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Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?

The Nader-baiting continues untrammeled and was even on display with the CNN Green Party Town Hall. I have previously written about this but would like to articulate an addendum that few have yet to discuss.

The basic fact is this, Al Gore threw the fight with George W. Bush over Florida’s bizarre electoral process. It had nothing to do with Nader and everything to do with the transformation of the Presidency by Clinton, our first post-Cold War president. Clinton’s reckless economic policies and utopian visions of neoliberal paradise made Gore behave like the Black Sox.

For confirmation of these points, I would advise readers consult economist Robert Pollin’s very useful book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, an analysis of the Clinton economy and the first two years of the Bush tenure. On page 78 is a key paragraph that should be etched in stone above any Green Party threshold:

Amid such talk of unending good times, it came as a jolt to most observers when the Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney announced on a television talk show on December 3, 2000 that “we may well be on the front edge of a recession here. There is growing evidence that the economy is slowing down.” After Cheney’s statement, George Bush also began interjecting gloomy economic prognostications into his public statements. This was the time when Bush and Cheney, along with Gore and the Democrats, were still fighting over who actually won the election. It would be another week before the Supreme Court threw the victory to Bush. The timing is important: Bush had some obvious political motives for turning negative on the economy at this point, after having been almost entirely upbeat throughout the election.

Pollin’s book describes how the Clinton-Greenspan economy was nothing more than a series of bubbles that were generated in a ten year period, roughly 1992 to 2002, when the United States lived in a massive utopian delusion about the nature of capitalism as a system of political economy.

Clinton’s “new economy” was based in the neoclassical economic coordinates of a post-capitalist order and therefore the abnegation of class warfare, a fantasy that was reinforced by the end of the Cold War and our installation of a puppet regime in Russia. In simpler terms, the Soviet Union had collapsed, proving that Marxism was false (although Marx’s theories had almost nothing to do with Gorbachev’s shortcomings), and thus Western media began a decade-long mythological narrative of life in the post-Soviet states as fantastic (all while in reality Jeffrey Sachs and fellow members of the neoliberal cadre were turning Eastern Europe into a neo-feudal colony of Wall Street where the life expectancy of Russian men dropped by four years).

But by the end of 2000, the delusion stopped working and the Democrats were facing the prospect of responsibility for an economic downturn. Why bother with such a hassle when it would be much easier to blame it on the neocons and their village idiot puppet President? By throwing the contest in a fashion akin to a bribed prize fighter, right in the heat of battle when the American public was revved up by a media drama that made Days of Our Lives seem uneventful, it would make the Democratic Party come out looking like winners instead of losers, perhaps like the end of ROCKY where the Italian Stallion technically is beaten ends up a champ.

And what was responsible for this downturn? Or in fact who?

Pollin does not reach for this conclusion in his book, but it seems pretty likely to me that, given the role Goldman Sachs played in the Clinton Treasury, we can lay the responsibility at the feet of one policy pivot at a key moment, which in turn was caused by one woman, namely Monica Lewinsky.

Recall the masterful essay by Robin Blackburn, How Monica Lewinsky Saved Social Security.

Robert Rubin and Larry Summers are the neoliberal economic policy gurus who have defined the New Democrats and their fiscal conservatism for three decades now. Both men are longtime proponents of the privatization of Social Security, and given their Wall Street connections, it is logical to assume that the next bubble meant to follow the dot-com one was going to be inflated by the influx of Social Security’s capital.

But then along came the intern in the blue dress.

Clinton’s pivot to the left and advocacy of “saving” Social Security rather than privatizing it was a defensive posture taken up to consolidate support within the Democratic base as he faced the inquiry of Ken Starr. But prior to the development of the Lewinski scandal, he had begun to make moves towards privatization at a moment when the public perception of the “magic of the market” was hegemonic among the white middle class, a period when 60 Minutes was featuring stories about stay-at-home day traders who, using recently-premiered world wide web and a proliferation of consumer-grade stock broker websites, were fashioning themselves into a veritable cottage industry of people who were so crazy they thought they would become millionaires with mouse clicks! Things were looking so dire that Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot published an entire book, titled Social Security: The Phony Crisis, that began with this passage:

“We have a chance,” said President Clinton, to “fix the roof while the sun is still shining.” He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced… The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it’s not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time that the rain approaches. Now add this: most of the people who say that they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.

But because of Bubba’s pivot, he was unable to provide the soap to inflate the next bubble. As a result, when the dot-com bubble began to collapse, there was nothing to replace it and a recession, caused by Democratic policies, would have been what a Gore presidency would have inherited. Why not quit while you are ahead?

Clinton’s behavior here, combined with how his staff went to absurd lengths to vandalize the White House offices as the Republicans moved in for revenge over the impeachment proceedings, has become the modus operandi of the post-Cold War presidencies, leaving the country in as bad shape (or perhaps worse) then when you found it. We have seen nearly a quarter century of White House tenures, in economic terms, looking like waves on the high seas, peaks and valleys that correspond with entrances and exits. There has been no ethic of leaving things better than when you found it. When Eisenhower took office, the country was in the midst of a Red Scare that destroyed a generation of activists while, in domestic transit terms, the postwar population was effectively still living in the nineteenth century. When he gave the country to John Kennedy, he had spent massive amounts on the construction of an interstate highway system that revolutionized how Americans moved around the country and creation of civic infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, that we still (rather embarrassingly) depend on daily and which is remembered as the golden era of American labor irregardless of the purging of the Communists.

So, with all this in mind, can we start blaming Gore for what he has done to America via his proxy George W. Bush? “Say it ain’t so Al!