I’ve tried to defend Democrats, especially John Kerry, against the misleading attacks of so-called “pundits.” I’m a big tent kind of guy, (and I hate Chris Matthews and Joe Klein with a passion and their ilk with a passion). Since Al Gore is often attacked by these folks for “blowing a sure thing” (and Gore is often lumped in with Kerry and both are unfairly compared negatively to Clinton) it seems only fair to defend Gore from such elitist, snobby attacks. Of course the biggest reason may be that Gore still won the popular vote and Florida was probably stolen-not that elitist pundits care. With inspiration from ESPN’s “Top 5 reasons you can’t blame…” (e.g. Scott Norwood for the Bills losing Super Bowl XXV) I give you (drum roll please)
Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Al Gore for “Losing” the 2000 Election
#5. Lack of a peace dividend. During the Cold War an administration that won or kept the peace could expect to reap political benefits. In the post-Cold War, pre-9/11 world, however, that the country would be at peace was taken for granted. The fact the country was at peace (and that Gore was quite knowledgable in the area of foreign affairs) were simply not the political pluses they had been in the past.
#4. The economy was NOT an Ace in the Hole. Sure unemployment was only 3.9% in October 2000. But consider these facts:
Real (inflation-adjusted) disposable income, after growing at a good clip since 1996, slowed dramatically in the first two quarters of 2000, stagnated in the third quarter, and actually declined in the fourth quarter. Real median household income stagnated in 2000-for the first time since 1995. The Nasdaq also crashed.
#3. The Roaring 90s? While median incomes rose and poverty rates declined in the years from 1996-1999, it’s also true that median incomes, poverty rates, underemployment rates and the ranks of the uninsured rose smartly from 1990-95. The percent of uninsured Americans continued to rise even in the late 1990s. American households were sending more of their members to work, more Americans were working two or more jobs, and the averqge American worked 49 hours a week in the 1990s (as opposed to 40 in the 1970s). Even so, median household income was only 2% higher in 2000 than in 1989. Overworked Americans, living in a time when even Demcorats were making the Reaganesque claim that “the era of big government is over” are expected to give credit for their “prosperity” to politicians? Yeah, and Jose Canseco never took steroids.
#2. Gore’s vote compared to Clinton’s. Clinton won 49.2% in 1996, while Gore won 48.4% and Kerry 48.3%. All three candidacies won 47% of the suburban vote. A key is to look at the states that Clinton won but Gore did not-in most instances Gore matched or exceeded Clinton’s percentages.
The West: Arizona and Nevada had voted for Clinton in 1996 but not Gore. Gore won 44.4% in Arizona, just 2.1% less than Clinton in 1996 (suggesting this was a Perot anomaly). In Nevada, Gore’s 46.0% exceeded any percent Clinton recieved. Indeed, in both 1992 and 1996 Clinton’s winning Nevada came as a surprise to both Clinton and his opponents.
The Northeast: Only NH flipped. Clinton ’96 had won 49.3%, Gore 46.8% and lost by less than 1% of the vote. Nader won over 5% in NH. No Nader means Gore wins NH and it’s four electoral votes giving Gore 271 EVs and enough to win without Florida.
The Midwest: Only Missouri and Ohio flipped. In Ohio Gore’s 46.5% is almost identical to Clinton’s 47.1%. In Missouri Gore won 47.1% to Clinton’s 47.5%.
The South: Florida supposedly flipped, but at 48.8% Gore’s popular vote percent was slightly higher than Clinton in 1996. Kentucky flipped, but Clinton had never won so much as 46% there, barely the same amount Dukakis won in 1988 (i.e. another Perot anomaly). In Tennessee, Gore won 47.3%, just .7% less than Clinton in 1996 and slightly higher than Clinton in 1992. Say what you want about Tennessee, you gotta admit they were consistent in giving Democrats between 47% and 48% of the vote, no less and no more. So it all comes down to the two southern states that Clinton won a majority of the vote in, which brings us to
#1. Bill Clinton. While most Americans had opposed impeaching Clinton, that doesn’t mean they weren’t disgusted by him. A poll taken just two weeks before election day http://www.mclaughlin.com/library/transcript.asp?id=175 asked this question. Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for Al Gore for president if President Clinton were to actively support him and campaign for him?
All likely voters say they would be more likely to vote for Gore, 17 percent; less likely, 40 percent; no difference, 40 percent. Independents — note that line — 10 percent more likely; less likely, 45 percent; no difference, 37 percent.” Gore would go on to lose the independent vote 48%-46% but he still won a greater percent of independents than Clinton (but not Kerry who beat Bush 49%-48% among registered independents).
If you think that Republicans feared Clinton campaigning for Gore, check this quote out from Republican strategist Stuart Stevens:
“We relished the infighting among the Democrats over whether or not Bill Clinton should be allowed to appear in public. Secretly, we were hoping that Clinton would embark on some grandstanding, coast-to-coast final push for Gore. But in the end the Gore people were smart enough to keep Clinton on a leash, limiting him to appearances in Arkansas and Louisiana. Gore, of course, lost both, which only proves how right the Gore people were to keep the guy out of sight. If Bill Clinton couldn’t carry Arkansas for Al Gore, why in God’s name would anybody think he could help in the rest of America?”
(The Big Enchilada, page 268).
Honestly, where would Clinton have helped and not hurt? California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania? Gore won all those. So there you have it. Maybe we changed your mind, maybe we didn’t. As long as we made you think. This is Nick, signing off until next time.