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Who Crowned George?

So who, exactly, has said that W. is our next president?

This assertion, initially heard on election night, was first trotted out by none other than W.‘s cousin, John Ellis, who, in a triumph of executive headhunting, was chief of the election desk for the Fox News Network (”Republican Numbers for Republican News“). With all but about 4 percent of Florida’s precincts reporting, W. was leading the Veep by around 30,000 votes, though the Voter News Service exit-poll consortium insisted Florida was too close to call, and the precincts still out were largely Democratic. So Ellis -- who since has acknowledged that he was on the phone during the night with both W. and his brother, Jeb -- took matters into his own hands and called it for his cuz. (Or did W. just call it himself? Or, more likely, Jeb? Or, more likely yet, Aunt Bar?)

At this point, the other networks -- towers of independent judgment all -- rushed in to call it too, lest they be perceived as lagging behind Fox (”Bush Numbers for a Bush Network“). And then retracted that call an hour later as W.‘s margin deflated down to a few hundred votes.

Which is where, one week later, that margin remains (as of Tuesday night, it’s at precisely 300). We‘ve since learned, of course, that thousands of Gore voters in Palm Beach County, bewildered by the badly aligned butterfly ballot, either voted erroneously for Pat Buchanan, or for Gore and Buchanan both. According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, in just two heavily African-American precincts in the town of Riviera Beach, the vote was Gore 2,409, Bush 46 and invalidated ballots 506.

Some pro-Bush demonstrators and GOP talk-show hosts have been ridiculing the Gore voters who miscast their ballots. What I want to know is this: Is mocking senior citizens ”on-message“ or just normal Republican high spirits?

With numbers like these, the case for a hand recount, especially in Palm Beach County, seems overwhelming -- not that such a recount would tally the invalidated, double-voted ballots (plainly, it couldn’t), but it could count those punch-holes on other ballots that the machines failed to pick up. On this question, the call does not belong to a Bush cousin (upper-class New England Protestants just don‘t breed enough to put a Bush in every power point), but merely to the co-chairperson of his Florida campaign, Secretary of State Katherine Harris. To this paragon of impartiality, a Florida court has given the discretion to allow or disallow the hand recounts under way in several counties.

Beyond the confines of the Bushes’ extended family (literal or political), however, W.‘s anointment is anything but clear. On Election Day, a narrow plurality of Americans appears to have voted for Al Gore. On Election Day, by every account, a narrow plurality of Floridians certainly meant to vote for Al Gore. And in poll after poll taken in the past couple of days, a clear majority of Americans have said they want the recounts to continue so that the eventual Florida outcome reflects the actual Florida vote. They are not supportive of a Palm Beach County re-vote, but they’re content to wait a month to get the most fair and scrupulous count, and don‘t believe that such a wait jeopardizes American hegemony, or the global economy, or any really important laws of thermodynamics.

Some have argued that W.’s legitimacy as president would be undermined by losing the popular vote nationally and, but for the bizarre ballot, in Florida -- and the more so if his Florida victory hangs on Republicans‘ disallowing a hand recount. Surely, this overstates the case. There have been leaders of nations who’ve had less legitimacy than a President Bush could claim under these circumstances. Richard III comes to mind.

Whether or not Bush wins, it‘s important to understand that he is already the beneficiary of an Electoral College ”bump.“ A state’s electoral vote, of course, is the sum of the two votes that it automatically gets in the U.S. Senate and however many votes its population entitles it to in the House -- a calculation that gives disproportionate weight to the smallest states. Wyoming, for instance, has three electoral votes, though 1999 Census Bureau estimates put its population at 479,602 -- one electoral vote for every 159,867 residents. California has 54 electoral votes, and the Census Bureau put its population at 33,154,121 -- one electoral vote for every 613,799 Californians.

The reason for the Bush bump is that the smallest states -- chiefly in the Rockies and the Northern Plains -- tend disproportionately to be Republican. Among states with just three electoral votes (and throwing in the lopsidedly Democratic District of Columbia), Bush won 15 electoral votes to Gore‘s nine. Among the 18 states (including D.C.) with three, four or five electoral votes, Bush’s margin was 42-26. Indeed, as historian Jim Chapin has noted in a column for UPI, if you take away each state‘s two senatorial votes and just apportion their House votes from last week’s election, even giving Florida to Bush, Gore would come out ahead, 225-211. Only by the electoral advantage given to the vast depopulated tracts of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska (Bush‘s six strongest states), et al., can W. lay claim to the Electoral College. Gore carried the day among people; W.’s margin of victory, if he‘s elected, came from cows.

 

But then, as the most cursory inspection of an Election Day map of both presidential and congressional voting makes clear, we now have two Americas, separate geographically and equal numerically. The Democrats’ America begins with the Boston--Washington corridor, moves inland through those Midwestern states that are the most industrial and cosmopolitan, and runs almost the entire length of the Pacific Coast, from Seattle through San Diego. It also includes Florida, though that may not be reflected in Al Gore‘s electoral vote, and probably New Mexico, the nation’s most Latino state.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but virtually every place else is Republican. States that have almost always gone Democratic for economic reasons -- poor, white, Protestant West Virginia, for instance -- went Republican for cultural reasons. A bellwether state like Missouri went Republican while the nationwide popular vote was going Democratic: To be Middle American in election 2000 was to come down in the GOP column.

Some political analysts have looked at the exit polling and proclaimed an end to economy-driven voting in America. That clearly overstates it. The lower a family‘s annual income, the more likely it was to vote for Gore. Indeed, Gore’s 54 percent support within the $15,000--$30,000 income grouping was 6 percent higher than his overall total, a differential that‘s slightly higher than that for any Democratic presidential nominee in the past quarter-century.

But in this prosperous time, sharper differences are emerging in noneconomic categories -- between rural and urban America, gun owners and nonowners, churchgoers and secularists, whites and nonwhites, white Protestants and everyone else. The 14 percent of voters who attend religious services more than once per week gave Bush 63 percent of their vote and Gore 36 percent; the 14 percent who never attend split their vote Gore 60--Bush 32. And the idiocy of rural life, to borrow Marx’s happy phrase, seems to matter more and more. Among rural voters, for instance, Jimmy Carter‘s 1980-level support was just 2 percent under his overall percentage; Michael Dukakis got 44 percent of the rural vote and 45 percent of the total vote; Bill Clinton’s rural vote lagged his national vote in his two presidential elections by 4 and then 5 percent. Last week, Al Gore got just 37 percent of the rural vote while pulling in 48 percent of the urban -- an 11-point gap. Conversely, in cities with populations exceeding 500,000, Dukakis ran 17 percent above his overall national level of support, Clinton 15 and 19 percent in his two elections, while Gore ran a full 23 points ahead of his total percentage.

Which is to say, John Dos Passos‘ description of the America of 1927, in the wake of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, still pertains: ”All right,“ he wrote, ”we are two nations.“

Indeed, it pertains anew.

For, in 1927, the fault lines dividing America were also chiefly cultural and ethnic, and they pitted farm against city, heartland against coast. Old-stock Protestant America was in arms against the Catholic and Jewish immigrants who‘d transformed the big cities over the preceding quarter-century. During the ’20s, this conflict all but destroyed the Democratic Party as a force in national politics -- until the Depression and the New Deal brought town and country together in a new, enduring, class-based alliance.

In many ways, American politics today look surprisingly as they did 75 years ago. Now as then, the triumph of capitalist values mutes economic differences and drives the Democrats rightward. Now as then, the media‘s influence over the young is worrisome, particularly to traditionalists. Now as then, the political gap between cities teeming with immigrants and a largely white hinterland continues to grow, and the balance of power between town and country seems about even. (In last week’s vote, the 29 percent of voters from cities gave Gore 61 percent of their vote; the 28 percent from rural areas and small towns gave Bush 59 percent.)

The main difference between now and then is suburbia -- a place that scarcely existed in the ‘20s but that’s home to 44 percent of American voters today. The reason last week‘s election was so close was that, while town and country were busily canceling each other’s votes, the suburbs were splitting down the middle (49 percent Bush, 47 percent Gore). But parity in the ‘burbs doesn’t mean we‘ve effectively returned to the bad old days that Dos Passos chronicled. America is far more tolerant today than it was in the ’20s, and far more supportive of government action to secure civil rights, a safe environment and economic well-being. Absent a distinct threat to any of those three, however, public support for significantly more government action isn‘t likely to grow.

 

Does that mean we’re stuck at parity between the two parties and between two divergent sets of beliefs? I doubt it -- because even if the attitudes of individual Americans hold steady, American demographics are changing all the time. The number of Latino voters continues to rise, and this was a group that gave Al Gore 67 percent of its vote last week. Moreover, as Jim Chapin notes, in the fastest-growing states -- Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada -- Bush‘s vote, compared to Bob Dole’s four years ago, scarcely increased at all. By contrast, the Republicans registered their greatest gains in those states whose populations are in relative decline: chiefly, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Over the next quarter-century, assuming all else remains static, what the Democrats have going for them are immigrants and nonwhites. What the Republicans have going for them are, well, cows.

In California, the Republicans haven‘t even got that. Four years ago, Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole in California by 13 percent; last week, Al Gore defeated W. by 12 percent -- though W. had spent $12 million on TV ad-buys and Gore hadn’t ponied up a nickel. Two years ago, Gray Davis defeated Dan Lungren, a Republican right-winger, by 20 points in the gubernatorial election; last week, Dianne Feinstein defeated Tom Campbell, a Republican left-winger, by 20 points in the senatorial election. The Democrats took four congressional seats from the Republicans on Election Day; they would have taken five if their national Congressional Campaign Committee had heeded their own local operatives and the AFL-CIO‘s, and sunk a little more money into Democrat Gerrie Schipske’s challenge to Long Beach Republican Congressman Steve Horn. (Schipske lost by 1 percent, though she refuses to concede until the absentees are all counted.)

One reason for the Democrats‘ success here is that Latinos in California continue to vote for Democrats at a rate roughly 8 points higher than Latinos nationally. Due to the increased Latino margins and turnout, and to the Herculean efforts of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, almost every L.A. inner-ring suburban congressional or legislative district has moved from the Republican to the Democratic column over the past four years. In the impending reapportionment, such outer-ring districts as those of Republican Congressmen Elton Gallegly (Ventura County) and David Dreier (East San Gabriel Valley) may well become Democratic, too. California -- where immigrants and nonwhites abound, and cows are few and far between -- is no land for Republicans.

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