Let’s face it: This was a fine campaign, and it is having a terrific ending. Stalemate at four A.M.!
Early on (“major league, big-time”) I called Governor Bush an amateur, but he proved me wrong. Within the limits of his range, he ran a professional show, right through to the finish. But then, so did Al Gore. The Democrat ran as a Democrat, especially on Social Security and Medicare. Gore picked strong issues, hit them hard, stayed on message, fought every day. He never looked inept (Mondale ’84), foolish (Dukakis ’88), nor did he face the smallest personal scandal (Clinton ’92). His political operation was first-rate.
So what happened? Given the economy, many said, Gore should have won in a walk. That’s nonsense. And Gore wasn’t done in by his character or his debate performance either. This campaign was governed from the beginning by the open secret of our politics: the ebb and flow of splinter parties. And of these, in my view, the one that mattered most was not Nader and the Greens. It was the man almost no one ever mentioned: Pat Buchanan, and the disappearance of Ross Perot’s Reform Party.
Ross Perot basically gave us Bill Clinton in 1992. In 1996, true, the Reform Party gained only 8 percent of the vote. But if you return that 8 percent to the big parties–splitting 80 percent for the Republicans as it apparently did–then you understand why this vote was so tight. Subtract another three points from Gore to give to Nader, and you not only get very close to the outcome, you also get very, very close to the state-by-state vote split.
To be very precise: A simple spreadsheet model based on this theory predicts every state called as of two A.M., except for West Virginia, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Louisiana (the last two, a neighborhood effect). It gives Wisconsin and Oregon to Bush, because of Nader. But in the end, with Iowa going to Gore, Florida became the story. In other words, both Gore and Bush knew exactly what they were doing. My little model gave Florida to Bush. In Florida, too, Nader mattered. Without him, Al Gore would be President-elect of the United States as of now. I regret that–and I bet that Nader’s voters will come to regret it, too, if they don’t find another 1200 Gore votes. But the death of Reform mattered more. If Reform had survived, this election wouldn’t have been close.
And so, Pat Buchanan’s failure to run a serious campaign raises a question in my mind. Was that really accidental? I’d like to check Buchanan’s spending reports and find out where he spent all that money. And let’s just see whether we don’t have a Bush-Buchanan make-up session sometime early next year.
As for the Greens–they did not get their 5 percent. They won’t get it next time, either. To my friends in that movement: Quit trying. Apart from the environment–where Gore’s record, dammit, is pretty good–Nader’s voters were motivated above all by the death penalty and the drug war. These are vital issues–on which the national Democratic position isn’t good. Nader made his point on them.
So what’s the solution?
Answer: Form a Green caucus inside the Democratic Party. Hate the Greens though they may–and with some reason–the national Democrats need the Greens from now on. The Democrats do work with their caucuses when they have to. They protect the interests of minorities, women, and seniors. This is the reason why we still have a Democratic Party, why we still have affirmative action, why we still have freedom of choice, why we still have Social Security–for the time being. Let’s build and rebuild that party. Let’s not, please, keep losing elections to the privatizers, executioners, and the imprisonment lobby.
As for the great stalemate, it did have one clean result. As of tonight, I am no longer Chairman-designate of the Federal Reserve Board (Nader Administration). It’s been a heavy burden; I am relieved to lay it down. I’d rather not preside over the coming slowdown.
Observer columnist James K. Galbraith voted for Gore.