The presidential clock is ticking, or is it?

By Gene Weingarten, Washington Post
Published December 2, 2007

WASHINGTON - Have you ever woken up in the morning, and then something occurred that was so horrible that it put a dark thundercloud not only on your day, but on your view of the universe as a fundamentally benign place? That happened to me recently. I knew I had to call somebody. But who?

Suddenly, it came to me: Only one man on Earth could help me make sense of it all.

Me: I need to talk to a famous constitutional scholar on an emergency basis.

Alan Dershowitz: Okay.

Me: A few months ago, I bought my wife a key chain that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left in the Bush presidency.

Alan: I have one of those!

Me: Well, yesterday, the number read 440 days. But I woke up this morning, and it said 724 days.

Alan: Omigod.

Me: I know!


Me: So, I needed to try to figure out how this terrible thing could happen. Under what tragic set of circumstances could Bush still be president on Nov. 1, 2009? Is it even possible? Tell me it isn't.

Alan: Well, let's say there is an Electoral College deadlock in the next election, and there is no president chosen by Jan. 20, 2009, after which, under the Constitution, George W. Bush is no longer president. Hmm. Okay, at the last minute, I suppose Bush could appoint himself secretary of state, which is third in line for the presidency should the presidency be vacant. So, he could get the job if he could persuade the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate not to want it.

Me: Persuade Nancy Pelosi she didn't want to be president?

Alan: Yeah, that's impossible.

Me: So the key chain is wrong, then!

Alan: Well, you know, Bush could pull a Musharraf.

Me: A military coup?

Alan: Sure. Declare a state of emergency. We're in the middle of a war, delicate negotiations about Iran, etc. You don't like it, take it up with my Supreme Court. I think he's got five votes there, don't you?

Me: My God.

Alan: Really, it's too far-fetched. It's more likely that Stephen Colbert will become president.

Me: Okay, good. I can sleep again. My wife's key chain clock is just broken.

Alan: Well . . .

Me: What?

Alan: You know, my key chain here doesn't say "George W. Bush's last day." It just says "Bush's last day."

Me: Actually, so does my wife's.

Alan: Exactly.

Me: Oh, no.

Alan: Yeah, there are other Bushes who could be elected president in 2008.

Me: But no one will vote for Jeb now that . . .

Alan: I didn't say Jeb.


Alan: George H.W. Bush is still eligible to run for president. He's only served one term. And the field is wide open.

Me: He's kind of beloved.


Me: But my key chain says that Nov. 1, 2009, will be his last day in office.

Alan: Makes sense. How old is the man? I mean, look at the actuarial tables.

Me: Okay, then the important question is who his vice president would be.

Alan: Right. There's one guy he's always been loyal to, and it would make a very familiar-sounding ticket, and it would be constitutional.

Me: I don't under . . .

Alan: A Bush-Cheney ticket.

Me: No!

Alan: Then, in a year . . .

Me: No!

Alan: Cheney gets to appoint his new vice president.

Me: No!

Alan: And there's this former governor of Florida . . .

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com.