The essential mystery of the 2000 election has always been this: How in the world did George W. Bush ever get close enough to invite the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to give him his “victory”?
Of course, he couldn’t have done it all by himself. Al Gore ran away from one of the most successful economic records of any Administration this century and could not seem to articulate a single compelling reason that he should be President. Bush was also mightily aided by Ralph Nader, whose spoiler candidacy commanded just enough support to swing battleground states for the Republicans while failing to come even remotely close to the 5 percent, matching-funds goal that was his professed inspiration. But the biggest piece of the puzzle is still Bush. He may have “grown” in office, but the fact is he had some of the skimpiest qualifications for the job of almost any successful candidate in our history, while Gore’s were among the best. Moreover, his political views were well to the right of most voters on almost everything, while Gore’s were well within the national consensus. By any conventional calculation, Bush should have lost in a landslide.
The obvious answer to the paradox is that Bush sold his personality, not his politics. But how? Are people just stupid? Don’t they realize that it doesn’t matter if one candidate is a likable cutup and the other one a superior stiff when it comes to stuff like global warming, a patients’ bills of rights, Social Security, the right to choose, etc.? Well, that’s one answer. But a more compelling one is that the so-called liberal media, contrary to its nonsensical reputation for favoring Democrats, failed to inform the public of the two candidates’ political and ideological differences, and the implications those differences held for the nation’s future.
The release of two different kinds of campaign documents–Ambling Into History, a book by New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, and Journeys With George, a film by former NBC News producer Alexandra Pelosi–shed considerable light on just how the media managed to spend millions upon millions covering the candidates while reporting next to nothing of value to voters. Ambling is a memoir of a love-struck reporter. The journalist charged with covering the campaign for the newspaper that sets the agenda for most of the elite media focuses with laserlike intensity on every nod, wink, smile and profession of alleged “love” that comes his way from the candidate. But we hear barely a word about the candidate’s pollution- and fat-cat-friendly policies as governor of Texas or his lies and dissimulations when it came to environmental protection, affirmative action, issues of corporate responsibility, healthcare policy and the like. If you want to know the exact number of seconds that George and Laura Bush danced at every one of their nine Inaugural Balls, then the intrepid Mr. Bruni is your man. If you have any interest in what Bush might have been doing at his desk the following morning, well, where did you get the silly idea that a New York Times reporter should concern himself with boring stuff like that?