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Alternate alternate reality

This makes my head spin: from an alternate reality in which Gore won the Presidency of the USA, comes a critique of an imagined alternate reality in which Bush won the presidency of the USA:

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.

It doesn't link to any specific piece by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, unfortunately. Some of the comments are a hoot, though:

Actually, Patrick's scenario has been a popular one to kick around out here ever since he back-of-the-enveloped it: there's a lot of my friends (Nader voters and not) who are still rattled by the bullet we dodged in 2000. I don't think he's gone too far in the level of incompetence he ascribes to a hypothetical Bush administration: keep in mind Bush's disastrous business career, and the fact that his only major elected office was the governorship of Texas: a largely symoblic position. (Even the lieutenant governor has more power.) So it's not hard to believe a Bush administration might fuck up its first term so badly. Maybe Patrick's a wee bit lurid, over the top, but it's within the bounds of poetic license.

His scenario falls down, I think, in the idea that it could still go on fucking up, for four whole years. The level of incompetence, and the resulting level of mendacity and bad faith necessary to cover up that incompetence, would be incredibly rich grounds for scandal. There's no way our Fourth Estate, already stung by accusations of right-wing bias in its handling of Clinton's impeachment, would give a Bush administration any break at all. For Patrick's scenario to run its course would require a ridiculously compliant press and a Republican party that is unbelievably lockstep-loyal to power and personality over principle and responsibility—and while I'm as willing to trash-talk the meddlesome right as much as the next fellow, that sort of caricature is beyond all but the most rabidly partisan.

As a for instance: the sheer incompetence necessary to fuck up Iraq as badly as it is in Patrick's scenario, plus the nakedly crony capitalism he posits in the resulting occupation, would set off front pages and nightly newscasts around the country. The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State would be forced to resign, at the very least. —And that's assuming the press and the Democrats even let Bush have his Iraq war. Patrick has to actually plant an aggressive Saddam Hussein with a credible WMD program to pull that off: yet another counterfactual.

(Via The Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill again.)


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