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Bush presidency compromised

Dave Cunningham on how Al Gore really won the election - and lost the presidency.

"The position by the majority of this court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of judges throughout the land..... It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today's decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
Justice Stevens in dissent, joined by Ginsburg and Breyer

A few weeks into the post-election interregnum the Miami Herald, not a bastion of left thought, commissioned an academic analysis of voting patterns in each of Florida's 5885 precincts. The study suggested Florida had voted for Gore by about 23000. Of Course, the officially certified vote goes for Bush by a figure of 537 votes.

The truth is very simple. Al Gore won both the popular vote and the electoral vote and has been denied the Presidency, while the loser in both categories has been appointed President-elect by fiat of the right-wing majority faction in the Supreme Court and against the will of the majority of the voting citizens. The whole premise of the Bush camps' endless appeals to courts at every level regarding vote-counting in Florida was that a true count would find Gore the winner and so such counts had to be stopped.

A future Bush Presidency is compromised to a degree almost unique in American history. Corruption is a national pastime in this country, but Bush's effect on the Supreme Court is calamitous and scary. There is no way to avoid the obvious implication that Gore and those who voted for him were cheated out of that victory by five right-wing Supreme Court Justices taking the law into their own hands, repudiating the will of the citizenry and installing their own candidate as President. This was the Establishment in action protecting and supporting their own.

Two weeks before the November election polls began to indicate the possibility of a split between the electoral and popular votes, with Gore winning the Electoral College and Bush the popular vote. The Bush campaign bragged to the Boston Globe that it had already anticipated this outcome, that it had the money and the media resources to raise a hullabaloo, arguing the Electoral College was an outmoded remnant of a colonial past, that the popular winner was the true winner, any other option would leave the winner without a mandate. Of course as it happened the roles were reversed, as Al Gore won the popular vote and subsequent Bush court arguments were for the purpose of winning the electoral college. While this appears cynical, it is really only a reflection of the Establishment's sense of entitlement, that Bush and the Republicans are the right people and the nation's natural rulers.

A recent article by the nationally-syndicated liberal columnist Arianna Huffington looked into aspects of the effective disenfranchisement of large numbers of Black voters in the centrally-contested state of Florida, where so many other voting irregularities have been documented. She estimates that Vice-president Gore received 93% of the African American vote in Florida-a number pretty much in line with the Black vote nationally (she estimates 92%)-which is an astonishing figure. In Florida in particular they turned out in numbers 65% higher than in 1996, which pretty much indicates how Black America feels about a future Bush Regime.

Even so, large numbers of potential Black voters never made it to the polls, or had their votes thrown out. "In an unprecedented move", Huffington wrote, "Florida had hired a private company (laden, as it turns out, with Republicans) to purge its voter rolls. But the 'scrub list' the company supplied was riddled with inaccuracies-once again disproportionately penalising African Americans. In Hillsborough County, for instance, 54 percent of those on the error-filled list of felons to be excised from the rolls were black, though African-Americans account for less than 12 percent of the county's voting population." It's worth noting the so-called "scrub-list" of alleged felons in Florida contained some 173 thousand names; moreover, also in Florida 31% of all Black men can't vote because of a ban on felons. It will be remembered that Bush's lead in Florida at the time the Supreme Court stopped the recount was under 200 ballots.

While the Gore/Bush contest was presented as liberal vs. conservative, this misses the point. Gore is hardly a liberal; he has consistently and historically placed himself within the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Leadership Council. Bush is a "stealth" reactionary; most of the hard right issues identified with the Gingrich/Buchanan Kulturkampf wing of the Republican Party were downplayed to the point of invisibility by the Bush campaign. But they haven't gone away, and Bush's economic and social views are truly appalling. Both Gore and Bush picked running mates with views akin to their own. Lieberman is the former chairman of the DLC while Cheney was one of the most right wing members of congress the Reagan years produced.

Consequently Al Gore is not very highly esteemed by the core constituencies that make up the voting muscle of the Democratic Party - briefly, the women's and black and minority ethnic movements, and the trade union leadership; although they worked very hard and effectively in getting out the vote for Gore, they were largely motivated by fear and dislike for Bush. However awful Gore's views on some issues, Bush's were always worse.

Coming out of the Democratic Party's Convention in Los Angeles in August Gore took the lead in the polls and from that time on, it was his race to win or lose. He proceeded to run what was arguably the worse campaign of any Democratic Party candidate of the past half-century, even surpassing the hapless Dukakis campaign in this regard. What should have been a Gore rout turned into the near-tie situation that created the whole present mess.

Did Gore run on the Clinton-Gore achievements? He didn't. As The Nation pointed out at the time, whenever he played his populist card he surged in the polls. But he did that only infrequently, and in the closing week of the campaign in a desperate attempt to catch up. He campaigned frenetically, and with great energy, and in the wrong direction.

The differences between the candidates' programmes were very wide, and Gore's views were much more in synch with the voters. This was particularly true vis-a-vis issues such as Social Security, the environment, abortion rights and affirmative action, gun control and Medicare and education. These were not great reform issues, but factors in making the lives of the majority of the populace more comfortable. What was bewildering was that only rarely did he cast the debate in a form to demonstrate this. Bush ran a relentlessly negative campaign (while denying he was doing so) portraying Gore as a prevaricator, an exaggerator, a liar, a man who would say anything to get elected. For the most part Gore remained silent. Gore allowed Bush to blur fundamental differences while turning the presidential campaign into a personality contest, where Gore couldn't win. It was a truly bizarre spectacle.

Finally, somehow, Gore became convinced that his ties to Clinton and his administration would be a burden on his campaign - this is the whole issue of the Monica Lewinsky affair -and that it shouldn't be mentioned any more than necessary. So Clinton was only marginally involved in the campaign and the whole issue of the 8-year long Republican attempt to destroy the Usurping and Illegitimate Clinton Administration, from Whitewater to the Gingrich-inspired shutting down of the Government to the Impeachment itself, passed without a mention. "The Impeachment" was a fitting reply to Bush's talk about cooperation and "bipartisanship", and Gore never mentioned it.

This blunder probably cost Gore his best shot at winning. Clinton's approval ratings stayed in the range of 60% over the past two years - even higher here in California - and the idea that he was an embarrassment or a pariah was a ridiculous fantasy; he's enormously popular to this day. Clinton is a master campaigner and has in the past showed considerable strength in precisely those geographical areas where Gore was weakest - Ohio and the upper Midwest, the Appalachian region, Arkansas and Missouri and Tennessee.

This may be as good a place as any to comment on The Question: did Ralph Nader and the Green campaign cost Al Gore, and the well-being of the country, the election? If there is anything beneficial about the ruckus in Florida and the Supreme Court, it is that it has placed this question on hold for the duration.

It's simply the nature of the two party system, with two entrenched parties sharing the majority of political influence, that any independent party plays the role of a spoiler. Like a zero-sum operation, what weakens one side strengthens the other. Nader unquestionably hurt Gore more than Bush. Had Pat Buchanan run a competent and serious campaign he would have hurt Bush. (As a matter of fact Buchanan does seem to have hurt Bush in Iowa and Wisconsin, and possibly elsewhere.) And so what?

To say one should never support an independent party for fear of playing the role of a spoiler to one of the major parties (both of them securely anchored in the status quo) is to abjure using the electoral process to effect major reform. And spoiler accusations against Nader on this level smell highly at this date of an apologia for Gore.

The Nader campaign was undoubtedly one of the factors which led to Gore's defeat, although I would guess a rather insignificant one. It certainly rankles those of us who supported the Green campaign and voted for Nader. But what hurt Gore was his own political timidity, his own penchant for self-destruction and in particular his refusal to make use of President Clinton's campaign talents and ability on his own behalf. Nader was not a determining factor in Gore's inability to carry Arkansas and Tennessee.

Nader can be faulted in some regards. He seemed oblivious to the evident fact that minor parties all fade in the polls on the eves of close-fought elections - precisely because people vote tactically and will give way to the lesser evil. (It's a necessary skill in a two-party state.) Accordingly he believed his 5% target was within reach.

However, had Nader recognized the inevitable, that in the immediate days before the November vote the race was very close, he should have had the sense to appeal to his own supporters in the toss-up, so-called "battlefield" states to hold their noses and vote for Gore. He would have lost very little in concrete terms, emerged a hero to most of the progressive forces in this country, he would be in a position to demonstrate his party's clout, and most importantly, would have spoken to the real anxieties of those sectors of American society most fearful of living under a Bush regime.

Some of Nader's post-election boasting and mocking Gore leaves a sour taste. We have not won a marvellous victory. The left needs to find ways to approach many of the social forces and movements who for various reasons chose to support Gore in this election. And we do not need beforehand to make them even more sceptical of our own intentions.