Commentary: I can't say I blame Chimes for taking a pass on this one. It was pretty stale. But prosaic problems aside, I do still agree with my thesis. I think this country is a lot more liberal than people realize.
It is well known that elections in this country are usually decided more by image then by issues. Both the right and the left have a solid block that can be counted on to vote predictably, but the difference is made by those who reside in the middle. A good deal of these centrist voters, either consciously or unconsciously, will tend to vote for whatever candidate has the more appealing personality.
But I trust I’m not saying anything new here. We all know that Kennedy won against Nixon primarily because Kennedy looked better on the television screen. It is common knowledge that Reagan was as popular as he was in part because he played to cameras so well. And Clinton’s win in ’96 was largely due to Dole’s wooden personality.
Of course, this causes one to wonder why Al Gore did so well in the recent election. In terms of personal charisma, Al Gore had a losing hand from the start. He struggled all through the campaign to over come the perceptions people had of him as being flat, cardboard, whiny, and monotone. He was described as having a personality that grated on voters. He was expected to shine during the debates, but instead dropped in the polls after the first debate despite the fact that most people thought he won. Voters thought he was a bully, overly aggressive, and annoying. Al Gore reinvented himself for the second debate, but still couldn’t find a personality that appealed to voters. One political analyst, after looking at Gore’s polls before and after the debates, remarked, "Milosovic didn’t drop this fast."
It is also extremely unusual for a sitting vice-president to be elected President. George Bush did it in 1988, but that was the first time such an event had occurred since 1836. And Al Gore could hardly have picked a worse administration to be part of. The Clinton administration was bursting at the seams with scandals, whether real or imagined. President Clinton was even impeached, the first President given this honor in almost a 150 years, and only the second President impeached in American history. Gore tried to disassociate himself from Clinton, but after standing by Clinton’s side for 8 years, this proved to be an impossible task.
But Gore also had problems of his own. He flip-flopped on the issues just like Clinton did, changing his position on several items between January and November. He had numerous problems with telling the truth, causing people to wonder if he could ever be trusted. He even had a few fund raising scandals of his own before he even got to the oval office. And if you think all of this doesn’t matter to people, just listen to some of the conversations on Calvin’s campus, or turn on some talk radio.
In contrast, Bush had a warm smile, a handsome face, and a laid back personality. It was everything the GOP could have hoped for in a candidate.
When all this is added together, it would have been surprising if Gore had done half as well as Bush had in the election. Instead, Gore not only gave Bush a run for his money, but he actually won the popular vote. Did Gore attract all these swing voters based on his personal appeal or trustworthiness? Impossible. I can only conclude that Gore did as well as he did because voters agreed with him on the issues.
The issues in this election were few, but they were present. And the majority of voters clearly sided with Al Gore. These voters felt strongly enough on these issues to vote for Al Gore despite his questionable past, and the issues had broad enough support to attract the swing voters despite Bush’s warm smile. Voters felt that the environment should be protected even at the expense of industry, that abortion rights should be preserved, and that saving social programs was more important then a large tax cut to the rich. In addition 2.5 million, or roughly three percent of voters, didn’t think Al Gore was liberal enough, and voted for Ralph Nader. I hope George W. Bush and the Republicans will keep these facts in mind before claiming that their views have the support of the people.
Bonus: Two entries here for the price of one. Below is an unpublished and unfinished Chimes article written at the same time. I was going to write this article, but then changed themes to the article above.
Whether you like Bush or Gore, I think we can all agree on one thing: Nader was the coolest candidate. Easily. Did Bush get endorsed by Pearl Jam? Did Radio Head hold up pro-Gore signs? How many presidential Candidates have had the support of Rage Against the Machine? When it comes to being endorsed by the hip rock stars, Nader comes away the winner.
However, with all the fuss over Nader and Buchanan, we’ve forgotten about the other candidates. No, I’m not talking about Bush and Gore. They’ve gotten more attention this year than O.J. did when he was on trial. I’m talking about the other 3rd party candidates. And so, this is my salute to men and women (well, mostly men I guess) who wanted your vote but didn’t make the headlines. These are the candidates you didn’t hear about:
David McReynolds (Socialist Party):
You have to feel a little sorry for the Socialist Party. There was a time when they were THE major third party. Back when Eugene Debs got 920,000 votes for President well he was in prison, it seemed like the world was going their way. Now, they don’t even register on the political radar (pardon the cliché). David McReynolds, like Nadar, has a long history of activism that puts him above reproach. Even if you don’t like Socialism (and I suppose polls show that the majority of Americans don’t), you have to admire a man whose spent his whole life fighting for his ideals of pacifism and democratic Socialism.
Awards: Most under-rated Candidate, Most Respectable Candidate, and the Socialist Party as a whole gets points for still running candidates after so many, many failures.
Monica Moorehead (The Workers World Party)
You’ve probably heard of Monica Moorehead, you just don’t know it yet. Remember when Bush spoke at the NAACP this summer, and six protesters had to be removed before he could begin? That was her work. She’s also been actively involved in the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the protests at the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer.