The Great Switch-a-Roo

How can the WTO help with the U.S. election debacle?

November 28, 2000

How can the WTO help with the U.S. election debacle?

Have you ever asked yourself what happens when an organization, or a nation, cannot make up its mind on who should be its leader? The easiest way out, of course, is for both leading characters to agree on an old Roman rule: divide and impera, or divide and rule.

Perhaps this U.S. presidential election marks the perfect time to revive an American political tradition: the first presidential elections after the ratification of the U.S. constitution had candidates run for the office of the president individually, rather than as part of a president and vice president ticket. The candidate defeated in the general election then became vice president.

This practice might be an ideal way to “heal the nation,” and to leave the bitterness resulting from the close election results behind. This time, however, the practice would be reintroduced with a special twist: the two office holders would switch positions after two years. That way, no party will feel slighted. And it makes sense, since even if George W. Bush’s slim lead in the electoral college becomes official, Al Gore will still have won a majority in the popular vote.

Impossible, you say? There is no way on earth that Republicans and Democrats could ever agree on such a scheme, you believe? Well, think again.

For starters, there is the troublesome fact that Dick Cheney, the Republicans’ Vice Presidential candidate, just had his fourth heart attack.

That is not good news for a nation that had accepted his selection as a deliberate act of “adult supervision” for the rather inexperienced Mr. Bush. The mere prospect of Governor Bush having to select another, this time unelected person as Vice President before long appears spooky to quite a few Americans. Just imagine James Baker being appointed Vice President.

Under those circumstances, the best way to procede might be for Governor Bush to assume the Presidency, but not to appoint Mr. Cheney Vice President. In his place, the governor would select Al Gore, who would initially serve in a role that he is fully familiar with, that of Vice President of the United States. This should also ensure a smooth transition to the next administration.

An important question, of course, is when a switch of the two men’s roles should be effected. The best answer to this is halfway through the first presidential term – late January 2003. But if at the end of the legal wrangling Al Gore does emerge the winner of not only the popular vote, but also the electoral votes, this date might be moved up.

Regardless of which date would ultimately be chosen, both gentlemen would at that point reverse their respective roles. Al Gore would finally realize his dream and become President. Prior to that, he would have had two more years to relax and appear less lusting for power than he still does, even after eight years on Bill Clinton’s side.

And George Bush could demonstrate his sense of grace — and become the first President who subsequently became Vice President as well. With that nifty move, he would have even outdone his own father, who did it the (more traditional) other way around.

Regarding the practical aspects of such a regime, which the French call “cohabitation”, both men would right from the start get to do most major moves together. This would start with appointments to the cabinet. Because of the evenly divided populace, it would be against the will of the American people to select people that lack strong bipartisan credentials.

While most Americans believe that such a power-sharing arrangement is almost without precedent, that is far from the truth. In fact, it was the U.S. government that was instrumental in brokering a deal in July of 1999 that allowed two individuals to share the reins of a key international body — the World Trade Organization.

Prior to that compromise, the industrialized countries had fought hard with the developing world over who should lead the institution that acts as a peacemaker on global trade disputes.

Just as Democrats and Republicans in the 2000 U.S. presidential race, both sides appeared utterly opposed to each others’ views. Until, that is, a wise person told them to do the inevitable — and share power by serving one after the other.

That is why “the man from the north,” New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Mike Moore, now leads the WTO through August of 2002. On September 1, 2002, “the man of the south” — Thailand’s current Deputy Prime Minsiter, Supachai Panitchpakdi — will take over the reins of the Geneva-based organization.

Now consider for a moment how many people around the world are wondering whether the world’s supreme empire views itself as part of the globe. Under those circumstances, adopting the “WTO model of power-sharing” for what is the holiest grail of them all — the U.S. Presidency — would certainly go a long way for Americans to come up with a convincing answer to that vexing question.