Last weekend, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune, where she admitted that maybe the Supreme Court should not have taken the landmark Bush v. Gore case, which subsequently led to an eight year Bush presidency. While O’Connor fell short of outright expressing regret over the decision to hear the case, she told the Tribune, “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.'” This was not the first time O’Connor suggested that she had her doubts. Back in 2010, when asked in an interview by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, whether it was the right decision, O’Connor stated, “I don’t know.” However, she went on to say,
“It was a hard decision to make. But I do know this: there were at least three separate recounts of the votes, the ballots, in the four counties where it was challenged and not in one of the recounts would the election have changed. So I don’t worry.”
Ultimately, although it is always interesting to hear the insights of a former Supreme Court justice, this is really just a case of too little, too late. On one hand, for what it’s worth, hindsight is always 20/20. On the other hand, it’s a bit late for a do over on this one. But even if a do over was possible, would it be a good idea?
In some respects the question I’ve posed reminds me of an old episode of the British show, “Red Dwarf.” In the 1997 episode, “Tikka to Ride,” the crew travels back in time and accidentally lands in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Their time traveling drops them in the book depository at the very second Lee Harvey Oswald is firing at U.S. President John F. Kennedy. When they land, they unintentionally knock Oswald out of the window. Oswald dies and thus Kennedy is never assassinated. However, by stopping JFK’s death, the crew actually upends a whole host of events and changes history for the worse rather than the better. Eventually, the gang realizes that the only way to fix the situation is to travel back to November of 1963 again and convince JFK that it is better for him to die than live. When they arrive, they explain to JFK that if he lives he screws up the economy and he goes down as the worst president in history, but if he dies he goes down a legend. In the end, JFK dies, and history unfolds the way it was intended to.
I often wonder how a Gore presidency would have changed the course of American history. Would 9/11 have happened? If it did, would we have gone to war with Iraq? If we didn’t go to Iraq and Bush didn’t tank the economy, would Barack Obama have been elected President? Obviously, these are all speculative questions that could be answered from either side of the coin. Consequently, if the Red Dwarf episode teaches us anything, it is quite possibly telling us that history tends to unfold as it should.
In closing, it is interesting to think about how a single event or decision – be it a major one, like deciding the presidency or a minor/seemingly irrelevant one, like missing your usual train to Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001 – can change the entire course of ones life and/or the history of an entire nation. As Kurt Vonnegut once stated, “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.” With that being said, maybe a do over wouldn’t be such a good idea after all.