It is, admittedly, foolish to step into the miasma of the 2000 election.
As the paper went to press Tuesday night there still was no president-elect, and the
rhetoric of the candidates has gone from restrained enthusiasm to embittered strategy
calculations, and several citizens and, at least, one candidate are going to court. Still,
how can a guy ignore an elephant the size of this one in our collective living room?
First, a few comments about the current situation; comments, I might add,
that will surely be out of step with events by the time you read this.
Though the candidates arent asking for advice, Ill give it to
them anyway: back off. Both men should preserve whatever dignity they have left. Whoever
wins is going to need every last scrap of it if he hopes to actually be president.
There are plenty of citizens and otherwise aggressive spin masters who can deftly make
The candidates need to let this play out, whether it is a judicial
solution or not. What they dont seem to accept is that the debate is no longer about
them. They are done. They were done on Nov. 7. Matters of confusing ballots, "hanging
chads," and ballot boxes left on the beach are between the people and the election
board of Florida.
Further, if machine counting has an error range of 2 to 5 percent and the
margin of difference between the two candidates is less than that, it seems perfectly
reasonable to count the ballots by hand. If it leads to recounting in several other states
with less than a 5 percent difference then so be it. It will be a hassle and slow, but
necessary. I do not buy the argument that hand counters are bound to be corrupt. Assuming
malevolence is contrary to the most basic principle of our judicial system.
What is at stake is more important than a single presidency, especially
this one, which is bound to be mired in partisanship. The voice of the people is the
life-breath of democracy. Everything else is window dressing. If the nation loses faith in
the process, then neither Bush nor Gore can hope to lead with any legitimacy.
From a practical perspective, there really shouldnt be any people
worried about being on the losing side. With a vote split right down the middle, the
losing side can be assured that the new president will be dragging around the ball and
chain of half the electorate, which is sure to keep him from straying too far from the
Superficially, such an even split of opinion implies an overarching
ambivalence as to who the best leader might be. That ambivalence may be partly due to a
sort of duping of the electorate by the candidates. It seems clear that both candidates
portrayed themselves as being more centrist in their positions than they really are in
order to garner wavering voters and those in opposing parties. I suspect Gore is likely
more liberal than he let on during the campaign, and Bush is probably more conservative
than he let on. It is a trick both men learned from Bill Clinton. Finding the popular
balance point of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism seems to be the holy grail of
modern day politicians.
But so much for theory. The division of voters is a little more complex
picture than that of Republican versus Democrat or 48 percent versus 48 percent. The Voter
News Service, an association of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and AP news agencies, has done
extensive exit poll interviews that reveal an electorate less evenly divided. The data can
be parsed several ways and in ways that shed more light on what is really going on in the
Ethnic groups. Among blacks, 90 percent voted for Gore, while 8
percent went for Bush. Hispanics split 63 percent for Gore, 33 percent for Bush. Asians
voted 55 percent for Gore and 41 percent for Bush. Non-whites, on the whole, obviously
perceived a big difference between the two men.
Gender. Bush garnered 52 percent of all male votes, while Gore
gathered 43 percent. Likewise, 54 percent of women went to Gore and 42 percent to Bush.
The gap begs the question: why do men and women see our national priorities differently?
Rural versus urban. For cities of 500,000 people or more, Gore took
75 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Bush. For slightly smaller cities50,000 to
500,000 peopleGore again dominated with 60 percent to 40 percent for Bush. The vote
flip flopped for rural and small town voters with Bush garnering 60 percent to Gore taking
only 40 percent. Rural and urban Americans are clearly living very different lives.
Income. For voters with incomes up to $50,000, Gore controlled the
vote with 54 percent to Bushs 41 percent. For voters with incomes above $100,000,
the numbers go the other way: 53 percent for Bush and 43 percent for Gore.
Education. Voters with less than a high school education voted 59
percent for Gore and 38 percent for Bush. The numbers are statistically even for education
levels through college graduate. Those with post graduate degrees voted 53 percent for
Gore and 43 percent for Bush.
There is a more profound story here than a horse-race election to shake
our heads over. Under the surface of an ambivalent electorate are significant schisms in
our society. If one thing seems clear after this muddied election, it is that large groups
of people have widely divergent experiences in America and significantly different views
of the problems needing redress. Cutting the Gordian knot of this election will seem
trivial in comparison to easing the divisions of race, gender, income, education and
living density that continue to emerge in society. The candidates will need greater
attributes than simply demonstrating grace and maturity in a tense election. It is a tall
order for a new president, should we ever get one.