Why Gore Lost
by Jerry Gordon
Note: The following article was posted on the Greens Listserve by the author, who is a member of the Labor Party, and who presented this analysis in a personal capacity only. On December 15, the Golden Gate Chapter of the Labor Party forwarded it to other supporters of the Labor Party for their information.
The list of reasons being advanced for Al Gore’s defeat in his presidential bid is expanding by the day. Some people attribute the loss to arbitrary and unfair court rulings, the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of African Americans, the “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County, defective voting machines, the barrier against counting dimpled chads, and the Nader candidacy. Others cite Gore’s poor performance in the debates, his personality, his tendency to exaggerate, the loss of his home state of Tennessee, his refusal to allow Clinton to campaign around the country or even in Clinton’s home state of Arkansas (which went for Bush), and so on. Still others feel that Gore was compromised by the scandals of the Clinton administration, including Gore’s own fund-raising shenanigans.
Above and apart from everything else, some contend that despite all of the mistakes made in his campaign, Gore still could have prevailed if he had not permitted the Bush forces to seize the offensive in the period following the initial Florida Supreme Court decision allowing the recount of votes up to the time Judge Sauls issued his ruling barring further recounts.
The above list is far from complete. But whatever weight one chooses to give to any of these explanations — or to all of them — the fundamental reason why Gore lost the presidency is because the Democratic Party, whose nominee he was, had neither the program nor the record to ensure him enough votes to emerge the winner.
Let’s look at a few key issues that were of particular concern to trade unionists and other workers.
NAFTA and “Free Trade”
First, there is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Clinton/Gore administration pushed NAFTA through Congress, even though so far it has cost a half-million good, paying jobs here at home as U.S. corporations move plants to Mexico, where they subject workers to poverty wages and unsafe working conditions. Unions in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada all opposed NAFTA. George Becker, president of the Steelworkers Union, called NAFTA the “greatest betrayal of workers’ interests in my lifetime.” For months, the UAW and the Teamsters refused to give Gore their endorsement because of his position in support of NAFTA and the China trade bill. These unions’ strong feelings on this matter, shared by other trade unionists, carried over into the election. While union households constituted 26 percent of the entire electorate, a substantial number of their votes — one-third — did not go to Gore. His position on trade was undoubtedly one of the major reasons why.
Then there’s permanent striker replacement legislation, which would make it illegal for employers to permanently replace workers who exercise their right to strike (or who are locked out). In 1992 the Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, yet this legislation did not pass. Clinton said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. But he did not lift a finger to get the needed support of either of Arkansas’s two Democratic senators to stop a filibuster against the measure. Clinton and Gore campaigned hard to get NAFTA pushed through but they did nothing to get a law enacted — protecting the right to strike — that was and continues to be of vital concern to labor.
Universal Health Care, Minimum Wage, and “Welfare Reform”
There is also the issue of universal health care. There are 43 million people in this country with no health care insurance, eight million more than when Clinton and Gore took office. Yet neither the Democratic nor Republican parties call for health care for all. The Democrats dropped universal health care from their platform in 1996 and Gore specifically stated that he opposes a single-payer system that would guarantee comprehensive health care for the entire population. He said he does not want the government to get involved. The government is involved in other programs, like social security, public education, and protection of the environment — why not health care? Every other industrial country in the world ensures access to health care for all of its people — why not the United States?
There is also the living wage. Neither of the candidates of the major parties talked about it. Yet there are 47 million workers, one-third of the work force, who are paid so little that they do not make a living wage. This election did not mean much to many of them, regardless of who won.
Gore trumpeted the fact that he helped “reform” the welfare system. But his “reform” plunged an additional million people into poverty. It failed to guarantee decent paying jobs or health care benefits for those removed from welfare. Nor did it provide them with child care or adequate training. The shredding of the safety net is one of the main legacies of the Clinton/Gore administration.
There were many other issues of concern to millions of workers that never got mentioned in the presidential campaign, including the need to repeal Taft-Hartley; strengthen social security by scrapping the cap, so that the likes of Bill Gates pay taxes on all annual income, not just the first $76,200; eliminate child poverty, which affects one out of every five children; provide amnesty for undocumented workers; and take real steps to protect our environment.
Many people were repulsed by Gore’s call for an activist U.S. intervention policy in the affairs of other countries. Historically this has meant siding with right-wing governments to suppress popular movements, such as Gore favors doing now in Colombia.
Other Issues of Social Justice
There are also a number of social justice issues where Gore took a reactionary position or stayed silent. These include his fervent support of the death penalty — even opposing a moratorium when the evidence is clear that the racist and discriminatory criminal “justice” system results in African Americans and other oppressed nationalities being executed in disproportionate numbers; his endorsement of the way the misnamed “war on drugs” is conducted; and his complicity in getting a series of measures enacted over the past eight years which undermined and virtually obliterated precious democratic rights, such as habeas corpus. There were several other issues concerning the needs of young people that Gore ignored altogether.
Is it any wonder that one hundred million people — nearly half of the population eligible to vote — did not bother to cast a ballot in the year 2000 elections? It was certainly not unexpected since so many of their issues were either ignored by the major parties, or those parties took positions supporting the rich and the powerful at the expense of workers and the majority.
Two-thirds of those with an income of under $15,000 a year did not vote. Those with an income of $100,000 or more are four times more likely to vote than this low-income group.
Attempts to Reform the Democratic Party
Reform-minded elements in the Democratic Party attempted once again to make that party’s program more palatable to labor and other progressive forces. When the Democratic Party Platform Committee met in Cleveland before the Democratic Party convention, these would-be reformers asked the Committee to include language in the platform that would guarantee workers’ rights in this era of globalization, guarantee universal health care, and address income inequality. Acting on orders from Gore, all of those proposals were rejected and no such language was incorporated. Moreover, Gore made clear he wanted no debate at the convention on those issues or any others.
Platforms adopted by the major parties are meaningless scraps of paper which are promptly forgotten once the election is over. But the platform adopted by the Democrats for the year 2000 elections does illustrate the ultra-conservative mentality of those who run the party. Their refusal to allow democratic discussion and debate at the convention, so that delegates who wished to challenge the platform could do so, clearly shows how totally bureaucratized and controlled the Democratic Party is.
Gore’s Response to Republican Strong-Arm Tactics
As soon as the Florida Supreme Court announced its initial decision allowing the manual recount of votes in three counties, the Republican leadership started mobilizing its troops to disrupt the process. First James Baker savaged the court for its decision, then in short order an army of Republican staff descended on Florida’s streets, augmented by right-wing Cuban forces and others. Some 200 strong, they invaded the downtown office in Miami where the process of recounting the votes was taking place. According to the November 24 Wall Street Journal, New York Republican Rep. John Sweeney had given the order to “shut it down.” And that is exactly what they did. The intimidated members of the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board promptly ended their recount.
When Rev. Jesse Jackson went to Miami and organized a demonstration to protest the denial of voting rights, a crowd of Bush goons menaced the protesters and prevented Jackson from speaking.
So much for the Republicans’ actions. Where was the Democrats’ counter-mobilization? The labor movement was ready, willing, and anxious to mobilize its membership in support of its candidate, Gore. But the vice president would have none of it. He directed labor leaders to refrain from calling workers out in the streets, not only in Florida, but anywhere else in the country, as this would have upset his corporate backers. (The only exception to this was the December 6 demonstrations called in Tallahassee and other cities to protest the Florida legislature’s convening in special session and to ask that all the votes be counted.) Gore’s passive tactics allowed the Republicans’ mob to take over the Miami-Dade County Administration Building. In fact, the Democrats were out-mobilized, out-maneuvered, and out-muscled. Jesse Jackson was told to leave town and stop stirring things up, a policy reversed only late in the day when it was already too late.
The only thing that would have overcome the right-wing offensive was a mobilization of large numbers of people in the streets. This would have made it much more difficult for the Bush forces to throw their weight around and appear to the general public as conducting the more popularly supported campaign.
Gore’s Response to the Disenfranchisement of African Americans
The NAACP has so far collected affidavits from 10,000 people affirming that their voting rights in Florida were denied in one way or another — by police harassment and intimidation, confusion at the polls, being turned away, and countless other grievances.
A statement issued by Julian Bond and other civil rights leaders cites accumulating evidence that a disproportionate number of African Americans weren’t permitted to vote because their names were not listed on voter lists or because the polls closed while they were waiting in line; and that a disproportionate number of African Americans voted in precincts with antiquated equipment, so that their votes were not counted. Especially disturbing to these civil rights leaders, many of whom in the 1960s experienced abuse and intimidation firsthand, was the roadblock set up by state police near a predominantly African American voting precinct in Tallahassee.
So what did the Gore forces have to say about this scandalous denial of precious voting rights? They said nothing. They stayed completely away from the controversy, even though the Justice Department has ordered an investigation into the matter. Gore was asked about discrimination at the polls against African Americans on CNBC November 28. He said he had heard something about the NAACP compiling complaints but that he really did not know much about it. In any case, Gore said, that was not part of his election complaint.
We will remain weak politically as long as the labor movement and progressive forces continue to rely on the Democratic Party as a “lesser evil” to defeat the Republicans. Both parties are financed by the same big business interests. (Of the $52.5 million total Gore personally raised, over a million came from the health care industry, $297,000 from insurance companies and $264,000 from energy companies. Joe Lieberman, his running mate, has received more money from the big insurance companies and the giant pharmaceuticals than any other senator.)
The experience of this election proves once again that we cannot depend on the politicians of the major parties because they take their marching orders from the corporations. As for the Democrats, even when their own interests appear to be at stake in terms of winning an election, they shy away from organizing large numbers of people in the streets, because they fear this would destabilize the system, and their allegiance is firmly tied to that system.
Labor and progressive forces need a real alternative — our own mass-based political party. And we need to be campaigning for our own candidates running on a program that truly addresses the needs of the people. Such a program would include a living wage job as a right; access to quality health care for all, including prescription drugs; restoring the right to organize, bargain, and strike; an end to the corporate abuse of trade; access to quality public education; an end to corporate welfare; an end to bigotry in the workplace and in society; an end to corporate-dominated elections; strong environmental protections, including cleaning up the thousands of toxic waste sites in this country; a transition to renewable sources of energy; and ensuring that the air, water, and soil are safe and healthy.
There is a potential majority in this country for a third party which advocates this kind of program. That majority would be made up of the tens of millions of people who voted for Gore on November 7 as the lesser of two evils, the millions who voted for Nader, and the tens of millions of others who did not vote at all because they saw the choice as being Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee.
For a progressive third party to be successful in this historical period, the organized labor movement must, in my opinion, be a key participant, because it is labor that has the power, numbers, resources, and apparatus to ensure that the party has a mass base.
By organizing now on a day-to-day basis around issues of great concern to large numbers of people, and by running our own independent candidates for office who take a positive stand on these issues, we can hasten the day when such a party not only becomes a powerful factor in the American political landscape but actually becomes the nation’s governing force.