By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The chief culprit behind all Gore‘s troubles has been Gore himself. Presidential debates provide American voters with their one chance to see if either or both candidates meet the living-room test: With whose television presence will they feel comfortable over the next four years? On this, Al came in a little higher than the guy who used to sell Ginsu Knives. Just as critical, in the debates as in much of his campaign, Gore said little that excited progressives, and more that appalled them. Mumbling on gun control, pandering on the death penalty, (not even suggesting that W. should have tried DNA testing before executing an entire brigade of death-row inmates), chastising W. for not proposing a sufficiently large Pentagon budget, oozing calculation, showing no conviction -- Gore must have driven (at least provisionally) a couple million voters into Nader’s arms.
But the Bush campaign deserves some credit, too. Normally, the appeal of its standard-issue Republican attack on big government would be more than matched by that of the Democrats‘ campaign for specific popular programs, like prescription-drug coverage. Throughout the debates, however, Gore’s manner so muddled his message that W.‘s anti-government rants took their toll.
Moreover, the Bush campaign has been airing commercials charging that Gore’s prescription-drug subsidies will force seniors into one ”big government“ plan. The notion is ludicrous; seniors can always refuse to accept the subsidies, just as they‘re free to decline Medicare. The campaign is really the Son of Harry and Louise -- the hospital industry’s ad campaign against the Clinton health proposal of 1994, which depicted the plan as eliminating consumer choice when it actually expanded it. As with so much else in this campaign, however, the media have declined to focus on this new mega-distortion from Incurious George.
In the campaign‘s closing two weeks, Gore must focus on potential Nader voters no less than possible Bush people. This week, he is on a Bring-’Em-Back-From-Ralph tour -- trooping from one small state with a big Nader vote to the next, stressing his bona fides on the environment and the economy. On Monday, he visited the Portland, Oregon, home of a woman whose company makes and markets Oregon Chai. Short of meeting with a grower of industrial hemp, it‘s hard to imagine a deeper penetration behind Naderite lines.
Part of Gore’s problem is that Nader is doing best in the states of the Great White North -- states hugging the Canadian border that were among the few to vote not only for Bill Clinton, but also for Michael Dukakis in ‘88. Washington, Oregon and Minnesota were, and remain, among the whitest and most progressive of states, experiencing little of the racial tensions and white backlash that sent other states spiraling rightward from the ’60s through the ‘80s. Washington and Oregon are also states where the environmental movements loom larger than anywhere else -- in each case, not only in the state as a whole but in the state’s progressive movement. They are states with among the lowest poverty rates and the most generous levels of social provision: They have the highest state minimum wage, and Oregon is the only state except Hawaii with a policy of near-universal health insurance.
Thus, a dilemma for Gore. In Illinois, say, or Missouri, Gore can argue to progressives that hiking the federal minimum wage and raising the earned-income tax credit -- administration achievements that have helped create the lowest levels of Latino and African-American poverty ever -- are a legacy that he‘ll build on and W. won’t. In the mini-semi-Scandinavias of the Northern border states, though, these differences may seem less stark even to progressives, because they concern achievements that have long since been surpassed locally or affect people who mainly live elsewhere. What‘s obvious in Chicago or St. Louis is less so in Portland and Seattle. Within the left of the North, these issues are not, one assumes, out of mind, but they are frequently out of sight.