So it all came out right in the end: gridlock
on the Hill and Nader blamed for sabotaging Al Gore.
First a word about
gridlock. We like it. No bold initiatives, like privatizing Social
Security or shoving through vouchers. No ultra-right-wingers
making it onto the Supreme Court. Ah, you protest, but what about
the bold plans that a Democratic-controlled Congress and Gore
would have pushed through? Relax. There were no such plans. These
days gridlock is the best we can hope for.
Now for blaming
Nader. Fine by us if all that people look at are those 97,000
Green votes for Ralph in Florida. That's good news in itself.
Who would have thought the Sunshine State had that many progressives
in it, with steel in their spine and the spunk to throw Eric
Alterman's columns for The Nation into the trashcan?
And they had plenty
of reason to dump Gore. What were the big issues for Greens in
Florida? The Everglades. Back in 1993 the hope was that Clinton/Gore
would push through a cleanup bill to prevent toxic runoff from
the sugar plantations south of Lake Okeechobee from destroying
the swamp that covers much of south-central Florida. Such hopes
foundered on a "win-win" solution brokered by sugar
barons and the real estate industry. Clinton signed off on it
, in a conversation with Alfonso Fanjul overheard by Monica Lewinsky
as her the commander in chief deferentially accepted his marching
Another issue prompted some of those 97,000 to
defiantly vote for Nader: the Homestead Air Force Base, which
sits between Biscayne National Park and the Everglades. The old
Air Force base had been scheduled for shutdown, but then Cuban-American
real estate interests concocted a scheme to turn the base into
a commercial airport. Despite repeated pleas from biologists
inside the Interior Department as well as from Florida's Greens,
Gore refused to intervene, cowed by the Canosa family, which
represented the big money behind the airport's boosters.
Just to make sure
there would be no significant Green defections back to the Democratic
standard, Joe Lieberman made a last-minute pilgrimage to the
grave of Jorge Mas Canosa, once the godfather of the sinister
Cuban-American National Foundation.. You want one final reason
for the Nader voter in Florida?
Try the death penalty,
for which Gore issued strident support in that final debate.
Florida runs third, after Texas and Virginia as a killing machine,
and for many progressives in the state it's an issue of principle.
Incidentally, about half a million ex-felons, sentences and probation
fully served, are disenfranchised permanently in Florida. A crucial
number of these would have voted for Gore the crime fighter and
supporter of the War on Drugs.
Other reasons many Greens nationally refused to
knuckle under and sneak back to the Gore column? You want an
explanation of why he lost Ohio by four points and New Hampshire
by one? Try the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator (world's largest)
in East Liverpool, Ohio. Gore promised voters in 1992 that a
Democratic administration would kill it. It was a double lie.
First, Carol Browner's EPA almost immediately gave the incinerator
a permit. When confronted on his broken pledge, Gore said the
decision had been pre-empted by the outgoing Bush crowd. This
too was a lie, as voters in Ohio discovered a week before Election
Bush's EPA chief, finally testified this fall that Gore's environmental
aide Katie McGinty told him in the 1992 transition period that
"it was the wishes of the new incoming administration to
get the trial-burn permit granted. The Vice President?elect would
be grateful if I simply made that decision before leaving office."
Don't think this
was a picayune issue with no larger consequences. Citizens of
East Liverpool, notably Terry Swearingen, have been campaigning
across the country on this scandal for years, haunting Gore.
So too, to its credit, has Greenpeace. They were particularly
active in the Northeast, during Gore's primary battles with Bill
Bradley. You can certainly argue that the last-minute disclosure
of Gore's WTI lies prompted enough Greens to stay firm and cost
him New Hampshire, a state which, with Oregon, would have given
Gore the necessary 270 votes.
And why didn't Gore
easily sweep Oregon? A good chunk of the people on the streets
of Seattle last November come from Oregon. They care about NAFTA,
the WTO and the ancient forests that Gore has been pledging to
save since 1992. The spotted owl is now scheduled to go extinct
on the Olympic Peninsula within the next decade. Another huge
environmental issue in Oregon has been the fate of the salmon
runs, wrecked by the Snake River dams. Gore thought he'd finessed
that one by pretending that unlike Bush, he would leave the decision
to the scientists. Then, a week before the election, Gore's team
of scientists released a report saying they thought the salmon
could be saved without breaching the four dams. Nader got 5 percent
in Oregon, an amazing result given the intensive carpet-bombing
by flacks for Gore like Gloria Steinem.
Yes, Nader didn't break 5 percent nationally,
but he should feel great, and so should the Greens who voted
for him. Their message to the Democrats is clear. Address our
issues, or you'll pay the same penalty next time around. Nader
should draw up a short list of Green non-negotiable issues and
nail it to the doors of the Democratic National Committee.
By all means credit
Nader, but of course Gore has only himself to blame. He's a product
of the Democratic Leadership Council, whose pro-business stance
was designed to regain the South for the Democrats. Look at the
map. Bush swept the entire South, with the possible exception
of Florida. Gore's electoral votes came from the two coasts and
the old industrial Midwest. The states Gore did win mostly came
courtesy of labor and blacks.
where voters know Gore best. He would have won the election if
he'd carried his home state. Gore is good with liberals earning
$100,000-$200,000. He can barely talk to rural people, and he
made another fatal somersault, reversing his position on handguns
after telling Tennessee voters for years that he was solid on
the gun issue. Guns were a big factor in Ohio and West Virginia
too. You can't blame Nader for that, but it's OK with us if you
As for Nader holding the country to ransom, what's
wrong with a hostage taker with a national backing of 2.7 million
people? The election came alive because of Nader. Let's hope
he and the Greens keep it up through the next four years. Not
one vote for Nader, Mr. Alterman? He got them where it counted,
and now the Democrats are going to have to deal with it.