Academics use a wonderful term: “counterfactuals” to describe “what if” situations, useful exercises for strategizing and developing credible responses to possible military and political scenarios. Your tax dollars fund hundreds of these exercises each year at the Pentagon. In fact, there is a branch of long-term planning called “scenario analysis”, which is based on the development of complete chains of arguments and analysis of points / counterpoints and responses to conditions that could have plausibly occurred but that did not happen or could plausibly happen in the future, and we better be prepared for them by having given them a little foresight.

If this is too abstract, consider some examples cited by Jeff Greenfield in his magisterial 43-When Gore beat Bush, a political fable, recently released as a Kindle Single by Amazon. Greenfield, who is familiar to viewers as a commentator and with a calm, intelligent voice on the network’s news shows, calls his work a chapter in “the house of alternative history,” and leads us to some rooms in that house. home:

“Jacqueline Kennedy does not come to the door on a Sunday in December 1960,” Greenfield writes, “to see her husband off at church, so the suicide bomber stationed outside the Kennedy’s home activates his dynamite and John Kennedy is assassinated before taking office. and Lyndon Johnson, with his very different understanding of foreign policy and power diplomacy, is in command during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “

Here’s another gem Greenfield made: “Robert Kennedy’s brother-in-law walks into the ballroom of a Los Angeles hotel on elementary school night in 1968 a few minutes earlier, and so is between Kennedy and Sirhan Sirhan in the pantry at the kitchen; and Kennedy and his presidential campaign survive and triumph. “

One last: “At a key moment of debate in 1976, President Gerald Ford realizes that he spoke badly about the Soviet Union’s dominance of Poland and saves his campaign a crucial week of pain, thus changing the Carter-Ford Election Result “.

There is a long tradition in fiction, Greenfield reminds us, going back centuries, of this kind of “what if” thinking. It’s a classic novelist’s tool for creating plots that deeply engage readers. Consider Philip Roth’s The plot against America, in which aviator and national hero Charles Lindbergh runs for and wins the presidency, with disastrous results stemming from his seduction by Nazi engineering moguls. And another couple of novels written with somewhat similar basic plot frameworks, though not of the same literary quality as Roth’s: Robert Harris’s. Homeland and Philip K. Dick’s The man in the high castle both fictional accounts of Nazi victories in World War II, victories in which the entire world is sucked into a nightmarish Third Reich.

We are all willing to believe that history is not deterministic. Surely the world would have been different if Oswald had failed. Surely the world would have been different if John Wilkes Booth had been lost. And now Jeff Greenfield asks us, how would the world have been different if Gore had beaten Bush in 2000?

Well, you can bet it would have been a different place and a different story, and it came very close to that. I personally remember that battle and was deeply intrigued by Greenfield’s premise. Soon, he was glued to my Kindle reading his book. Here’s just a small sample from the Kindle site, to whet your appetite without revealing anything to spoil the story:

“At 5:00 pm on September 11, 2001, President Al Gore, his face ashen but serene, entered the East Room of the White House to deliver a televised address to the nation. With him were former Presidents Clinton and Bush, also as Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, flew to Washington from Dallas in a military plane, his first return visit to the capital after the close race that lost him for the presidency just a few months earlier.

Isn’t that how you remember it?

Imagine if the 2000 presidential election had turned out differently and Al Gore had defeated George W. Bush to become the 43rd President of the United States. How would the events have unfolded? Would Osama bin Laden have become so important? Would the September 11 attacks have been even worse? Would we have invaded Iraq? Had the economy plunged into a recession? “

Some readers will recall, in that ancient era before e-books, that Jeff Greenfield wrote a master book Then Everything Changed, Impressive Alternative Histories Of American Politics, published by Putnam in 2011 using “dead tree technology” (ie it was a paper book where you had to turn the pages, remember that?). “Speculation is not history, but it is catnip for experts like Jeff Greenfield,” he wrote. Editor’s Weekly From that effort, a book that created a new companion activity for the talented Greenfield to add to the daily work of analyzing news in real time on live television.

It is Greenfield’s work as a 30-year-old journalist, in fact, that lends plausibility to his complex alternative stories. I imagine that in this genre, if readers do not immediately perceive that sense of plausibility, all is lost, but it is precisely the genius of Greenfield’s plot that creates scenarios that ring true and I often found myself, reading the current winner of Greenfield. , 43-When Gore beat Bush, a political fable, that Greenfield’s version of the story actually seemed more plausible for me that the story that I personally remembered being alert and alive and watching television 13 years ago.

It would be unfair to both Greenfield and potential readers of this little gem to say much more about the plot. Just remember, Jeff Greenfield has been covering Beltline politics since the 1980s, and he’s a very calm, collected, collected, and analytical guy. He doesn’t have to ask you to “suspend your disbelief”, to borrow John Gardner’s term for that required act of voluntarily entering someone else’s fictional world. Greenfield just gets you and you’re a believer. In fact, his fictional version of the story seems all too real.

43-When Gore beat Bush, a political fable It is available on the Amazon website. This is a short book, not a full-length novel, maybe 100 pages of “dead tree” material, to me which amounts to a very long one night reading where I burn the midnight oil, or a reading of two nights if I behave well and turn off the lights at a reasonable time.

Jeff Greenfield, one of America’s most respected political analysts, has spent more than thirty years on network television, including as a commentator on CNN, ABC News, and CBS and currently as a host for PBS. I need to know. Winner of five Emmy Awards, he is a political columnist for Yahoo News and the author of more than a dozen books. He divides his time between New York and Santa Barbara.

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