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Election 2000: The Best of All Possible Worlds

So it all came out right in the end: gridlock on the Hill and Nader blamed for sabotaging Al Gore.

First a word about gridlock. We like it. No bold initiatives, like privatizing Social Security or shoving through vouchers. No ultra-right-wingers making it onto the Supreme Court. Ah, you protest, but what about the bold plans that a Democratic-controlled Congress and Gore would have pushed through? Relax. There were no such plans. These days gridlock is the best we can hope for.

Now for blaming Nader. Fine by us if all that people look at are those 97,000 Green votes for Ralph in Florida. That’s good news in itself. Who would have thought the Sunshine State had that many progressives in it, with steel in their spine and the spunk to throw Eric Alterman’s columns for The Nation into the trashcan?

And they had plenty of reason to dump Gore. What were the big issues for Greens in Florida? The Everglades. Back in 1993 the hope was that Clinton/Gore would push through a cleanup bill to prevent toxic runoff from the sugar plantations south of Lake Okeechobee from destroying the swamp that covers much of south-central Florida. Such hopes foundered on a “win-win” solution brokered by sugar barons and the real estate industry. Clinton signed off on it , in a conversation with Alfonso Fanjul overheard by Monica Lewinsky as her the commander in chief deferentially accepted his marching orders.

Another issue prompted some of those 97,000 to defiantly vote for Nader: the Homestead Air Force Base, which sits between Biscayne National Park and the Everglades. The old Air Force base had been scheduled for shutdown, but then Cuban-American real estate interests concocted a scheme to turn the base into a commercial airport. Despite repeated pleas from biologists inside the Interior Department as well as from Florida’s Greens, Gore refused to intervene, cowed by the Canosa family, which represented the big money behind the airport’s boosters.

Just to make sure there would be no significant Green defections back to the Democratic standard, Joe Lieberman made a last-minute pilgrimage to the grave of Jorge Mas Canosa, once the godfather of the sinister Cuban-American National Foundation.. You want one final reason for the Nader voter in Florida?

Try the death penalty, for which Gore issued strident support in that final debate. Florida runs third, after Texas and Virginia as a killing machine, and for many progressives in the state it’s an issue of principle. Incidentally, about half a million ex-felons, sentences and probation fully served, are disenfranchised permanently in Florida. A crucial number of these would have voted for Gore the crime fighter and supporter of the War on Drugs.

Other reasons many Greens nationally refused to knuckle under and sneak back to the Gore column? You want an explanation of why he lost Ohio by four points and New Hampshire by one? Try the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator (world’s largest) in East Liverpool, Ohio. Gore promised voters in 1992 that a Democratic administration would kill it. It was a double lie. First, Carol Browner’s EPA almost immediately gave the incinerator a permit. When confronted on his broken pledge, Gore said the decision had been pre-empted by the outgoing Bush crowd. This too was a lie, as voters in Ohio discovered a week before Election 2000.

William Reilly, Bush’s EPA chief, finally testified this fall that Gore’s environmental aide Katie McGinty told him in the 1992 transition period that “it was the wishes of the new incoming administration to get the trial-burn permit granted. The Vice President?elect would be grateful if I simply made that decision before leaving office.”

Don’t think this was a picayune issue with no larger consequences. Citizens of East Liverpool, notably Terry Swearingen, have been campaigning across the country on this scandal for years, haunting Gore. So too, to its credit, has Greenpeace. They were particularly active in the Northeast, during Gore’s primary battles with Bill Bradley. You can certainly argue that the last-minute disclosure of Gore’s WTI lies prompted enough Greens to stay firm and cost him New Hampshire, a state which, with Oregon, would have given Gore the necessary 270 votes.

And why didn’t Gore easily sweep Oregon? A good chunk of the people on the streets of Seattle last November come from Oregon. They care about NAFTA, the WTO and the ancient forests that Gore has been pledging to save since 1992. The spotted owl is now scheduled to go extinct on the Olympic Peninsula within the next decade. Another huge environmental issue in Oregon has been the fate of the salmon runs, wrecked by the Snake River dams. Gore thought he’d finessed that one by pretending that unlike Bush, he would leave the decision to the scientists. Then, a week before the election, Gore’s team of scientists released a report saying they thought the salmon could be saved without breaching the four dams. Nader got 5 percent in Oregon, an amazing result given the intensive carpet-bombing by flacks for Gore like Gloria Steinem.

Yes, Nader didn’t break 5 percent nationally, but he should feel great, and so should the Greens who voted for him. Their message to the Democrats is clear. Address our issues, or you’ll pay the same penalty next time around. Nader should draw up a short list of Green non-negotiable issues and nail it to the doors of the Democratic National Committee.

By all means credit Nader, but of course Gore has only himself to blame. He’s a product of the Democratic Leadership Council, whose pro-business stance was designed to regain the South for the Democrats. Look at the map. Bush swept the entire South, with the possible exception of Florida. Gore’s electoral votes came from the two coasts and the old industrial Midwest. The states Gore did win mostly came courtesy of labor and blacks.

Take Tennessee, where voters know Gore best. He would have won the election if he’d carried his home state. Gore is good with liberals earning $100,000-$200,000. He can barely talk to rural people, and he made another fatal somersault, reversing his position on handguns after telling Tennessee voters for years that he was solid on the gun issue. Guns were a big factor in Ohio and West Virginia too. You can’t blame Nader for that, but it’s OK with us if you do.

As for Nader holding the country to ransom, what’s wrong with a hostage taker with a national backing of 2.7 million people? The election came alive because of Nader. Let’s hope he and the Greens keep it up through the next four years. Not one vote for Nader, Mr. Alterman? He got them where it counted, and now the Democrats are going to have to deal with it.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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