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Opinion Column
For the week of November 15 through 21, 2000

And the winner is …

Commentary by Adam Tanous


Though the candidates aren’t asking for advice, I’ll give it to them anyway: back off. Both men should preserve whatever dignity they have left.


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 aren’t asking for advice, I’ll 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 their cases.

The candidates need to let this play out, whether it is a judicial solution or not. What they don’t 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 shouldn’t 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 middle.

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 country.

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 cities—50,000 to 500,000 people—Gore 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 Bush’s 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.

 

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