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Jewish World Review July 3, 2001 / 12 Tamuz, 5761

Michael Long

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It's a Wonderful Recount

In which an angel named Clarence instructs your humble narrator on what President Al Gore's America would be like. -- Author's Note: The ups and downs of being the party in the White House can be pretty extreme. These days, Jim Jeffords is called a "hero," and restrictions on your right to get proper medical care are called a "Patients Bill of Rights." It's easy for Republicans to feel low-but think about what could have been. Remember the recount, and how easily life might have slid into something even more awful.

December 1, 2000

It was exactly ten forty-five p.m. in Washington, DC when I stepped over the wide, white rail of Memorial Bridge.

The wait continued. Bush had won the election outright, yet the press told the world that nothing was settled, and I didn't know if I could take it any more. I had written about the election, preached about it on talk radio-had even replaced my Bill Clinton dart board photo with a drawing of Bill Daley photocopying ballots. But how could my little efforts make any difference in this big old ocean of an election? I despaired that the Gore campaign and their satanic minions would get away with Cook County-ing the whole thing.

I was, in a word, despondent, and so I had decided to end it all, down there in the murky Potomac, in the winter-cold water.

"Don't jump."


"Don't jump. Don't jump!" I turned, shivering, my bare toes gripping the marble. I held hard to the rail behind-perhaps this do-gooder was here to dissuade me, and I did not intend to leave either dry or upright.

"I want to talk to you! Come here!" He rolled down the window of his red Corvette, extended his arm, gripped my wrist between his strong fingers and thumb.

The next thing I knew, I was in the passenger seat of a car where the smell of cigar smoke was choking.

"Who are you?" I asked.

The handsome man with black skin smiled at me from behind his stately bifocals and short-cropped gray hair. "I'm Clarence."

"Clarence-like in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life? Are you my… guardian angel?"

"No, I'm Clarence Thomas from the Supreme Court. Didn't you recognize the car? Who do I look like, O'Connor?"

"Are you a guardian angel?"

"Not exactly," said Clarence, blowing another blue puff out the window. "Me, Nino and Rehnquist think of ourselves that way, but that's another story. Anyway, tonight, my friend, I am indeed your guardian angel."

I stared out the windshield as we hung a hard right for Arlington.

"Well, you look about like the kind of an angel I'd get. Sort of a fallen angel, aren't you? Every other guardian angel in Washington drives a BMW, but you're in this… Corvette? I don't know whether I like it very much being seen around with an angel who doesn't have a 700 series."

"Angel, shmangel. Play along, okay? I'm more of a political observer with a good perch. So just shut up and listen."

I leaned back into the leather seat. Clarence popped in a jazz CD, Monk. It was going to be a long night, but at least we had tunes.

"You're worried that George W. Bush won't play hardball. That he can't overpower all the lies and propaganda. You think the Dems will burn down the system before they'll let anybody else take the reins."

"It's true, isn't it, Clarence? I mean, look at what they got away with so far. You think they'll hesitate to break any more laws? And if you believe Hillary Clinton is just going to go away, you'll probably believe Trent Lott doesn't use hairspray."

"George Bailey-er, I mean, Michael, the fact is that evil has always been with us, and it always will be. Evil wants to be in charge in this old world, whether it's falsifying elections, taking half of people's income in taxes, denying your choice of doctor… well, you'll see."

"See what, Clarence?"

"Just because there's always gonna be evil doesn't mean you stop fighting it. You've got to stand astride history yelling 'Stop!' Or at least got to throw a few elbows toward the Carvilles of the world. Otherwise, things will get completely out of control."

"What do you mean?"

"Look," said Clarence.

And then, instead of being barefoot, I was in my shoes. I was no longer chilled from standing on the bridge; I did not feel the frosty air in my clothes. We were back on the bridge, and it was crowded with bicyclists and pedestrians in helmets.

Clarence had magically transformed the world for my education: we were now in Washington, DC in the year 2004, the 40th month of the Gore administration.

"What's all this, Clarence? Why are there no cars on the bridge-or on any of the roads? And why are all those people walking around in motorcycle helmets?"

"I'm showing you what it would be like after four years of Al Gore in charge."

Clarence pointed to the concrete wall beside us, stretching up and almost out of sight.

"See that? That's a safety fence. When Al Gore took office in 2001, he had fences installed on every walkway that was more than two feet above a, a…"-he drew from his coat a thick folder labeled REGULATION-"yes, that's it. Above an inferior surface. You know, a drop-off. Every bridge in America is like this now."

"And what about the helmets?"

"Pedestrian helmets. People fall down, they get hurt. But then Al Gore made it safe to walk down the street. Now it's true that more criminals than ever before are allowed to walk down the street, but if you fall down, at least you won't bump your head on one."

"But Clarence, this is a bridge for traffic. Where are the cars?"

He smiled. "Oh, don't be silly. Al Gore got rid of the cars. First he raised the gas taxes to discourage their use, then he got tired of waiting for things to change and he just banned cars outright. It was easy with the liberals so strong in the House and the Senate." He shook his head. "Crazy Democrats."

I shivered, and Clarence handed me his sweater. "Put this on," he said. "And don't let anyone see me giving you anything. You ought to know-charity only comes from the government. That's a wool sweater, too, so take care of it. Here in the fourth year of the Gore administration, wool is outlawed. Fur was the first to go, then yarn.

Milk has a heck of a reputation, too. It's all animal cruelty, that's what they teach in the schools. If you don't wanna get arrested, cover up the wool-and forget where you got it."

"This is all too much. Can't we just relax and go get something to eat?"

We were suddenly in the red Corvette, speeding among commuters on bicycles and Razor scooters down U.S. 1, just south of the Capitol Beltway. We turned in to a decrepit McDonalds, graffittied with vile slogans and the word MURDER across some crude drawings of cows. Clarence pulled up to the drive-through speaker.

"A cheeseburger for my hungry friend!"

We drove around, and a pimply face appeared in the window. "That's forty dollars, please."

"Forty dollars? What the-Clarence, what is he talking about?"

My guardian angel calmly peeled off four sawbucks. "Fatty food tax, my friend. The PETA freaks, the health Nazis, the whole nutbag left-they run the show, remember? 'Meat is murder' used to be a silly little catch phrase, one of those things sophomore boys agree with to get in the pants of sophomore girls. But under Al Gore, it's public policy. Didn't you read that book of his?"

"Maybe I shoulda just gotten some French fries."

"Yeah, you'd think that, wouldn't you," said Clarence, lighting up another Cuban. "But fatty foods are fatty foods. Including French fries. If you had ordered that, we'd have had to get a bank loan to cover it."

I pointed to his cigar, he paused, smiled. "Don't worry, they're legal now. We've been swapping spit with Castro since February 14, 2001. A sweet Valentine, wouldn't you say?"

I greedily ate the burger-cooked ten minutes at 400 degrees under the supervision of a USDA official by a teenager making twenty bucks an hour at minimum wage-while Clarence told me more about the Gore years: the clampdown on home schooling, the confiscation of guns, the taxing of the Internet, the way they had carved Tipper's lips onto Mount Rushmore.

"And then there's mandatory pre-school, funded by the federal government. Which only makes sense, since they're writing the curriculum for the whole K-12 system from Washington. You've got limits on CEO pay-it's no more than four times the salary of the lowest-paid employee. There's universal drug testing for all high-school students-they do it after you go through the metal detectors, of course. Oh, and they're taxing assets the same as income now. It's a way to… how did they put that? 'More fairly distribute the benefits of the hard work of…' something like that."

"But Clarence, that's crazy."

"It didn't seem so crazy at the time. Gore didn't call for the massive redistribution of income until after he established a minimum annual income for all Americans, so we were already pretty much numbed to the notion. Kinda like the way they finished busting up the tobacco companies as soon as he took office."

"Lemme guess…"

"Yup," said Clarence. "Now cigarettes are illegal, though there were a few second thoughts when all those cigarette taxes stopped coming in. The feds forgot that the majority of the price of a pack of smokes goes-used to go-to the government."

I wiped a little ketchup from my chin. "Okay, Clarence, I've seen enough. Let's change this. Let's overhaul the system! Where can I find a candidate for office who wants to make a difference? I want to write him a big fat check! No, wait, I want to put ads on TV myself! I want to exercise my right to free speech! The people have to rise up and change all this!"

"Yeah, you'd think so," said Clarence. "But true to his word-and boy, were we surprised when he actually kept his word about something-the first thing Gore did in office was sign McCain-Feingold. And it just went downhill from there. So now no one can do anything silly like, say, support the candidate of his choice. Political contributions are outlawed. The government runs the campaigns, and forces the TV stations to donate advertising time. Provided, of course, the government approves of the ads. No dirty pool is allowed, you know. And the FEC defines dirty pool. They even define what the meaning of the word is, is."

"Is there any freedom left?" I asked.

Clarence laughed heartily, pointed his cigar at the moonless sky above. "Oh, sure, sure. All kinds of new freedoms. Twelve-year-olds can get abortions without parental permission-and at any time up to nine months. In fact, abortion is now an accepted method of birth control. That RU-486 is so convenient, I hear." He pointed to a retro-fitted gumball machine on the corner.

"And you're free not to be offended in public-hate speech laws now extend to private conversations in public places, thus making it safe for every single person to walk down the street unoffended. Virgin ears are now protected, whether they're attached to a gay transexual atheist midget of color, or just a white guy who's really easily to make cry. Unless he's a Christian."

"You're also free to become a citizen of this country without learning to speak English," said Clarence.

"It was like that before," I said.

"Oh, yeah," said Clarence. "But you get the idea."

I absently drew my change out of my pocket. Barbra Streisand's face looked up at me from the quarter; Rose O'Donnell looked up from the dime-though they couldn't fit all of her on the front and had to continue on the back.

"It's a new age of sensitivity," said Clarence. "A new age of liberal generosity. Take for instance, Oprah Winfrey. When they made reparations for slavery, Oprah donated hers to the U.N."

"Oh, Clarence, I was wrong! What we do does matter. If we give up on this Florida re-count and Al Gore gets to run the place, government will get its snout into even more. And the whole country will turn into a Cambodian re-education camp, only with latte and daycare. I'm sorry I ever doubted our good work. Can you take me home, please? Please take me away from this terrible, terrible vision!"

"But there's so much more to see! In order to protect people from their own questionable judgment, the Democrats enacted a ban on day-trading for anyone with less than $250,000 to invest."

"That can't be!"

"Ingrid Newkirk of PETA is running the FDA and now all you can buy in pharmacies is St. John's Wort and Dentu-Cream!"


"Alec Baldwin gets first pick of all new Hollywood scripts!"

"Agghhhhhhh!" And with that, I screamed until I passed out, waking up six days later in a hospital whose every operation is directed by the U.S. government. After three months on a waiting list, I was somehow subjected to a hysterectomy and sent home with some medicine that was supposed to help me recover but they weren't really sure since it was illegal to test it on animals. I tossed the stuff in one of the ubiquitous recycling bins (they're next to the "gumball" machines) and waited near a public transportation station for Clarence to pick me up.

"Sorry about that," he said, popping open the door of the vintage red Corvette.

"Can I just go home now?" I asked.

Clarence sadly shook his head, no. I would have to suffer full exposure to Gore World before I could leave it. Then he said something about swinging by the Supreme Court to look in on Justices Dershowitz, Clinton and Flynt, but I got dizzy again and had to lie down.

And then I was shouting. "Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence. Get me back home. I don't want to dive off the bridge, I want to fight the Dems over the Florida re-count-over everything! Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I want to live to fight another day!"

I ran across Memorial Bridge, dodging bicycles and elbowing pedestrians. Then I heard a bell ringing. I thought it meant Clarence had earned his wings-whatever he needed those for, I didn't know; I figured he'd prefer a detailing job for his ride-and that maybe if I followed the sound, I would somehow find my Angel of the Supreme Court, and he would drive me back to my safe, suburban home.

The bell didn't stop. I reached toward the sound and found my alarm clock, pawed until I silenced it with the Snooze button.

To my wife: "What day is it?"

"Why, it's December 1. Why do you ask?" she said.

"And we still don't have a decision in Florida?"

"Well, we have a decision in Florida, honey. We always did. The re-count will ultimately confirm it. If we don't give up, that is."

There was a book on my nightstand. I picked it up, Road to Serfdom by Hayek. Inside was an inscription: "Dear Mike, Remember that no man is a failure who keeps kicking the cr-p out of the liars and the cheats and the demagogues. Thanks, Clarence."

I lay on my back and thought about that for a long time.

Then the snooze timer ran out and the alarm clock rang again.

"Mike," my wife said to me, "every time that rings, you're just putting off getting up to work."

I heard the roar of a car engine-a Corvette?-just outside the window. I thought I smelled the smoke of a fine Cohiba. I threw off the covers and headed for the shower, where I do my best thinking. I was inspired with a great idea for the next salvo in the battle of the re-count editorials. The words were flowing now, the fight was back.

"Attaboy, Clarence," I said, smiling, as I disappeared in hot water and steam.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Michael Long