It was a few minutes short of midnight on November 7, 2000 and Al Gore was not pleased to be called from his hotel room and brought all the way to the White House by the Secret Service. He did not even have time to properly assemble his clothes. He was wearing blue jeans and a white shirt, not something he would want to be seen in on this dreadfully long election night.
When one of the secret service men opened the door to the Oval Office, Gore first saw Bill Clinton behind the Presidential desk, his feet clothed only in black socks which were crossed at the ankles up on the desktop and Bill Clinton’s large hands behind Clinton’s white-hair head. Sitting in front of the desk on one of the two guest chairs was George W. Bush who was wearing khaki slacks and shallow leather shoes and a white oxford shirt, which betrayed his New England roots.
“What’s this about?” asked Gore as he stepped into the Oval Office.
“Hey Al,” said Bush.
“Take a seat,” said President Clinton.
“That’s OK. Why are you guys here? Why am I here?” asked Gore.
“We have a little problem,” said Clinton.
“A little problem. Hah. This is a biggie,” said Bush.
“What’s the problem, Mr. President,” said Gore. Gore usually did not say ‘Mr. President,’ but he felt like he should in front of his election-night opponent Bush.
‘You better sit down there, Al, ’cause this is a biggie,” said Bush.
‘Let’s get to the point,” said Gore, who remained standing. He was not about to be taking orders from the Texan.
‘Let me just say it. The numbers you are seeing on the news, the election night returns are all bullshit,” said Clinton.
“I don’t understand,” said Gore.
“Wait to you hear this. This is like such a biggie. It makes me want to be president so bad,” said Bush.
Clinton glanced over at Bush and smiled.
“When the first numbers started coming in, I convened a small committee of officials from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI to re-configure all computer relays and switching equipment to correct the returns,” said Clinton.
“Correct the returns?” asked Gore.
“The real returns show Nader in the lead,” said Clinton.
“What? Can you say that again,” said Gore.
“I know it is hard to believe. Ralph Nader is wiping the floor with you guys. I guess people are fed up. They just don’t like either of you two,” said Clinton.
“But tell him. Tell him what you are doing. This is cool, Al. Wait to you hear this,” said Bush.
Clinton and Gore both briefly glance at Bush who was getting all excited, like a kid at a toy store the day before Christmas.
“We have electronically re-routed the return results through the Langley computers without anyone’s knowledge. And just so you know, we are generally spitting out numbers back at the electoral districts that track the polling statistics from the week before to avoid any risk that someone might think things are totally wrong,” said Clinton.
“But are you saying that if you just let the election run its course, Nader would be president?” asked Gore incredulously.
“You and George here would have already conceded if it wasn’t for my quick and decisive action,” said Clinton.
“See. See. Isn’t this cool that a president can do this. So much fun. It’s really awesome, don’t you think, Al,” said Bush. Gore and Clinton ignored Bush.
“But you cannot do this,” said Gore.
“Let’s dispense with the ethics lecture. We need to do this for the sake of the country. The country is better off in the hands of the Democrats or Republicans. President Ralph Nader would destroy the United States of America,” said Clinton.
“I’m not sure that’s so true,” said Gore.
“We have one problem though. Florida,” said Clinton.
“Problem,” said Gore.
“Yeah, the guys weren’t able to re-route Florida. It’s causing us headaches, but oddly, Nader is not doing well in Florida. Florida is really a toss-up between you two, so we lucked out,” said Clinton.
“So what’s the problem,” asked Gore.
“Well, the CIA guys sort of worked the program slightly in George’s favor, but the FBI guys are feeding numbers that are slightly in your favor, Al. It all makes me uncomfortable,” said Clinton.
“Uncomfortable. This is like the biggest cover-up in American history,” said Gore.
“It’s just so cool that we are sitting here doing this,” said Bush, who is again ignored.
‘Don’t get carried away, Al. We just need to make a decision who is going to win Florida. We need to decide this right now, and I propose a coin toss,” said Clinton.
“You see, the guy who wins Florida wins the election. Awesome, huh?” said Bush.
“I have an American Eagle $20 gold coin in my hand. I am going to toss it and let it land on the Presidential desk. George wants to call it, isn’t that right George?” asked Clinton.
“Yeah,” said Bush.
“Wait. Wait. This is moving too fast for me. This can’t be real,” said Gore.
“It’s real. This is how it is in the Oval Office. Things happen fast. I am tossing,” said Clinton, who flipped the coin in the air.
“Heads,” said Bush.
The coin landed on the table and twirled, slowly moving to the edge. Clinton, Gore and Bush kept their eyes on the twirling gold coin as it slowly settled down and stopped on the very edge of the table. The coin had the eagle facing up, the tails side up. But the $20 gold piece teetered precariously on the edge of the desk, it settled there briefly, as if suspended in time, and then fell to the thick carpet below. Bush rose quickly. Clinton ran around the side of the desk. Al Gore just remained standing, looking down at the gold coin which had flipped over with Lady Liberty facing up. Heads.
“Well, would you look at that,” said Clinton.
“Looks like I take Florida,” said Bush.
“It was tails on the desk and heads on the floor. Maybe we need a second toss,” said Clinton.
“Forget it. It’s heads,” said Bush.
“Maybe we should have defined the rules of the toss,” said Clinton.
“In Texas, you toss and wherever it lands is what you live with,” said Bush.
“What do you think, Al?” asked Clinton.
“I think this is so totally ridiculous. The country’s future turning on the toss of coin,” said Gore.
“Hey, man, it’s not any coin. It’s an American Eagle. It’s a $20 gold piece. Show a little respect,” said Bush.
“So it’s decided. We will throw Florida to you, George. That is if the CIA and FBI guys can work out a re-route of the Florida poll numbers so we can control events,” said Clinton.
“And if they can’t?” asked Gore.
“Well then, I just don’t know what will happen,” said Clinton.
Bush raised his voice: “Re-route the numbers. You’re president. You can do this, which is real cool, but it ain’t cool if you don’t do it,” said Bush as he walked to the door. “I’m out of here. Nice office. I’m going to like it,” said Bush as he left the room.
“You OK, Al,” asked Clinton.
“No. And I am not going along with this nonsense,” said Gore.
“We need a smooth transition. It’s good for the country,” said Clinton.
“Nader would be better than that asshole,” said Gore.
“Al, please. Calm down,” said Clinton.
“I’m going back to my hotel room. I don’t know what I am going to do. But I’ll tell you one thing, that coin was tails on the desk. On the presidential desk,” said Gore as he turned and left the room, leaving Clinton alone.
“Damn, I’m going to miss this job,” said Clinton to himself.
Inspired by my son, Max S. Bennett.