As we go to press, word comes from Florida that beleaguered state officials have decided to reject offers of technical assistance that have poured in from Cuban and Salvadoran election observers as well as from various international human rights monitoring groups and WWF referees. But, in a dramatic act of bipartisanship, the Bush and Gore campaigns have made a joint announcement that they will be accepting the intervention of a battalion of Swiss Forensic Jewelers. Armed with micrometers and precision eyepieces, the Swiss team will be given final and full authority to inspect, evaluate and adjudicate the chads, hanging chads, swinging chads, pregnant chads and devilish "tri-chads" on which this election–no pun intended–now hinges.
In the meantime, it’s great fun to watch a real live Chicago Daley bellow for clean elections, while Bush, through his campaign, tries to argue that all those Palm Beach Auschwitz survivors are really closet Buchanan groupies.
It’s a wonderful finale, being played out on such a microscopic scale, more than fitting for an election campaign that featured two such Lilliputian candidates running on such entropic programs. After a season in which both major parties colluded in staging the most front-loaded, antidemocratic primaries in history, after they elbowed each other out for first place at the corporate feeding and funding trough, after they staged the most hollow conventions on record and then conspired to close out Nader and Buchanan from the debates, it’s more than a little satisfying to watch them claw each other apart in the name of "voter rights."
Now, none of this would be happening if Al Gore had neatly won the election that history more or less made inevitable for him. So, before we get into how this mess might play out, let’s spend a moment reviewing how Gore screwed up.
Sniffling Democrats have their panties all tied in knots blaming Ralph Nader for their predicament. But this allegation doesn’t pass the giggle test. What was "wasted" was not a few percentage points’ worth of Nader votes, but rather these last eight years. When Bill Clinton and Al Gore won the White House in 1992, some argued there was at least a mathematical chance for renewal. The long and costly Cold War had collapsed and along with it our real and imagined enemies. A new, younger generation, forged in the passions of the civil rights and antiwar movements, was coming to power. It seemed for a few brief moments that a new national politics was possible.
But the Democratic administration quickly failed to provide any significant transformative leadership. The President proceeded to triangulate Capitol Hill and, splitting his own Democratic congressional delegation, went on to pass a raft of Republican-inspired legislation ranging from draconian welfare reform to expanded death penalties to NAFTA and the China trade pact. The Soviet Union was gone, but military spending remained steady.
Social spending remained anathema, but the budget was balanced. The White House had promised to put people first, but today there are 10 million more Americans without health insurance than in 1992 and the wealth gap between rich and poor now approaches Roman proportions.
Worse, the Democrats spent the latter part of the 90s trying to convince Americans that it doesn’t matter if a president lies or cheats–"they all do it," was the refrain. Democrats should consider this when seeing that 2 percent of their fellows voted for Nader while 11 percent voted for Bush.
Al Gore tried to run this race on what the pundits call "the issues." In the end, he got mired in a personality contest with a subliterate son of a former CIA director. With the Democrats failing to chart an alternative future for the country, voters couldn’t be convinced there was very much at stake. Americans might not be the most politically sophisticated people on Earth, but you don’t have to be a full-salaried network talking head to at least intuit that there just ain’t much difference between the two major parties on any issues. If both guys are going to give you more or less the same, why not elect the nicer of the two?
So here we are, and once again it’s the liberals who are doing the scut work for a candidate who built his career by insulting them. The same "progressive" squad that went to the semen-stained mattresses to defend a wretched Bill Clinton, ranging from the Rev. Jackson to full-time Gore Whores like Lanny Davis and Susan Estrich, is now spinning 24/7, trying to create the illusion that the sordid circus in Florida is some sort of a Constitutional Crisis.
But so anxious are they to keep scooping the crumbs from the table of power, that they are overlooking the best and most obvious of scenarios. Let Bush have the White House. Let Bush Be Bush.
If Bush eventually prevails, he will be impotent from the outset. Delegitimized by losing the popular vote and squeaking by in Florida, with only a one-vote majority in the Senate (at best) and a handful in the House, he can forget about privatizing Social Security or enacting tax cuts for Poppy’s pinochle cronies. Hell, he’ll be lucky if he can legislate a change in public leash laws. Bush will be swearing in just as the decade-old economic expansion begins to deflate, and it will be a Bush administration that will inherit the review and renewal of the welfare repeal act (signed into law by Clinton-Gore), which expires in 2002. A Bush inauguration could be a real twofer for the liberals. While, in reality, Bush would be toothless, interest groups like NARAL and the NAACP could crank out blizzards of direct mail, raking in millions by scaring the piss out of their constituents, conjuring up everything from mandatory coat hangers to mass lynchings. In the 2002 congressional elections, in the midst of recession, the Democrats would be sure to finally take back both chambers and would be poised two years later to move back into the White House.
As Kevin Phillips has written, a Bush presidency would, indeed, be a post-Monica "fluke." The Republicans have lost the ideological war in this historical cycle because the Democrats have so masterfully co-opted them. Bush would have never had a chance if the Democrats had had the brains to force Clinton to resign after the Blue Dress materialized. Instead, they bunkered in with Big Bill and tried to portray him as, of all things, a martyr! They may be on the verge of making the same mistake with Al Gore by overplaying the hand dealt in Florida.
That’s all fine by me, by the way. I voted for Nader and would rush to do it again. The longer these two parties wrestle around in the mud, the better. The only "crisis" for me is if I run out of popcorn.
Marc Cooper is a contributing editor to The Nation