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
|Photo by Stephan Sovoia/AP|
On the theory that purgatory is, if nothing else, better than hell, I suppose I should be grateful the United States hasn’t gone to the devil just quite yet. At the end of one of the most astonishing, bewildering, intermittently exhilarating and nauseating evenings in American political history (I’m writing at 5 on Wednesday morning), Al Gore still has not lost. He’s trailing W-boy by roughly 1,800 votes in Florida, and there’s reportedly been a small screwup in one Florida county — miscalibrating the voting machines so that Gore votes were counted as Buchanan votes — that may just make up that 1,800-vote difference. The Florida vote will go to a recount later on Wednesday, and there are absentee ballots still to be counted, which doesn’t sound good to me. But then, if there’s anything the punditocracy, present company included, should have learned from this confounding and confounded night, it’s that we should refrain from making all these goddamn predictions.
Who among us, after all, predicted that Al Gore would win the popular vote and yet quite possibly lose in the Electoral College? That the Democrats would pick up the four contested House seats in California (and almost get a fifth they weren’t really gunning for) and still fail to retake the Congress? That Ralph Nader would bomb at the polls (getting roughly 3 percent of the national vote), but still win enough votes to deny the Democrats the White House, at least on Tuesday night — and likely for the next four years?
Come to think of it, this last point was something that a number of rightly apprehensive progressives repeatedly predicted. Consider the numbers: Gore is trailing Bush by 1,800 votes in Florida, where Nader’s vote, though just 2 percent of the total, is 97,000. In New Hampshire, Bush beat Gore by 7,200 votes, while Nader pulled down 22,150. In Oregon, with roughly 80 percent of the vote in, Gore is trailing Bush by about 22,000 votes, while Nader has won 54,000. I mention these last two states because, even if Gore loses Florida, the combination of New Hampshire and Oregon would have gotten him to 271 electoral votes — good enough for a two-vote victory in the Electoral College.
Which is to say, while we still don’t know who won on Tuesday, we can be sure who one of the biggest losers is: the Green Party. By running dismally on the presidential line yet managing to ensure W.’s almost-election, it has appalled, infuriated and sickened the vast majority of American progressives whose support is critical if it is to have any shot at survival, let alone growth. Worse yet, in the last 10 days of the campaign, Ralph Nader made a special point of holding rallies in states where he had no chance of getting anywhere near 5 percent of the vote, but could still damage Al Gore. One such state, which he visited just a few days ago, was Florida.
But the self-destruction of the Green Party is mighty cold comfort weighed against the specter of the Bush Fratboy Restoration and all that entails. To be sure, Bush’s margin, should he win, and the Republicans’ margins of control in both the Senate and the House are all but nonexistent. The GOP will likely have no more than a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and a margin of just a few votes in the House. The Democrats are so close in the Senate, in fact, that there’s bound to be avid interest in the health of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms over the next two years. (Each would be replaced by an appointee of a Democratic governor.) In what will otherwise be a grim political interval, the Thurmond-Helms Watch may provide fun for the entire family.
What this means is that Republicans will control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time since 1953-54 — the height of McCarthyism, for the nostalgic among you — yet have their freedom of maneuver circumscribed by the narrowness of their majorities. With the Democratic gains in Tuesday’s election, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill will now be only three or four votes from a filibuster-proof 60 in the Senate, though W. has vowed to veto it. There’s also now a clear majority in the Senate (though not 60 votes) for prescription-drug coverage.
Anything truly radical that W. proposes, meanwhile, will itself be blocked by a Democratic filibuster. A tax cut on the superduper scale he’s proposed, one that showers nearly half its largess on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, will be dead on arrival. Privatizing Social Security will probably remain a pipe dream at best, though you never know how the Democrats’ own market maniacs will respond if it’s done discreetly.
Other changes, less high-profile but tremendously dangerous for the poor, may have better prospects. In 2002, the Congress must revisit the food-stamp, child-health-care and welfare programs, and there’s a real chance, says Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, that what are now entitlements to individuals will be transformed into block grants to the states — which could well mean major cutbacks in the aid and services available to the working poor particularly.