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 Michael Powers
Don’t look now, but Al Gore is starting to run away with the election.
On Monday, as the Electoral College was ratifying the verdict of the Supreme Court, the Washington Post checked back with the various state election officials to see how Gore’s 337,000 popular-vote lead was holding up, and lo! It had grown to 540,539! Gore’s margin is now at one-half of 1 percent, or roughly five times the size of John Kennedy’s lead over Richard Nixon — and that doesn’t include any additional votes that The Miami Herald and other newspapers may turn up in their re-canvassing of Florida’s ballots.
As Inauguration Day draws nigh, it is becoming clear that Al Gore did not merely win the election, he won it handily — everywhere, of course, but at the Supreme Court. Moreover, it was Gore’s program, not W.’s, on which voters conferred a mandate. As an election-night survey conducted by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg makes clear, voters strongly preferred Gore’s position to W.’s on Social Security, prescription-drug coverage, education, the environment, tax cuts and what to do with the budget surplus.
In his first week as president-elect, however, W. is proceeding as if there were clear public support for what are in fact his least popular proposals. The first bills he will send to the Hill, he has told us, will be his programs for education and his tax cuts. The centerpiece of his school package is a federal authorization of state voucher programs — even though in last month’s election, voters in California and Michigan absolutely crushed well-funded ballot measures that would have established such programs (in California, vouchers went down by a thudding 29 percent to 71 percent margin).
W.’s tax-cut proposal has even less support than vouchers. Every poll taken over the past year has shown voters prefer the government use that money to shore up retirement programs, help seniors purchase medicine, build more schools or retire more debt. They also show that voters favored Gore’s targeted cuts — for instance, deductions for college tuition — to Bush’s throw-the-money-at-the-rich approach.
(The intellectual argument for W.’s tax cut is no less shaky than the political one. Bush contends that his cut would provide just the kind of countercyclical stimulus the economy needs as it trembles on the brink of recession. How a tax cut that is supposed to be phased in over 10 years will provide a quick fix for investors and consumers, however, is something no one in the Bush camp has even seriously attempted to explain. More likely, such a cut would only make it harder for Alan Greenspan to lower interest rates — an economic stimulus that could avert a recession.)
In pushing for vouchers and tax cuts, Bush seems to have concluded that popular support is no more essential to enact a major program than it was to elect him president. Someone should tell him that not even Antonin Scalia can break a filibuster.
W.’s problem isn’t simply that he’s a minority president. It’s that he, and his party, represent a minority that is growing steadily smaller. George W. Bush’s America is essentially white and provincial — at a time when immigration (both foreign and domestic) and education are making America increasingly nonwhite and cosmopolitan.
As historian Jim Chapin has noted, fully 90 percent of W.’s voters were white, while just 69 percent of Al Gore’s were. Gore defeated Bush among blacks by a 90 percent to 8 percent margin (and among African-Americans, to know Bush was not to love him: W. carried just 5 percent of the black vote in Texas). Gore carried the Latino vote, 62 percent to 34 percent, and the Asian vote, 55 percent to 41 percent — and these are two slices of the electorate that are growing. A survey by the William C. Velásquez Institute concludes that the Latino vote in California increased by 30 percent between the 1996 presidential election and last month’s vote.
It’s been a commonplace of American politics over the past 15 years that the Democrats’ support for race-specific programs such as affirmative action would cost them more white votes than it would gain them nonwhite support. With the changing composition of the electorate, however, that is looking increasingly like yesterday’s news. In Florida, of course, it was opposition to Jeb Bush’s ban on affirmative action that provoked the voter-mobilization program among African-Americans, pushing the black share of the electorate from 10 percent in 1996 to 15 percent last month. In California, the black and Latino reaction against Proposition 209, which ended this state’s affirmative-action programs, and Latino rage at the immigrant-bashing Proposition 187, have created a united anti-Republican front among the state’s nonwhite voters.
To be sure, Gore faced huge problems in courting the white working class — though they turned less on issues of race in this election than on issues of guns, abortion and traditional authority. Beyond any doubt, Gore’s strength among nonwhites and educated elites would not have sufficed to win him anywhere near a plurality of voter support. What pushed him over the top were the efforts of the AFL-CIO, which brought him just enough working-class votes to carry any number of states he would otherwise have lost.