponent is up for grabs?

Patrick, I love you, man, but you've been reading too much science fiction.