National Journal, November 4, 2000
Who to vote for? I mean, whom. I hate whom. When I'm President, first thing I do, I abolish whom. Three whom's and you're out. Then I abolish the necktie. That's my platform. But I don't seem to be on the ballot. Hmm. George W. Bush or Al Gore. What to do?
Usually by this time my mind is made up, but not this year. It's not that Bush and Gore lack for differences. It's that their differences are so well matched. Neither man is scary, both are flawed; neither is exciting, both are adequate.
If I could vote on character, that would help. But they both score pretty well on character. Neither is corrupt. Neither will follow an intern's thong underwear into a side corridor. Political character should be neither saintly nor sinister; these guys are in no danger of disqualification on either count.
Personality might be a voting issue. Communicating counts, and Gore is bad at it. His strange combination of arrogance and obsequiousness--he browbeats and grovels at the same time--may wear thin two years into his term. On the other hand, people forget the early Bill Clinton: indecisive, unpresidential, callow, desperate to please. Clinton learned. Maybe Gore could learn. And is Bush ready for a foreign policy crisis? How long would he need to get ready?
I know! I'll vote my special interest. Let's see. Under Bush I get a nice little tax cut. Because I'm single, childless, and not poor, under Gore I get nothing. That settles it.
But wait. I am gay. Bush is a sitting governor who supports his state's sodomy law. OK, that's not a federal issue, but so what? Being gay and voting for a governor who supports his state's sodomy law is like being black and voting for a governor who supports separate drinking fountains.
Besides, I'm Jewish. Vice President Lieberman! It has a nice ring, doesn't it? First Jewish Vice President! I love that. But what about Mary Cheney? Bush's vice presidential nominee has an openly lesbian daughter. Put Bush in the White House, and gays will be in from the cold and part of the Second
Family.Curses. Still no clarity. I am desperate. As a last resort, I must consider voting on policy.
Well, that should be easy enough. So many differences. So many plans. Journalists' incessant baying for specifics has finally paid off with two major candidates who gave every impression of running for President of the Congressional Budget Office. And here's the big joke: The details don't matter.
Oh, they matter, I guess. But get real. The President proposes, Congress disposes. And all of the experts say that after Election Day, Congress will be about as closely divided as it is now, if not more so. Symbolic issues aside, the only way to govern will be down the middle. Any President who would bet on a polarizing one-party strategy is dumber than Bush and more arrogant than Gore.
Take taxes. There's a big difference here between Bush and Gore, without a doubt. Bush wants a big across-the-board rate cut; Gore wants smaller, targeted tax cuts. OK, suppose Bush is elected. He submits a tax bill. Congress says, "That's nice," and throws his tax bill in the trash. Republicans and Democrats on the Hill negotiate something somewhere in between Bush and Gore. On the other hand, suppose Gore is elected. He submits a tax bill. Congress says, "That's nice," and throws his tax bill in the trash. Republicans and Democrats on the Hill negotiate something somewhere in between Bush and Gore. See the difference? I
don't.Sure, the President and his veto threat will set limits and influence the details. But history in the balance this ain't.
"Don't forget the Supreme Court!" holler my friends. The Court, they say, is the real issue in 2000. But I'm scratching my head. I'm sure Gore's nominees will be to the left of Bush's, and Bush's will be to the right of Gore's, but how far left or right?
In Texas, Bush's judicial appointees have been conservatives of a decidedly moderate and nonideological cast. If anything, his picks have pulled Texas' conservative Supreme Court toward the center. Besides, a hard-right nominee would face a bloodbath in the closely divided Senate, and Bush has campaigned as a conciliator who avoids partisan rows.