Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books), The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve) and Playing President (Akashic Books). He is author, with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Akashic Books and Seven Stories Press.) His weekly column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Wait until next season. I've already started practicing my chad-punching, and I suggest the same as therapy for all who feel ripped off by the collusion between the US Supreme Court's right-wing ideologues and George W. Bush's lawyers to prevent an accurate Florida vote count. The electoral process will survive and Bush may even learn to do the job, but the price of his victory is the court's denigration.
It took a non-ideological Republican appointee, a near-extinct breed in the GOP, to puncture the outrageous hypocrisy of the Antonin Scalia-led majority that defined a fair recount by the singular standard that would leave Bush the winner.
In his dissent, John Paul Stevens wrote the indelible postscript to this judicial farce: "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."
The so-called court conservatives simply had no sense of shame or even proportion. Think of the conflicts of interest we learned about only in the last few days: Clarence Thomas's wife is helping the conservative Heritage Foundation recruit workers for a Bush administration, and Scalia has two sons associated with key law firms representing Bush--one a partner of Theodore Olson, who argued Bush's case before the high court.
It's also common knowledge that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor indicated a desire to retire, but only if Bush won and could replace them. In that event, Bush would likely appoint Scalia as chief justice.
Common decency, let alone judicial integrity, should have left the court's majority more hesitant in acting as agent for selecting the next President. Instead of taking the high road and leaving the matter where it belonged with the Florida Supreme Court--according to the federal high court's own oft-avowed states' rights precepts--Scalia and company insisted on halting the recount. Why? Because there wasn't time to do it right. But whose fault was that? Bush's and the US Supreme Court's.
Had the statewide count of disputed ballots been allowed to fairly conclude, it would have shored up our next President's legitimacy. If Bush had won the electoral vote after a fair count in Florida, it would have taken the sting out of his ascending to the presidency despite losing the national popular vote.
The US Supreme Court's heavy-handed intrusion was as destructive of confidence in our political system as it was unnecessary. As Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in dissent, the majority ruling represented "a self-inflicted wound--a wound that may harm not just the court but the nation."
Never again will a President's appointment of a federal judge be viewed by the public--and more important the Senate, which must confirm it--as a neutral, nonpolitical act. Recall that even such hard-line ideologues as Justices Thomas and Scalia were confirmed with votes from Democratic senators who thought it important to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Next time anyone of discernible ideological bias is nominated, there will be unprecedented senatorial gridlock. For that reason, the real test of the Bush presidency will be his appointments to the federal courts.
It is the same test faced by his father: Will they be true moderates, such as Justice David H. Souter, a man capable of complex legal thought, or another Thomas, whose most sentient act is to look to Scalia, then vote? What a sad comment that the man who replaced Thurgood Marshall as the only African-American on the court should now, in helping to block the recount, so brazenly mock Marshall's lifelong crusade to insure the sanctity of the black vote.
In any event, the court has handed the nation George Bush as President, and we can live with that and even entertain hopes that he will rise to the occasion, despite an obvious lack of preparation. Deep down, if one can presume such a thing, he seems a decent sort. If he just keeps in mind that most of the voters rejected him, he might resist Tom DeLay's ultra-rightists in the House and pursue a moderate legislative course. In any case, now that Joseph Lieberman will retain his seat, the Senate will be evenly divided, and centrists of both parties will be calling the shots.
But what we cannot live with is an even more politicized judiciary dominated by right-wing ideologues. The GOP's far right will want strong proof that its aggressive campaigning for Bush is rewarded, and its prime goal is complete control of the federal judiciary, which is why Senate Republicans blocked scores of Bill Clinton's judicial appointments. However, if Bush attempts to reward his rabidly conservative backers by placing their favorites in high positions in the federal judiciary, he will tear this country apart. And next time, his opponent's chads will be punched so forcefully that even the Supreme Court won't be able to save him.
We know what they're afraid of. Cut through the Republican verbiage that has clogged the airwaves and courts and you find one simple but disturbing point: They fear an accurate vote count because it might prove that Al Gore has the votes to be fairly elected President.
That's been their concern since election night, when they began their drawn-out process of obstruction, and if they succeed in once again killing the manual count through their US Supreme Court appeal, George W. Bush's victory will stand as a low point in the annals of American democracy.
The indelible impression left on our history will be that Gore won both the popular and electoral vote and that he and the voters were cheated out of that victory by a US Supreme Court dominated by political ideologues appointed by Republican Presidents. If the Justices cared a whit about the sanctity of the vote, they would have let the manual-counting process decreed Friday by the Florida Supreme Court continue. If that had resulted in a Bush win, we should all have gracefully acknowledged his victory.
Bush, who lost by more than 330,000 in the popular vote--what most of us grew up thinking of as the real election--may now squeak by with an electoral college win resulting from a ruling by the right-wing-led US Supreme Court. During the campaign, Bush cited Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his judicial role models, and he has been amply rewarded. Legal gobbledygook has replaced reason when the mere act of fairly counting the votes of the citizens is halted to suit the political agenda of the party that appointed the majority of the Justices.
In a close election, a manual count of all votes not counted by the antiquated voting machines is a statutory mandate in many states, including Florida and Texas, and should have been the common-sense demand of both candidates in Florida. If that simple standard--accurately and fairly counting all of the votes to ascertain the intent of each voter--had been asserted in a bipartisan manner, there would have been no reason for the subsequent confusion and the never-to-end questioning of the legitimacy of our next President.
Instead, unprecedented rancor will mark the next years of our politics, mocking all efforts at bipartisan cooperation. This will be particularly true in battles over the judiciary, which, more than ever, will come to be viewed widely as a partisan tool.
The Florida election will always be too close to call in a manner that would leave partisans of both sides totally satisfied. Whoever loses will feel ripped off, but the denigration of the Florida Supreme Court and of Gore's legal challenges by top Bush Republican spokesperson James Baker has gone too far. Twice now he has smeared the motives of Florida Supreme Court justices for daring to come to conclusions not to Baker's liking. Yet he reached a new low Friday in disparaging the right of a presidential candidate--who has won the national popular vote and is only three electoral votes from victory--to ask for a judicial review of the obviously deeply flawed Florida election results.
Get real. Both Baker and Bush know they would do the same had the results gone the other way. Yet they self-righteously abandoned civility when the nation most needed it. There are no villains in this election, only imperfect machines and people, but the Bush camp has vilified the Gore camp for daring to seek a fair adjudication of such matters.
We are still a nation of laws, and it was unconscionable for Baker to blast Gore for appealing to the Florida state high court at the very time Bush's lawyers raced to the federal courts in an unseemly departure from the GOP's commitment to states' rights. In Baker's view, the problem is not that we have a razor-close election and flawed voting procedures, but rather that Gore dares to assert his legal rights: "This is what happens when, for the first time in modern history, a candidate resorts to lawsuits to overturn the outcome of an election for President. It is very sad. It is sad for Florida. It is sad for the nation, and it is sad for democracy."
Hogwash! What is sad is that tens of thousands of African-American and Jewish voters in Florida were systematically denied their right to vote by poorly drawn ballots, malfunctioning voting machines and unhelpful voting officials. What is sad is that election officials in two counties turned over flawed Republican absentee ballot applications for corrections by Republican Party officials but did no such favors for Democrats.
What would be most sad--indeed, alarming--is if a partisan US Supreme Court proves to be an enemy of representative democracy.
The Oakland Raiders lost by one point Sunday, and it was all my fault. My concentration as their most fanatical fan was broken by constantly switching to CNN to watch overpriced lawyers in a mud-wrestling contest in the Leon County Circuit Court. What was I thinking? How could my priorities be so screwed up?
The Super Bowl is still a prize worth pursuing, but the presidential race doesn't matter anymore. The declared winner of that contest will be the loser, done in by the unrelenting hostility of the opposing crowd jamming his signal-calling. Even his most ardent supporters, with an eye on the 2002 Congressional elections, are anxious as they watch their man kill the clock. Whichever way the Florida skirmish goes when it's finally over, for the next two years, George W. Bush and Al Gore will smash repeatedly, for little or no gain, into a very crowded center.
Sure, I'll continue to be outraged at the Bush franchise for pulling off a bogus victory in Florida, giving their man the title despite being 357,852 points behind in the national score. But after mulling this over while I wait for the pundits' parking lot to clear, I've concluded this rigged defeat will be good for the Dems' team, which will come back all the tougher to win another day. Back to the practice field to work on that chad-punching!
Anyway, it's time to turn off the TV and get a life. I just can't watch any more of those instant replays of disconnected chads and folksy judges. Enough with the coaches' appeals to the refs to see if man or nature, i.e. the ground, caused the fumble.
Gore did fumble, but he's played much better in the postseason, and even though he's almost a sure loser, he's a cinch to be be re-signed by the Democrats as their chief signal-caller for the next season. If Bush remains sulking in the locker room, as he has in the past weeks, his performance as President will leave the fans demanding Gore's return.
The good news is that recruiting for the progressive side is going very well. Hillary Rodham Clinton may have to redshirt for a few years while she learns the ropes, but I'm betting on her to be leading the league in no time. Trent Lott should have been thrown out of the game for his un-sportsman-like conduct suggesting that Hillary might be hit by lightning before she was able to take her place in the Senate, but it will only make her a stronger force. Then there's Maria Cantwell, who pulled off a big one for the Dems in Washington state last week, which the league finally certified. With four first-round draft picks who are strong pro-choice women added to the Senate, it's the end of the season for overturning Roe v. Wade. Beginning with abortion, in fact, forget any serious sweep to the right on social issues, or you can kiss Republican chances goodbye next time.
Cantwell's victory brings the Dems up to equal strength in the Senate if Bush is president, and ahead by a lone Republican vote if Gore should pull off a miracle and claim victory (thus taking Joe Lieberman out of a Senate seat that would go to a Republican). In either case, a single defection, say of John McCain, who has already stated he won't be following Lott's game plan, could change the outcome.
The big play in the next Congress will be a McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform end-run that neither Lott nor the House Republican leadership will be able to block. That's a rule change giving the fans in the cheaper seats a say, which Bush wouldn't dare to veto.
If the Republicans can still count the trainers' fingers, they know that the unexpected pickup of four Democrats in the Senate and the popular vote victory of Gore secures Bill Clinton's place as a hall-of-famer. Bush only did as well as he did because he stole from the Clinton playbook.
That should put Tom DeLay and his right-wing cowboys in the House out of contention no matter who's the president. Remember that guy Gingrich, who used to play for them? In the end, he was nothing but trash talk; even the Capitol groundskeepers forgot his name.
Sounds like a lot of wait-until-next-year hype? Maybe, but, remember, I'm a Raiders fan. We know nothing ever goes as expected, not even the name of your hometown. We know this is no time for false confidence, because the refs are always against us, and the owner of our team has a way of selling us out just when we think we could be on a winning streak.
We know that if the Dems don't continue to play aggressive ball, and instead fall into some cowardly prevent defense, they could still fold. Then it'll be time to trade Gore.
In Texas, vote-counters routinely count a dimpled chad as a vote for the candidate because it clearly establishes the voter's intent.
Three weeks ago, that sentence would have been gibberish, a sure sign that the writer had lost his mind. But I offer it today as the key point in the debate about who should be President and as proof positive that the Bush camp is being, to put it politely, disingenuous. Both Texas and Florida law hold that a voter's intent is all important in determining how a vote is counted. An indented ballot--the now-famous dimpled or pregnant chad--has been interpreted in states, from Texas to Massachusetts, as proof that the voter intended to vote for a particular candidate.
All the Florida Supreme Court has done, by a unanimous vote, is to affirm that the manual count is legal, just as it would be in Texas. So what's the fuss? Why are all of the Bushies yapping about the possibility of a stolen election, given that what county election officials are now doing in Florida has long been the common practice in their candidate's home state?
George W. Bush is acting as if he believes the presidency is part of his natural inheritance. Otherwise, why wouldn't he gracefully play out the hand that the Florida Supreme Court has dealt and accept Al Gore's offer to agree to support the decision of the voters as announced in four days, a decision that is still most likely to go Bush's way?
Even with the dimpled chad ballots included, Bush may be the next President, ambiguous though his victory may be. He did, after all, lose the national popular vote by more than 250,000 votes, which would make him the first loser since 1888 to squeak through in the electoral college. But our system requires that, if that happens, he be granted the awesome powers of the presidency, in which case we should all give him the respect due to the occupant of that office.
By endorsing the manual count, the Florida Supreme Court made the best of a bad situation. The Bush team is solely responsible for not exercising its right--after Gore asked for recounts in several counties--to request hand counts in those counties where Bush could have picked up more votes. Instead, Bush and his aides have done their best to obstruct the fairest way to recount legitimate votes in disputed counties, and they have muddied the waters with their attacks on manual counting as some sort of Democratic plot. It isn't, as demonstrated by the widespread use of this device to check the fallibility of machines throughout the nation. Imperfect, yes; devious, no.
And what about the other voting irregularities in Florida, most of which seem to have cheated Gore? The case of the Republican campaign helpers in Seminole County who were allowed to work in the registrar's office--some up to ten days--adding required information to thousands of absentee ballot applications that would have been disqualified; the flawed butterfly ballots in Palm Beach County; the tens of thousands of ballots of black voters around Jacksonville that were rejected because of a confusing ballot that led to double-punching.
The Gore campaign decided against asking that the outcome of the election be held up pending an investigation of those cases. Gore also stated that he wouldn't accept any electoral college votes cast for him by Bush electors in any state, and will willingly accept the results of the count underway in Florida as a final disposition of the presidential race, no matter the outcome.
The Bush camp appears ready to accept that result only if its man is the victor. Toward that end, it is willing to trample on the cherished Republican principle of states' rights by appealing to the US Supreme Court to overturn Florida's highest court. It has also threatened to use Florida's GOP-controlled state Legislature to undermine the court, making a hash of the principle of an independent judiciary.
The Bush blitzkrieg against the Democrats for exercising their right to ask for a manual count betrays the bipartisan cooperation that Bush promised during the campaign. It is neither candidate's fault that this, the most closely contested election in over a century, has proved so difficult to call.
Bush probably will win the electoral battle, but he will only emerge as a true winner by taking the high road now and joining Gore in pledging to be bound by the vote totals as reported to the secretary of state in keeping with the Florida Supreme Court's order.
When George W. Bush spokesman James A. Baker III termed the fight over the Florida vote recount "a black mark on our democracy," he couldn't have been more wrong. At the time he said it on Sunday, Bush was ahead in Florida by a mere 288 votes, and of course the full recount, required by Florida law, is in order, as a federal judge ruled Monday.
Anyway, since when is political tumult and democracy a bad mix? Never in our recent history has the vitality of our democracy been on such splendid display, and it's disheartening that there are so many frightened politicians and pundits panicked by this whiff of controversy.
What's wrong with a bit of electoral chaos and rancor? The post-electoral debate over a rare photo finish is just the stuff that made this country great. People should be outraged if their votes were improperly counted--the founding fathers fought duels over less.
We have lectured the world about the importance of fair elections, and we cannot get away with hiding the imperfections of our own system. Not so imperfect as to require international observers for a full-scale investigation under UN supervision, yet controversial enough to fully engage the public. An election that once threatened to be boring beyond belief has turned into a cliffhanger that is now more interesting than reality-based TV entertainment. Indeed, it is reality-based TV entertainment.
Never since John F. Kennedy eked out a suspicious victory over Richard M. Nixon in 1960 has the proverbial man-in-the-street been so caught up on the nuances of the electoral process. People who didn't even realize we had an electoral college are now experts on it. But instead of celebrating an election that people are finally excited about, driving home the lesson for this and future generations that every vote counts, the pundits are beside themselves with despair.
What hypocrites. They love every moment of increased media exposure for themselves, while darkly warning of the danger to our system. Their fears are nonsense. What is being demonstrated is that the system works: Recounts, court challenges, partisan differences are a healthy response to an election too close to call.
The fear-mongers hold out two depressing scenarios, one being that the people will lose faith in the electoral process, and the other that whoever wins the election will be weakened for lack of a mandate.
As to the former, the electoral process has never seemed more vital; some who voted for Ralph Nader may be second-guessing their choices, and states such as Florida and Oregon with primitive voting systems will no doubt come into the modern age, but apathy has been routed, and next time around, the presidential vote count will be the highest ever.
True, the candidate who finally wins will be weakened. He should be. An election this close hardly provides the winner with a compelling mandate, particularly if it is Bush, who may win the electoral college majority while Al Gore is declared the winner of the popular vote. If that turns out to be the case, Bush ought to tread with caution.
Compromise is good when not only the President is without a mandate but so, too, the House and the Senate because of their razor-thin outcomes. The country has come through eight incredibly prosperous and relatively peaceful years, so why the rush to march down some new uncharted course? Later for privatizing Social Security, a huge tax cut for the super-rich and a $160-billion missile defense system--three mad components of the core Republican program.
As for the Democrats, with or without Gore as President, it will be the season for nothing more ambitious than damage control. With Gore, the main weapon of reason would not be bold new programs that Congress would ignore, but rather the threat of a veto to stop Republican mischief. Without Gore, the responsibility will fall on the Democratic minority in both branches of Congress to engage in a principled holding action preparing for a congressional majority in 2002.
Odds are that Bush will be the President presiding over a nation that, by a clear margin in the popular vote, rejected him for Gore. If Bush wins the office, his challenge will be to prove that the moderate face he presented during the election is truly his. If it isn't, and he attempts to be a hero to the right wing of his party, he will wreck the GOP. Clearly, future political power resides with the vibrant big cities and modern suburbs, the sophisticated hot spots of the new economy, which went for Gore, and not the backwater rural outposts that turned out to be Bush country largely because men remain obsessed with their guns.
The lesson of election 2000, no matter the final photo-finish outcome, is that, for better or worse, the Democratic Party is the only political home for those with a progressive agenda. That was recognized by the overwhelming support for Al Gore among union workers, racial minorities, lower-income people and voters who want government to be an active agent in preserving the environment, empowering minorities and women, protecting personal freedom and guaranteeing, as Hillary Rodham Clinton promised throughout her campaign, that no child is left behind in this prosperous nation.
It is elitist in the extreme for Ralph Nader to scorn the judgment of those who make up the core constituency of the Democratic Party: labor, women's rights activists, minorities, civil libertarians, gays, environmentalists. What contempt he showed for his longtime allies, going into Florida on the last day of the campaign to denounce Gore in terms harsher than those he used for George W. Bush. Nader's nearly 100,000 Florida votes likely has cost Democrats the White House and with it the veto power President Clinton has used to protect the very people that Nader was bamboozling.
Does Nader really believe that Bush, if he prevails, would push for a minimum-wage increase, earned income tax credit, affirmative action, food stamps, Head Start or child care--programs that represent the margin of survival for so many? Will Nader, now back in his role as consumer lobbyist, not be begging Democratic stalwarts Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and California's Rep. Henry Waxman to hold the line on a Republican Congress as it betrays patients to the big health care corporations?
If Bush has the White House, will Nader not look primarily to a hardy band of Democrats to save the environment? Easy to deride the Democratic politicians who, yes, do depend on fund-raising to survive. But can Nader deny that it was Rep. Phil Burton, the late Democratic political boss from San Francisco, who did more than anyone to save the redwoods and to convince urban people of their stake in preserving the rural environment? Burton was only one of many liberals who have fought the good fight that Nader demeans.
If I sound angry it's in part with myself for having at times in the past fallen for the siren song of what appears to be a purist politics but ends up being mischievous when it's not downright destructive.
What Nader did was to impulsively betray a lifetime of painstaking, frustrating, but most often effective, efforts on his part to make a better world. He is a good man who went very wrong and who now seems to find solace from his egregious error of judgment by getting drunk on his own words. The day after the election wreckage he had helped to cause, he was more arrogant than ever in his condemnation of the Democratic Party as evil incarnate.
It is nothing of the sort. The Democratic Party, for all of its contradictions and shortcomings, is the essential arena for progressives to fight for their programs, just as the Republican Party provides that venue for the Christian Coalition, which rudely rejected Pat Buchanan and kept its troops in the GOP.
Nader should have done the same. Following the lead of the enormously successful Jesse Jackson campaigns, he should have run in the Democratic primaries, shaping the party from within. Jackson recognizes what Nader willfully ignores: We have had party realignment. The white "Dixiecrats" of the South are now all in the Republican Party, leaving the Southern Democrats in Congress disproportionately black.
But it is not just African Americans who need the Democratic Party to fight for their interests. It is also true of Latinos and new immigrants who have found the Democrats to be their main ally in campaigns for amnesty and in waging legal battles against anti-immigrant legislation, such as California's Proposition 187.
Women of all races and classes also vote disproportionately for the Democratic Party because it's committed both to a women's control over her own body and to a level playing field in the job market. Perhaps the most significant group making its home in the Democratic Party is organized labor, which under the inspired leadership of the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney has finally reemerged to take on Nader's nemesis: the titans of the corporate world. Gore won the popular vote and the key battleground states in the North largely because of the grassroots organizing of labor.
By sticking with the Democratic Party, most of the people Nader has devoted his life to helping proved smarter than he was in the crunch. They dared not risk losing hard-fought gains to follow Nader into the quicksand of a third party. It is time for Nader to stop playing the Pied Piper and come home.
Bill Gates for President--next time. Now that we've gotten used to millionaires running for the presidency, why not a billionaire and a self-made one at that? At least Gates is aware that the biggest problem in the world is not how to make some Americans even wealthier but how to deal with the abysmal poverty that defines the condition of two-thirds of God's people.
Odd as it may seem, it took the richest man in the world in a dramatic speech last week to remind us that no man is an island, and that when most of the world's population lives on the edge of extinction, it mocks the rosy predictions for our common future on a wired planet.
Gates shocked a conference of computer industry wizards with the news that the billions of people who subsist on a dollar a day are not in a position to benefit from the Information Age. He charged that the hoopla over the digital revolution, which he pioneered, is now a dangerous distraction from the urgent need to deal seriously with the festering problem of world poverty. Gates, who has donated an enormous amount to charity, also made the case that private donations alone will not solve the problem, and that massive government intervention is needed.
"Do people have a clear idea of what it is to live on $1 a day?" Gates asked the conferees. "There's no electricity in that house. None. You're just buying food, you're trying to stay alive."
The "Creating Digital Dividends" conference he addressed was one of those occasions in which the computer industry indulges the hope that as it earns enormous profits, it is solving the major problems facing humanity. The premise of the conference was that "market drivers" could be used "to bring the benefits of connectivity and participation in the e-economy to all the world's 6 billion people."
As reported by Sam Howe Verhovek in the New York Times, Gates, who was the conference's closing speaker, doused that hope by denying that the poor would become part of the wired world any time soon. In a follow-up interview, Gates amplified his view of what occurs when computers are suddenly donated to the poor: "The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, 'My children are dying, what can you do?' They're not going to sit there and like, browse eBay."
Gates, who has long extolled the power of computers to solve the world's problems, criticized himself for having been "naïve--very naïve." He has shifted the focus of the $21 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from that of donating Information Age technology to meeting the health needs of the poorest, beginning with the widespread distribution of vaccines.
The New York Times reported that Gates "has lost much of the faith he once had that global capitalism would prove capable of solving the most immediate catastrophes facing the world's poorest people, especially the 40,000 deaths a day from preventable diseases. He added that more philanthropy and more government aid--especially a greater contribution to foreign health programs by American taxpayers--are needed for that."
Given that Gates is presumably the biggest of those taxpayers, that is the most provocative challenge to the complacency of the "free-markets-and-trade-will-solve-everything" ideology that dominates the thinking of both major parties. US foreign aid to the poor represents a pathetic fraction of our budget, while we devote ever larger sums to building a sophisticated military without a sophisticated enemy in sight. Yet those misplaced priorities went totally unchallenged by the presidential candidates of both major parties.
Poverty is the major security problem both within and without our country. These days the have-nots have many windows to the haves, and resentment is inevitable. It is the breeding ground of disorder and terror, and it is absurd to think that a stable new world order can be built on such an uneven foundation.
One of the ironies of the wired world is that those terrorists in their remote mountain camps are wired into the Internet, which has facilitated the coordination of their evil plans. The terrorists have all the laptops and cellular phones they want, but they depend for their effectiveness on recruiting from the ranks of the alienated poor who don't have medicines, food or a safe source of water.
I want to vote for Bill Clinton for President again, but that not being possible I had resigned myself to Al Gore. Surely, I thought, he would defend the Clinton Administration's record of the past eight years, and voters would recognize it as obviously preferable to the debt and divisiveness the Republicans had wrought.
Indeed, the only reason to favor Gore over Bill Bradley in the primaries, which I regrettably did, was that Gore had on-the-job training in the most productive administration in decades. That's what the vice President brought to the table, certainly not his deer-in-the headlights stage presence, and yet he sits dumbfounded for lack of a ready reply when George W. Bush rails on about the failed opportunities of the Clinton-Gore years.
"Hey, buddy," I keep waiting for Gore to say, "I wasn't going to bring up your daddy's wreckage of the economy but you leave me no choice. Are Americans better off now than they were eight years ago? You bet they are. Crime, unemployment and poverty are all down, and the economy is still on an unprecedented roll. Under Bush senior, the Japanese were thought to be entrepreneurally invincible, and now it is US know-how the world seeks to emulate."
Instead of a celebration of what he and the President accomplished despite reactionary Republican control of the Congress, Gore offers only the most mealy-mouthed rejoinders when Bush slanders the record of the Clinton Administration.
Unfortunately, Al Gore has spent most of the election trying to prove that he is not Bill Clinton. He needn't have bothered. No one could ever confuse the two. Gore is by temperament, and apparently conviction, the un-Clinton--it's like comparing a fresh out-of-the-bottle swig of Coke with a 7-Up gone flat.
The President is a compelling advocate for his vision of progressive government, so much so that even his lousy ideas, like welfare reform, have a sizzle of optimism. But in the main, Clinton deserves a great deal of credit for demonstrating that a concerned activist government also can balance the books while lifting the US economy from the doldrums.
Whether it is a matter of personal chemistry or absence of genuine commitment, Gore lacks Clinton's ability to convince us that deep down he's on our side--whoever we are. Gore has made doing even the obviously right thing, like saving Social Security and Medicare, seem partisan and dull.
His best moment was that acceptance speech at the Democratic convention when he sounded the alarm that George W. Bush could actually do serious harm to this country. But since then his campaign has become nothing more than an awkward attempt to keep up with Bush at Texas line-dancing as a form of governance. They move together in a dreary drumbeat of support for the death penalty and huge military expenditures, and Gore has even muffled his criticism of Bush on guns and abortion. Gore has come out of that contest so disoriented that he has even managed to make Ralph Nader seem like a sexy dancer.
Which is why what could prove to be a critical 4 percent of the electorate, composed of largely thoughtful and well-intentioned people, are willing to risk Republican control of the White House. No small risk, given that right-wing Republicans likely will continue to run Congress, and with Bush as President, the third branch of government--the federal judiciary from the Supreme Court on down--will be shaped in the image of Jesse Helms. There is no reason to expect otherwise from a Bush presidency, since he has warned us that Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia, two of the most reactionary judges in the history of the Court, are his judicial role models.
Nader has been less than honest in tarring the major parties with the same brush. He surely must know that the Democrats are better, far better, at protecting consumers and the environment, supporting labor, including raising the minimum wage, and advancing the rights of women, minorities and gays.
However, there is an argument for having Nader in the race and even for telling pollsters that you intend to vote for the man. It's to force Gore to distinguish himself from the Bush campaign in order to win back those Nader votes.
Yet, on Election Day, Gore, for all his faults, still deserves the votes of those who care about the frightening damage that a Republican sweep of the White House and Congress portends for this country.
Behind that smug Bush smile lies the calculations of Trent Lott and the heart of Jesse Helms. There even might be room for the ghost of Newt Gingrich in a Bush Cabinet. It's Halloween time.
Ralph Nader's Green Party campaign for the presidency has evolved into a dangerous game. On one hand, the candidate insists it doesn't matter if George W. Bush beats Al Gore. Yet we also are assured that Nader doesn't pull votes from Gore in closely contested states. Both positions are patently false.
With very few exceptions, most states are up for grabs, including California, where the once huge gap between Bush and Gore has narrowed. Nader now is poised to cost Gore an electoral majority. There is no comparable threat to siphon conservative voters from Bush by the floundering Reform Party campaign of Pat Buchanan.
Nader's supporters are potential Gore, not Bush, voters. "The Nader campaign talks about its appeal to disaffected [John] McCain, [Jesse] Ventura and [Ross] Perot voters, but I have rarely met one at a Nader rally," says reporter Matt Welsh, who has been covering the Nader campaign for the online journal http://www.newsforchange.com. Welsh added: "The biggest applause lines are those that appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party."
Those Nader supporters have an obligation to vote for Gore because a Republican sweep of the White House and Congress would spell disaster for environmental protection and for efforts to increase the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit, not to mention the hard-won gains made by women and minorities. Nader knows better than anyone that there has been a huge difference between the Clinton Administration and the Republican Congress on those issues.
Nor should Nader be downplaying the consequences for the Supreme Court if Bush is elected. On the campaign trail, he muddies the issue by observing that some Republican Presidents have appointed moderates to the Court, ignoring Bush's pledge to Pat Robertson and the rest of the GOP's right wing that he would name judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. As it is, the Court in the past five years has struck down twenty-five progressive laws that Clinton managed to get through Congress, including parts of the Brady gun control bill and the Violence Against Women Act.
That is why leading progressives like Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.), Jesse Jackson and Gloria Steinem have taken to the hustings to convince Naderites to vote for Gore. It is not their intention, or mine, to deny Nader credit as the most consistent and effective crusader for consumer interests in the history of this nation. It is also true that Nader deserves thanks for raising basic issues arising from the corporate dominance of our political process, which the major candidates have pointedly ignored.
And, yes, it does mock democracy to have denied Nader and Buchanan a place in the debates, particularly given moderator Jim Lehrer's apparent indifference to the role of big money in undermining representative democracy. Let me also add that I feel betrayed by a Democratic candidate who is so gutless as to not even utter the name of the President, whose enormously successful administration is the source of Gore's credibility.
So Gore's not perfect--what else is new? Most often, the majority of voters end up siding with the electable candidate who comes closest to their political thinking. For progressives in this election, that is clearly Gore. Certainly, Robertson and his allies on the Republican right now justify their support of Bush as a vote for the lesser evil. They get nervous when Bush talks about "compassionate conservatism" and plays to the center, but they hold their noses and rally around his candidacy because that is the best they've got.
It is time for progressive Democrats to be equally practical. Gore is a centrist Democrat, and he will not likely do much to rein in corporate power, pass much-needed universal health care or reverse the travesty of welfare "reform," which will prove a disaster in the next recession.
But Gore is on record as supporting the McCain-Feingold campaign reform measure, affirmative action and a woman's right to choose. He would protect Social Security and Medicare from Bush's irresponsible privatization schemes. He has an expansive view of civil rights protection for minorities and gays. And he has as consistent a record in support of the environment as any major politician.
Finally, from my experience interviewing Gore and observing him in action, he is far better than his media notices. Like Clinton, but in sharp contrast with Bush, Gore is very bright, has seriously worked the issues and sincerely believes that an effective federal government is necessary for the well-being of the populace.
That may not make for a green revolution, but it's a lot better deal than a Bush White House with the doors thrown open for Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson and Charlton Heston to run amok.
What a deal! Elect George W. Bush President and you get government lite--eat all you want without gaining a pound. Bush promises to cut taxes for all, dramatically increase military spending, finance a trillion-dollar private Social Security system and eliminate the national debt. And Bush claims he will put you, not some Washington bureaucrat, in charge of your life (unless, of course, it concerns your right to choose).
Just to state the main themes of Bush's campaign is to demonstrate their inherent absurdity. But there's method to the madness. Make no mistake: A Bush presidency, abetted by a Republican sweep of Congress and increasing right-wing control of the courts, portends frightening consequences for our lives.
Anyone who's been awake these past eight years should know that it's the Republicans, dominated by their right wing, who tried to block every measure to make government more responsive to the health, environmental and educational interests of ordinary Americans. At the same time, these false prophets of smaller government were pawns of the Christian right's crusade to intrude the federal government into our most personal decisions, beginning with a woman's control of her body. At no point has Bush disowned that Republican agenda.
So why are so many otherwise reasonable people planning to vote for a candidate selling them this ludicrous bill of goods? It's because the guy comes on as a moderate with a disarming smile that could make him the impish star of a sitcom. Just when you realize he's conning you and the bleary face of Newt Gingrich hyping his "contract with America" starts to come into focus, reminding us that we've been through this destructive drill, Bush turns on the all-inclusive charm.
The great deceit of the Bush campaign, beginning with the GOP convention last summer, has been to get voters to forget that it's been the Republican Congress that has threatened America with gridlock and political chaos unless we bend federal government to its skewed agenda--an agenda that Bush has assured the right wing he endorses. The religious right has gone along with the charade, muting its criticisms while Bush plays to the center. Let him fake the moderate for now, they say, knowing that is what it takes to win. For example, Pat Robertson told reporters that he refrained from criticizing the Federal Drug Administration's approval of the abortion pill RU-486 for fear of costing Bush the election. Bush also avoided the issue. The payoff for the right's reserve in the campaign, as Bush has made amply clear, is that he will deliver to them on the judiciary. If the Republicans maintain control of the Senate, which now seems highly likely, a Bush victory would guarantee judicial appointees from the Supreme Court on down who are drawn from Jesse Helms's wish list.
For all of his talk of bipartisanship, Bush, in citing Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his ideal models for future Supreme Court picks, has promised to mold what should be the most independent branch of government in the ideological image of the far right. Indeed, the oft-repeated promise of the Bush campaign to the religious right is that Bush would never repeat the "disaster" that his father made in appointing moderate David Souter to the court.
With the court divided by one vote on most environmental and consumer regulatory matters as well as affirmative action, with only two votes needed to overturn Roe v. Wade and with at least three or four of its members likely to leave the court, the next President will have enormous power through his judicial appointments to shape the future of our government as we know it.
The "strict constructionists" Bush prefers are people who believe the federal government should be crippled as a regulator of big business, as an advocate for racial and economic justice and as a protector of the environment. On the other hand, they would weaken constitutional protection of individual rights and blur the separation of church and state.
The Republican right wing is concerned about personal freedom only when it comes to indulging the National Rifle Association or corporate greed by savaging government regulation. But in matters of individual freedom, be it reproductive rights, protection from job discrimination or hate crimes because of sexual orientation or racism, the Republican leadership, including George W. Bush, is eager to intrude a narrow religious and ideological bias into the most important decisions of our lives.
That's why this election is of crucial importance. What we're facing is the possibility of right-wing control of the presidency, Congress and the courts. And with that will go the saving grace of our system of checks and balances.