In some alternate universe, former President Bill Bradley is currently holding a basketball themed charity event.
The former president, who served from 2000-2004, helped raise $18.7 million for charity projects, including Bradley’s own “Slam Dunk Against Terrorism.” In his speech before the crowded room of donors, Bradley seemed to play up his 2,503 points and 1,008 rebounds during college basketball career, and avoid questions about his one-term presidency.
Bradley won the 2000 Democratic Party primary after vice-president Al Gore dropped out due to his wife Tipper’s terminal cancer. The Republican candidate George W. Bush ran as an outsider, attempting to frame Bradley as an unaccomplished, Washington DC insider. However, Bradley took no qualm with using then President Bill Clinton to his fullest extent on the campaign trail, leading pundits to joke (or even speculate, though mostly as a Constitutional hypothetical) that Clinton would serve as VP. Bradley rode Clinton’s popularity, and the increased turnout it provided, to a seat in the Oval Office. However, Bradley’s bungled response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 ensured him only 4 years in that seat.
While Bradley did launch attacks in Afghanistan in response to 9/11, Republicans attacked him for not lending more credence to a presidential daily briefing entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US,” which was mostly ignored by Bradley’s administration out of fear of receiving the same Republican attacks that Clinton faced when proposing anti-Osama military or intelligence campaigns.
Although Bradley’s popularity rankings steadily declined after a post-9/11 peak, Republican attacks did not result in increased popularity for the GOP, due to their failure to offer an alternative to Bradley’s Afghan War and SECURITY ACT, which overhauled federal intelligence agencies and federalized airline security. However, the strongest critiques came not from Republicans, but from fellow Democrats, notably his former primary rival: Al Gore.
After the death of his wife Tipper in October 2001, Gore fell into a deep depression. Political tabloids circled pictures of the former vice president sporting a thick beard and heavy gut, wearing casual clothing to otherwise formal events. However, in February 2002, Gore reemerged on the political scene with a full force and energy not seen in any public figure in contemporary memory.
Gore spent the year of 2002 crossing the nation, and the globe, to discuss the environmental and political ramifications of U.S. reliance on fossil fuels. While his message was a continuation of his decades-long personal focus on global warming, his post-9/11 frame on how oil reliance weakened national security struck a specific nerve with centrist Republicans and Democrats disaffected with the Bradley presidency. Oddly enough, Gore attributed his newfound personal drive to a cartoon show.
“In January my daughter wanted me to voice a cameo on her show “Futurama,” Gore wrote in the introduction to his best selling and pulitzer award winning book An Inconvenient Truth: The Global Emergency of Fossil Fuel Reliance and What We Can Do About It. “I only even considered it because she was my daughter, but then I read the script and laughed. I had not laughed in so long, and I remembered how much Tipper used to love my laugh. Then, it hit me like a tsunami from a deep emotional earthquake finally set free, I remembered all the personal qualities that Tipper loved about me: my passion for the environment, my drive for a better world, my love of learning and labor. Where other people saw just another politicians, where I worried that I was just another politician, she saw someone who cared. She saw someone who was special, and that made me special. So rather than mourn her memory, I decided that the only thing I could do was be the man she loved. That was the only way to preserve her memory for the world.”
2002 has colloquially become known as the Year of the Gore, as Al Gore seemed to saturate popular media, from Saturday Night Live hosting duties to regular shifts on Sunday morning talk shows, to informal town hall meetings across the country. These town hall meetings became the basis for his 2004 presidential campaign. A traditional meeting consisted of Gore first making a speech about how reliance on fossil fuels gave leverage to nations whose underpinning philosophy and overt goals were contrary not just to US security, but to global ideals of democracy and enlightenment. The speech was usually followed by questions from people, either asking Gore to flesh out his policy ideas or complaining about their own representatives and the seeming unwillingness of elected officials to enact policy similar to Gore’s proposals.
In addition to his personal appearances, Gore was an Internet magician. With the help of Larry Biddle and Joe Trippi, Gore used online donations, meetup.com, and e-mails to build up a base of supporters like no other candidate. However, Gore’s popularity was not obvious to the White House until his victory in the Iowa Caucuses. Until then, he had been dismissed as a media darling who could only get support in solidly liberal areas. However, his anti-Middle East and oil rhetoric won him support from more traditional and conservative voters.
Recognizing the inevitability of the primary and the general referendum on his administration, Bradley followed in the steps of LBJ and dropped out of the election, paving the way for candidate Gore.
Part 2, the general election and President Gore, to be published later.