Gore Agonistes

The scene: Midnight, Tuesday, in a mansion in the city. Inside, on the second floor, a handsome man with dark hair and sharp but fleshy features thrashes about on a king-size bed. He can’t sleep. It’s the noise. They’re chanting outside, across the street—“GET OUT OF DICK CHENEY’S HOUSE! GET OUT OF DICK CHENEY’S HOUSE!”

Close-up: The man in the bed puts a pillow over his head, around his ears. We hear his muffled internal dialogue:

“I’m gonna win this thing one way or the other, mark my words. Tie it up in the courts. Tie it up in controversy. I’ll exhaust Bush into conceding for the good of the nation. Heck, time I’m done I’ll exhaust the nation into conceding.

“Why not? What do I lose? If I win I win—everything. If I lose I still get to make a gracious-loser speech and say all I was looking for was justice. A really great ‘Profiles in Courage’ type speech. If we can get those yokel judges to string this thing along we can win back public opinion, and even if at the end I don’t win by a dozen votes I’ll still have clouded Bush’s victory even more.

*   *   *

“If I walk now what do I get? Nothing. I’ll be nothing. This is my life. What am I gonna do, run a government in exile? Who’d join? No one in the party likes me. What will I do with my resume? Go home and run? I couldn’t even carry Tennessee. Make speeches at 50, 75 grand a pop? What does that get me? Tipper’s no litigator. And Hillary could steal my thunder. A Clinton-Gore showdown in 2004—I’ll lose that battle. In a primary she’ll roast my chestnuts on an open fire, with Jack Frost nipping at my nose! Bill Clinton will help her—I’m Sore Loserman who blew the patrimony.

“I thought my speech Monday night was good. The flags, the emotion—‘A vote is not just a piece of paper. A vote is a human voice . . .’ I thought I got it across that this isn’t about me. I’m protecting democracy.

“Learned that from Bill. The impeachment, Monica, the mess. He went around saying ‘This isn’t about me, this is about protecting the Constitution.’ So that’s what he was doing. Talk about multitasking! But it worked.

“Nobody caught the tense I used the other night when I talked about the outcome. ‘If the American people choose me, so be it. If they choose Governor Bush, so be it . . .’ Not chose—choose. Future tense for the future president. This election is not over. The campaign is not over. There is no outcome. It must be discovered. In the future.

“The polls are turning against me, so now I’m asking for a full state recount. It’ll take days, weeks, months, to get this all sorted out in court. But I think it makes me look fair.

“I know they’re making fun of me. They think I’m like Rhett in ‘Gone with the Wind’ after his daughter Bonnie Blue dies—he stays in the room with the coffin making believe she’s not dead. They’re all waiting for Miss Mellie to come in and tell me it’s over.

“Well, there is no Miss Mellie. And it’s not over. I get up every day and game-plan, just like I used to. I tell Billy Daley what to do, I tell the speechwriter what I want, I tell Tipper to get out there and wave. We’re only buying ice cream, but so what?

“I saw Bush in his rinky-dink little speech. The way if the prompter doesn’t move quick enough to the next line he stops and waits like a doofus. ‘And so I will create a transition’ pause, pause, pause, ‘team.’ He doesn’t reassure with his strength. I reassure with my strength.

“And Reagan’s. I did a full Reagan imitation Monday night and all Tuesday. I’ve studied the Gipper and do him better than anyone. Why doesn’t anyone tag me on this? Get an old tape of Reagan standing at a lectern, the way he cocked his head, did a little shoulder roll, the good-natured chuckle. Can’t they see I’ve totally ripped Gore Agonistes it all off and put it on like a suit? I’ve become him, his mannerisms are mine! I do this because he was good—and if I seem like him, people will think I’m good.

“But I’m no phony, I’m me: the man who understands media and who tries to seem like other men you like. I’m just looking for the most popular version of me. If the American people would settle down and pick the one they like best—Reagan Gore, Kennedy touch-football Gore—I’d stick with it. I have discipline. But can they decide? No. They lack discipline.

“Speaking of the president. He’s loving all this. Me and Bush get to play the part of the warring children, he gets to play The Wise Judicious One. He gets to wear the Mideast Peace Face—‘Surely we can reason together, Yasser.’ That phony good-natured ‘children will squabble’ look he gets. He likes what’s going on because it makes him feel like—well, not a child. Like a victor. Like the Man Who Didn’t Need a Recount.

“Wait till I’m president and it’s pardon time. I’ll wear my good-natured Children Get Into Trouble face.

“I have friends telling me step back, who wants this dog’s dinner of a presidency that’s coming up? I’ll be Asterisk Boy with an almost even Senate and a split House and no chance to do anything big, and the next guy gets the recession anyway. But maybe not. The economy’s still so strong. And anyway, it looks like Big Bill is getting the dot-com recession. I’ll walk in and turn it around. As for the split Congress, so what? It means I can’t come through on my pledges—the big spending, the budget busting. I never would have gotten it anyway and if I had it would have hurt the economy. So I’ll lay down on spending and get credit for wanting it and credit for bowing to reality and not pushing it. And as for a tax cut, we’ll get one but it won’t be Bush’s big one, it will be my small one.”

Again, chanting from outside. They seem to be saying a poem: “I’ll count the ballots one by one/And hold each one up to the sun!”

Close-up again on the man in the bed:

“The Dr. Seuss poem again. It’s all over the Internet. Everyone’s sent it to me. I hate it. I am not the Cat in the Hat.”

The voices from outside continue: “I won’t leave office! I’m staying here!/I’ve glued my desk chair to my rear!”

The man on the bed:

“When this is over I’m gonna find out the names of those guys and find out what they belong to and I’m gonna put together a RICO suit at Justice . . .”

Voices from outside: “How shall we count this ballot box?/Let’s count it standing in our socks!/Shall we count that in a tree?/And who shall count it, you or me?”

The man on the bed: “Don’t get mad, get even. Later for mad, now for planning. Gotta keep Democrats aboard, keep the media. Broder with that Thanksgiving column—if he were on my side he wouldn’t be so sad. Gotta watch the Dean. Gotta keep Daschle and Gephardt. They looked embarrassed with the big phony phone call Monday. But so far they’re with me.

“Sixty percent of the people in ABC’s poll say I should leave. Zogby too. And Bush is getting some mileage out of leaking who’ll be in the administration. Cheney, hand it to him, he’s tough. But Powell won’t jump aboard until it’s very safe. Could be a problem if someone like Sam Nunn jumps to Bush, but he plays it safe too. That’s how they got where they are.

“The press picking up on that ‘Bush is a uniter not a divider’ stuff—that’s taking. It’s looking like maybe this is the first time since ‘94 the people have been with the Reps in a crisis. But here’s the thing—this time I can win without the people. I can win it in court. My guy Boies said so the other day. He said ‘This is something that’s too important to be solved in a partisan environment. This is something that ought to be decided by impartial judges.’

“Picking a president is too important to be decided by the people, take it to the judge! Uh oh, I thought. But he got away with it. And that’s our plan.

*   *   *

“You think I wouldn’t fight this all the way to the point of getting information about that elector who’s been through rehab twice and is drinking again, the elector with the little tax problem—you think my people won’t lean on them? You think we won’t fight this through the floor of the House? You think we won’t use any means, low and lower? You think I’m gonna wrap this up in a week? Only if Bush concedes in a week.”

And now he was happy. And now he could sleep. But first he threw off the pillow, bounded from the bed, walked to the window and yanked it up. He leaned out and yelled. “Fasten your seatbelts. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

But the crowd couldn’t hear him above the chanting: “I will not say that I am done/Until the counting says I’ve won!” There was laughter then and he heard it, he listened for a moment. And then he slammed the window shut.