The “What If” Story Gone Wild

Was anyone else puzzled by that “Gore-Lieberman” piece by John M. Broder in yesterday’s New York Times “Week In Review”?

Yes, the campaign press loves its “what if” stories. But typically they’re at least musing — however speculatively — about something that might actually happen at some point in the future, something that has some small possibility of occurring. Broder’s piece, however, was asking “what if” about something that will never happen (without a time machine).

Broder sort of nods to (part of) the problem with his piece in this sentence: “It is tempting, for fans of counterfactual history, to play out what kind of drama might have emerged in a White House under that ticket’s auspices.”

And yet pretty much none of the “drama” that Broder references would have actually transpired “under that ticket’s auspices.” The article’s gist, to my read: Wouldn’t it be weird if we had a Gore-Lieberman administration right now, given how far apart Gore and Lieberman are on the Iraq War, and given other dynamics that would almost positively not exist under a Gore-Lieberman administration — like Lieberman running for president in 2004 and Gore endorsing his opponent? Am I missing something here? What was the point?

If Broder was hoping to get Gore and Lieberman to trash one another on the record, he must have been disappointed. Instead Lieberman explained to Broder “in an interview” this disappointing “reality”: “Had we been elected, here’s the reality: he would have been the president….And I would have supported him.”

And if Broder was trying to stir up Democrat-on-(still a) Democrat squabbling, this must also have been disappointing: “Although Mr. Lieberman is actively campaigning for Mr. McCain, the two Democrats still competing for the nomination have largely refrained from criticizing him and declined through spokesmen to do so for this article (that may change if he steps up his attacks or appears at the Republican convention).” (Note the wishfully-thinking tone of the last bit).

There was this line in the piece: “[I]t is not inconceivable that [Lieberman] could become the first person to lose the vice presidency on both major party tickets.” Maybe that’s how this article got started? At least that’s a “what if” that could —however slim the chances — conceivably still happen.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.