2004–2005: A New Vice-President …

2004: Bad Optics: President Gore, dining with Inuit tribesmen, finds that he's been served polar bear.Photo: Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

Where is my four o’clock appointment?

President Gore sat back and passed the time doing what second-term presidents do best: micromanaging their legacies.

The Afghan War had turned sour. Especially since that speech on the aircraft carrier: another perfect photo op gone wrong. It had become a rite of passage for Republican talking heads to bring that MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner up anytime they found themselves within three blocks of a TV camera. Did they even listen to the speech? Gore thought to himself. I didn’t even say “Mission accomplished”! I said we still have “difficult work to do.” I said, “Al Qaeda is wounded, not destroyed.” I even said that “our mission continues!”

The cameo in Ocean’s Twelve? Eh.

The bailout of Enron? Barely noticed. At least until they went bankrupt nine months later anyway.

The photo-op dinner with Inuit tribesmen in Alaska who were threatened by global warming? Wonderful, until he realized he was pouring Heinz 57 on a freshly cut polar-bear porterhouse. It would’ve been nice if one of his wunderkind aides had considered the downside of the president’s consuming the flesh of the animal his policies were supposed to be saving from extinction. (By the way, it tastes like seal.)

Sensing vulnerabilities, the right wing went back to basics: boomsticks and babies. The elder statesman of gun rights from the Senate and the co-chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus teamed up to form a dream team for red-meat Republicans. To defeat the socially conservative Larry Craig–Mark Foley 2004 ticket, Gore needed to fill the Lieberman vacancy with someone centrist, and it hadn’t taken him long to settle on the perfect solution: Get me Arlen. Gore was referring, of course, to bipartisan-esque Republican-ish Senator-for-life Arlen Specter—quite possibly the only human being less dynamic than Joe Lieberman.

Arlen was available. In fact, he had pursued the gig with the visceral lust that teenagers reserved for Googling pictures of Mischa Barton. The subsequent election had been tight, but Gore wasn’t rattled when he lost the popular vote by 1.3 million ballots, since he had prepped for that situation as a just-in-case scenario four years earlier. It’s the electoral vote that counts, he said. That’s what our Founders wanted.

By now the election was old news, as were the good old days of a high-forties approval rating. The American people had developed the attention span of a 6-year-old in the middle of Ritalin withdrawal. We need something new, Gore thought while staring out at the South Lawn—and where is my four o’clock appointment?

Gore’s four o’clock was another one of the bright young minds that he liked to surround himself with, a guy named Barry Obama. (Who continued to maintain that his name was Barack, leading Gore to once advise him that no one in North Carolina would ever be caught dead voting for a guy named Barack.) Barry had come to the administration as deputy attorney general via an under-the-radar deal between Gore and Jack Ryan, now the senator from Illinois. Though he had been leading Barry in the polls, Ryan didn’t want to take any chances, so he called in a favor. He had information about a certain late afternoon Gore had spent in a hotel in Chicago a few years back. A trip to the day spa had turned into a second chakra-release party.

Barry had tried to hold out for the top gig at the Department of Justice, but too many questions would be raised if a guy with virtually no experience somehow became attorney general. It was completely implausible. He finally gave in and dropped out of the Senate race after Gore threw in a month-long “fact-finding” trip to Spain for him and his family.

“Sorry I’m late, Mr. President,” Barry said, stepping through the door.

“Don’t worry, I had absolutely nothing to do for the past fourteen minutes,” the president growled … meaning it sarcastically, but also realizing it was true. “So what have you come up with to turn this thing around?”

Barry sighed as if he was about to share a theory that he had only half worked out in his brain. “Well, uhhh … How do you feel about … global water depletion?”

“Never heard of it. What does it mean?”

“Well … there are so many people using so much water,” Obama replied. “Maybe the globe is running out of it?”

“Is that really true?”

“A bunch of scientists say it is.”

“They do?” Gore asked incredulously.

Obama shifted nervously. “Not yet, but they will. Jim Hansen will say anything we want.”

The far door flew open and FEMA director Robert Gibbs walked in, looking a bit disturbed. Gibbs had about as much qualification to deal with natural disasters as he had to be the starting shooting guard for the Miami Heat, but FEMA director was really just a PR job anyway.

“Mr. President, I’m sorry to interrupt—but should we do something about Hurricane Katrina? I mean, it’s been eight days since it hit, and people are still—”

“Relax—relax,” Gore said, counteracting Gibbs’s panic with robotic calm. “We’ll get to it. Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to stop the major scientific and moral cause of our time: global water depletion.”

“Sounds serious. I’m very sorry, sir.” Gibbs turned and moved sheepishly back toward the door.

Gore realized he’d probably been too dismissive. “Hey, hey—wait, I’m sorry. Let’s chat about it tomorrow night. Oh, and Gibby? You’re doing a heckuva job.”

2004–2005: A New Vice-President …