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A hot time in wonkville

By RICK HOROWITZ

He still does that thing with his voice. You know the thing I mean, don't you? Where he makes his voice all deep and dark like he's some old-time radio announcer or something? Well, he's still doing it. That hasn't changed a bit.

And those dramatic sighs — he was still doing those dramatic sighs, too, just like he did in the debates. The last thing congressmen or senators want is somebody sighing at them from the witness table, but it's like he couldn't help himself. They'd ask him something, or make some kind of comment he was supposed to respond to, and before he'd say whatever it was he was going to say, he'd make this big sighing sound.

"OK," the sigh was saying. "Let me see if I can explain this so that even you can understand it."

A little of that goes a long way — and that's even before you get to his being such a showoff.

I mean, did anybody really need to hear about the Ice Age, and the tilt of the earth's axis and the wobble in the earth's orbit, and how many thousands of years this particular cycle takes compared to that particular cycle, and what it all means for how much methane stays frozen in the polar ice caps, and — Al Gore's a show-off, and a know-it-all — no two ways about it. He's the wonky kid who always has his hand up first with the answer. He's the one who wants the whole class to know he didn't do just the homework, but the extra-credit research, too. Don't you just hate that?

And he's as big as a house. Can you even imagine this guy on a bicycle?

They'd have to put in reinforcements! Ha!

It's embarrassing — that's what it is. It's like he doesn't even care about looking presidential anymore. So why should anybody else care about it?

But didn't you find yourself wondering, even for a second? Watching him up there, I mean, with all his facts and his figures and such-and-such a report and such-and-such a study? Didn't you wonder even a little what it would have been like?

Not that everything would have been different. It's never that simple:

Replace one guy with another guy and everything changes. I don't buy it.

Global warming? Sure. If Al Gore had been president, we'd have been paying more attention to global warming. We wouldn't have wasted years saying, "We're still not sure, so let's not do anything." That would have been different.

Some other things like that. Domestic things.

Scandals? You can't rule them out. There'd have been lots of money around, and lots of power. Those temptations are hard to avoid, no matter which party's in charge.

9/11 still would have happened. 9/11 still would have happened anyway, almost certainly, and we'd still have gone after al-Qaida in Afghanistan. We might even still be there.

Iraq? Probably not. Maybe not. Saddam Hussein hadn't tried to assassinate Al Gore's father, the way he tried to assassinate George Bush's father, so it wouldn't have gotten so personal. And Gore might have done a better job of weighing the risks of going into Iraq, the risks of setting a match to a Sunni-Shiite tinderbox.

Al Gore might actually have heard of the Sunnis and the Shiites.

But he still could have made the wrong call. Being a know-it-all doesn't keep you from messing up, from getting in over your head. It was "the best and the brightest" who got us stuck in Vietnam, wasn't it? Besides, nobody said Cheney wasn't smart, or Rumsfeld, or Powell. They were plenty smart, with plenty of experience. It didn't do them any good, did it?

So policy-wise, and even result-wise, maybe it would have come out exactly the same way. There's no way to prove otherwise. But watching Al Gore sitting there and testifying — even with the old-time-radio voice and those dramatic sighs, even with all the showing off — didn't you wonder even a little?

Didn't you wonder what it would have been like to have somebody in the Oval Office who'd actually taken the time to think about things, who cared enough to make the effort to inform himself and to stay informed, whose grasp of crucial issues was more than briefing-paper deep, and who didn't make you hold your breath every time he opened his mouth? Somebody different from the current occupant, for instance?

It's embarrassing — that's what it is.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at rickhoro@execpc.com.